The technology restrictions on students at Sequoyah–the Internet content filter, the strict phone policy, and the recent Xerox machine restriction–have obvious reasons behind them, such as safety, productivity, and environmental protection.
They also have obvious disadvantages, which get far less attention from the school leadership. The restrictions hobble students’ learning, waste time, and make students’ and teachers’ lives harder. While the restrictions may be achieving their purpose, or close to it, there are better ways of achieving the end goals without huge restrictions.
For example, last year, Sequoyah’s Operations Department implemented an Internet content filter. The filter was, as we reported previously, meant to block kids from viewing, what the school believes to be, “inappropriate” sites on the school’s WiFi network. While the filter is most definitely filtering obscene content, it also blocks many legitimate and useful Web sites. When researching topics for an essay or for debate (and undoubtedly in more situations), many students encounter the “Access Denied” page instead of the intended Web page.
Teachers have already gone on record describing the process of unblocking sites difficult. April Vos, Junior High history teacher, called the process “cumbersome.” To unblock each site, a request must be made to Operations’ Help Desk system, which is then forwarded to Jean-Philippe to be unblocked. This process can take days.
To ensure safety while still allowing students to research on currently-banned sites, there is a much better solution than the current system. Students should be able to request temporary access to a specific webpage, which teachers could approve through either an override code or a teacher dashboard. This eliminates the Operations Department (a.k.a. the middle man) from the equation and allows faster research in class, while not allowing permanent access to potential unwanted sites. If that is not possible with the current system, although I am sure there is a way to make it work, teachers could be given moderator access to the system to process unblock requests (which seems to be supported by the system). Both of these solutions are faster and easier than the current process of unblocking, while still protecting students.
Another technology restriction implemented by the school is the strict mobile phone ban, although it is neither followed nor enforced very well. If faculty members find a student using a phone without permission, they are supposed to confiscate it and give it to Jean-Philippe for the students’ parents to pick up after school. Most of the time, however, teachers tell students to put their phones away instead of confiscating them.
While mobile phones definitely do negatively distract from productivity, there are a couple of big problems with the current policy. One problem, and probably the biggest, is that parents have to pick up the phone—students are not able to. In an age of technology, parents should be emailed about the confiscation instead of having to talk to Jean-Philippe after school. Students should also be able to retrieve their phone from him once school is over. This saves everyone time and gives students the ability to contact their ride or parents after school.
That leads to the second problem: phones are banned after school. With some students in daycare until 6 PM, they can run out of things to do and people to do things with. To be perfectly honest, daycare is boring–for most students, at least–and gets more boring as it gets closer to 6 because there is no one to talk to and little to do as it gets closer to the end. If phones were allowed during after school hours, students would not get as bored during daycare. Phones can also be used to do homework after school, which allows students to get a headstart on the night’s work. Students could use other devices that are allowed, such as Chromebooks or their own laptops, but phones, when not using the school’s WiFi network, can reach needed Web pages for research and homework otherwise blocked by the Internet content filter.
Finally, there are the recent Xerox machine restrictions. As reported in December, teachers were given a personal code to use the machines, which effectively banned all students from using them. This restriction wastes class time as teachers now have to leave class to print or scan, whereas students were previously able to do so for teachers, or for themselves when their classwork required copies. We were told that the change was made for the “printer’s efficiency,” yet teachers are just as apt to make the mistake of printing 300 copies instead of 30 as students are.
A simple fix to this is to give students in certain classes (say Egret’s Perch, Over There, Out Back, and Junior High) codes just like teachers. If a student does print excessively, the school can see who it was and can revoke the privileges. This solution solves the problem of teachers having to leave class and adds accountability for abusers.
The recent restrictions, while well-intentioned, have gone too far. They have limited creativity, wasted class time, and made students’ and teachers’ lives harder. Instead of enacting these big restrictions, Sequoyah should think about flexible solutions that solve more problems than they create.