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Epic tech fail: My trailfire tirade

One of the new bits of content that I’m going to start to create here on the Radical are short ‘epic tech fail’ bits that detail the digital disasters that I’ve had at school.

Now, the purpose of my Epic Tech Fail series isn’t to discourage you from using technology—I am a bit of a digital junkie, after all.

Instead, the purpose is to highlight the fact that good teachers who are using 21st Century tools have to be digitally resilient.  There are going to be glitches as schools wrestle with the need to keep students safe while exploring new ways to communicate and collaborate online.

There are going to be glitches as schools try to meet the infrastructure needs of 21st Century classrooms.  There are going to be glitches as teachers try to figure out how to blend what they already know about good teaching with what our students already know about new tools.

And we can’t quit every time things get glitchy!

Maybe you’ll learn something from my glitches.  Maybe you’ll see a common trap that you can avoid or take inspiration from the fact that even a guy buried neck deep in new tools is having troubles, too. 

Either way, they’ll be fun for me to write!

Here’s the first in the series:

Several years back, I stumbled across a new tool called Trailfire that allowed users to put together a collection of annotated websites into an organized tour—called ‘trails’—for others to explore. 

Convinced that it would be perfect for introducing students to sites that might help them to learn more about the topics we were studying in class, I made about a dozen trails over the course of one very long weekend—only to discover on Monday morning that Trailfire was blocked by my district’s firewall.

I blew a gasket. 

I emailed every tech-contact-y person I knew at the school and district level to let them know how frustrated I was that such a great tool was blocked.  I questioned their knowledge of digital tools and good teaching.  I told them that if they ever expected teachers to use digital tools in the classroom, they should stop blocking the tools we want to use.

And then I found the porn trails—tons and tons and tons and tons of porn trails—that Trailfire’s free users were creating.  With just a few clicks, I found tag clouds full of $%&* and @#$!%.  There were even trails about &*%$# and #$%@!.

It was shocking, and I don’t shock easily.  Heck, I didn’t even know that ##$%&* existed! 

(Why would anyone even want to do that?!)

Turns out the district folks knew what they were talking about after all.  I was definitely humbled and a bit embarrassed about my tirade. 

What lessons did I learn from my Trailfire Epic Fail?

Don’t jump feet first into a new tool until you’ve checked to see if it is blocked by your district’s firewall: 

My frustration with my Trailfire disaster is that I wasted an entire weekend putting together a dozen trails that I couldn’t use. 

It was the wasted time that bugged me—time that I wouldn’t have wasted if I’d just checked at school before starting my Trailfire projects.

Fully examine a new tool—especially one that offers free user accounts—before embracing it: 

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m Captain Cannonball, diving feet first into new tools without thinking a whole lot.  That explains the user accounts I have at about 50 services that I don’t even remember anymore.

What I don’t do, though, is spend much time poking around new service websites to see whether or not there are other users that are posting content inappropriate for my kids. 

Wouldn’t that make my life a bit easier?! 

The chances are good that if you’re using a ton of free tools, someone else is using the same tools to create &*%#@!.  Your job is to spot the sludge before blowing your top or wasting your time. 

Trust the district tech guys every now and then: 

I gotta admit it, I carry a professional chip around on my shoulder every time that a service I want to use is blocked.  “Those tech clowns,” I think, “have no clue.  If they knew SOMETHING about teaching, MAYBE they’d stop blocking the sites I want to use.”

Now it’s true that district tech guys aren’t always teachers by training, which results in a disconnect between the classroom and the firewall-blocking-decision-making-room, wherever that is.

But what tech guys DO know is how to keep kids safe.  The result:  Sometimes they make better decisions about new tools than even I can. 

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