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Rethinking Pandora’s Box

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Image by HopeOnHope

This morning I was scanning my Periscope App to see if any of the teachers I follow had made any posts,  while doing a quick scan I came across a San Bernardino high school student’s post titled, “Our teacher hates kids.”  When I logged on, I viewed a live stream of a classroom where a male teacher was attempting to get the class’ attention while the student was streaming live.  As the male student streamed he answered other online viewer’s question, drew sexual symbols, and with his camera aimed it at the teacher and drew a swastika.

Teachers today, are caught in a technology dilemma. On the one hand, to incorporate technology as a tool for learning, while at the same time, prohibiting that same technology from creating abuse and an unsafe environment. Periscope and Google Live, are today’s most popular live streaming Apps. There are others.  There are all kinds of questions being written on privacy and public trusts issues with these types of technology.

Most teachers allow Smartphones in classroom for a number of reasons.  In a math class, students may be allowed to access a calculator app. In an English class, students may use their phones to access a dictionary or thesaurus. In a science class, students might use their Smartphones to access a periodic table, math conversion, or a science term dictionary. It all  sounds good and safe, but at the same time, technology, whether we talk about Smartphones, iPads, or iWatches can become a Pandora’s Box unleashing a multitude of problems and issues.

There are programs that will monitor classroom computers and even iPad technology; However, Smartphones present a unique and wildcard problem because they can’t be monitored from one source, and there lies the problem and solution.

There have been dozens of articles on everything from updating the Classroom with technology to Bringing In Your Own Device (BYOD).  The pros and cons have been logically presented to the public, but the jury is still out on both the benefits and issues.  So allow me to advance a couple of solutions.

If a computer lab is used, such as a desktop lab, or laptop\notebook cart, or iPad set then the teacher can monitor these units from one unit. This would maintain supervision, awareness of student projects, while maintaining a safe working environment. All that would be needed is the purchase of monitoring software and a few hands on lessons.

The BYOD scenario can be controlled, but it requires more student cooperation and teacher monitoring.  If students are in a ‘standard classroom of rows of seating, there is no way to monitor student activity. In these cases,  having students rearrange their seats in groups of four (fig. 1) reduces the walking and eye observations required by the teacher to monitor everyone’s activity.

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Fig. 1 Group Seating

 

A better setup that works well, is to have students arrange their seats in a ‘Horseshoe’ format (fig 2) where a teacher can monitor all students from one vantage point. The trick is to have the students sit on the inside of the horseshoe, that way the teacher can monitor from his strategic advantage in the center of the horseshoe. In fig. 2, I would turn desks around so that they face out from the horseshoe.  Teacher monitors in center.

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Fig 2: Horseshoe seating

 

These are a few of the strategies I used when I did not have a computer lab and was faced with students bringing in their own technology devices.  Between the two BYOD formats I feel the horseshoe is the best for monitoring all student activities.

I will post more strategies at LeonardosApprentice.org.

I look forward to any comments or ideas on this topic that you would like to share.

 

 

Supervision is unanswered question to iPad distribution

I have to confess I’m often amused when I read an article in the newspaper or the Internet about school districts that have given computers to students who then break into ‘secured’ areas or forbidden websites.  The real punch lines comes with the words, “this was unexpected!”   Really?

30 years ago (1983)

Wargames

Back in 1983, the Commodore International released its newest computer model, the Commodore 64 home computer that cost $595 dollars and had only 64K memory.  This was an 8-bit computer that could be hooked up to a modem (300 baud), and more importantly–programmed.  In 1983, the movie,”War Games,” with actor  Matthew Broderick, playing David Lightman a high school  student, told the story about a young teenage hacker who breaks into a government computer facility and nearly starts WWIII.  In 1985, a real fourteen year old boy from Escondido, California, was under FBI investigation after hacking into the Chase Manhattan Bank computer (Arrington, 2008).  Most security people at the time were surprised that a 8-bit computer could log into a million dollar mainframe computer.  Oh yes, he did use his Commodore 64 computer to do the job.

30 years later (2013)ipad-mini-creative-apple

According to a recent article (Jones, 2013) Bernadette Lucas, director of the Common Core Technology Project for LAUSD, purchased 50,000 iPads, at a cost of $678 each, and handed them out to 47 schools to test them out on program integration and security verifications.  Within a short period, 300 David-Lightman-type students breached security measures designed to prevent students from accessing websites such as Facebook and YouTube, plus in house security.  When the iPads were called in thirty iPads were missing.

“We’re learning from what’s happening,” was Ms. Lucas’ response.  Considering the history of computer hackers that have been well documented since the 1980’s, at what point does information become knowledge.  This becomes a serious question because the district goal to distribute 600,000 iPads to LAUSD students that will be in full force by next fall.

The Real Question

The iPad is a useful tool that can be used in very creative ways.  The key is not about allowing or not allowing students to have access to the technology hardware.   The real issue is supervision.  This is no different than having a teacher in the classroom or on the playground.  Unless LAUSD or any school district can guarantee total supervision, and 600,000 independent users is not in the mix for this security task, then the prudent solution is to keep the units locked up in school.  If school districts become responsible for incidents (cyber bulling, adult sites, or any questionable sites not allowed in school) created outside their school campuses by students using assigned school equipment, I think the solution is quite evident.  Use them only in the classroom because in the end the teacher, the school, and the school district are still responsible for giving out Pandora’s boxes to discoveries and potential future lawsuits to minors!  I welcome your comments!

Reference:

Arrington, Michael. “MySpace Cofounder Tom Anderson Was a Real Life “WarGames” Hacker in 1980’s.” Weblog post. TechCrunch. N.p., 30 Aug. 2008. Web. Oct. 2013. <http://tcrn.ch/aUNn13&gt;.

Jones, Barbara. “LAUSD’s IPad Problems Frustrate Those Involved in the $1Billon Technology Project.” Huff Post Los Angeles. N.p., 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2013. <http://huff.to/16igCYc&gt;.