chat-evilI admit it. I had another mini-hissy fit yesterday. Sure, it’s not the most manly action during one’s day, but I admitted it and tried to move on. Why did I go to the depth of a hissy? My newly found and tested web resource, http://oovoo.com , is now blocked by the school district. This site is a great video conferencing tool that works for Macs and pc’s, works well, and looks great online.  Why do we block it?  Because it contains a chat element and we just can’t allow chatting in school.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually saw the silver lining. Yea!! We block chat sites!!  Accepting that idea tells me that technology is making great strides in our schools. Think about it.

Who are we blocking? We’re not blocking adults. One of the major reasons we are sticking with Lotus Notes as an email client is so the administrative offices downtown can use Sametime chat. You can walk through the hallways and hear the IM bells going off across the building.  We block students. Students who can be distracted from doing their job by the interruption of meaningless chat. (Ironic?) Students who don’t need to be discussing educationally relevant ideas. Students who don’t need a textual record of conversations held at school. Giving students the ability to chat would be entirely disruptive to the educational structure of the 19th century classroom.  The fact that adults outside of the administrative arena just happen to be caught in the chat block is irrelevant.

Where are we blocking chat? We don’t block cell phone chat, because they haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  Students at some schools can text during lunch, passing periods, or the educationally useless time before or after school. We block chat on computers in classrooms, libraries, and any room inside the district.  We take a communication tool used by a large majority of students outside of school and cut them off from it entirely during their increasingly irrelevant school time.

What’s my silver lining? If we are blocking chat technology in our schools,  it must because we have so many students actively using classroom computers for research and constructivist learning projects at school.  If the students weren’t getting onto the computers, they wouldn’t need to block chat sites. If students weren’t getting access during the day, there wouldn’t be a need for a relevant online communication tool. Administrators are validating the usefulness of technology through their admission that students are actively using technology during the school day.

Maybe a student will use chat in evil and wrong ways during school. It’s not like other tools don’t get misused (pencils in ceiling tiles, markers for graffiti, using calculators to spell ‘shelloil’ upside down). Students of the 21st century need 21st century teachers who actively monitor student use and provide meaningful online assignments. Teachers who can model good use of online chat will teach responsible use in the classroom. We can’t avoid all websites that have some chat ability just because someone might say something bad.

To borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King, “I have a dream that my website resources will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their font or inclusion of chat code but by the character of their content.”  Allow teachers to use the tools their student are already married to.  Give me chat or give me proxies!

Lastly, quoting Confucius, “If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.” Give teachers the ability to share this lesson with students by using constructive chat sites during the class day.

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