Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Blocker vs. The Bringer

I now know what it must have been like to be Jekyll and Hyde. I - Hank Thiele - a true believer in games for learning, the power of computers and play, the impact of open information - has become the hammer of control. I do this for a sound educational reason though.

We have instituted a process through our network that allows us to block users from running any application we choose. This has allowed us to prevent students from installing and playing games on our computers. Couple this with Websense and we have came pretty close to locking games out of our educational setting. This has now allowed me to move to the next step, getting users to delete all of those applications off of their network drives. They can't use them anyway. This is where my uneasiness begins.

It is my responsibility to make sure that the network operates efficiently, has no unlicensed software on it, and is used for educational purposes. So I have laid down the gauntlet and have required that all students clear these items off of their drives by November 15th (see the ultimatum). It is the professionally responsible thing to do. Plus we are migrating all of our network drives to a SAN soon and the less that is on those drives - the easier this process will be. We also face great challenges with our backup system with the way that students hide their games. Typically students will hide their games several, if not 10-20, folders deep. They often will then toss a shortcut in another folder to their games folder (usually called something like "important work" or "Freshman Year Math"). From my experiences in the classroom this makes it difficult for a teacher to find and delete the games students are playing. However, using simple network and file applications I find them in seconds. Here is where the problem comes in - when we back up student drives the software has to re-create all of those nested folders. This takes a lot of time and increases the possibility of failure.

So what we have here is a situation where it is my responsibility to keep the network safe, reliable, secure, legal, backed-up, fast, and basically perfect. We are unable to do this when it is full of applications - especially ones they now cannot use. Along with this I am asking them to clean hose a little and remove extra image or sound files that are not there for educational purposes. We provide a service here for educational use. There are lots of other resources out there for storage of personal files outside of our network.

Now here is where it hurts me. I really believe that students can learn through playing games. The works of James Gee are like gospel to me. Here is a snippet of something I wrote about video games and learning a while back: videogames.pdf.

By protesting this much am I just trying to validate doing this? Maybe, but somehow it is not quite the same. Here is why:

If a teacher came to me ans said they wanted to have students play a game that related to learning, in any way, I would do everything in my power to ensure they had that resource. This is a case of students using the educational network for noneducational resources. Could those games and applications be used educationally? Yes, in the hands of a good teacher. I believe that they will have to if we are going to do the best teaching for our students.

For now, I believe that the best thing to do for the current setting that I am in. I will be meeting with a student from the school newspaper today to share these reasons and ideals with him, and ultimately the student body. I am sure they won't see it the same way I do, but I have to do what I feel is right.