Breakfast with the A-Team

I expected the day to start with a small meeting – perhaps 3 or 4 people – around a table at Casa Mia Café: “teacher agent of change” Bonnie Bracey Sutton is in Charlottetown for the StopCyberbullying Youth Summit and I thought it would be good for our PEI Home and School Technology Committee to meet with her to share information and get her advice on how to forward the cause of educational technology in the province, a topic she is deeply versed in.

As it turned out this intimate meeting transformed before our very eyes into a sort of “A-Team” of smart, helpful experts in all things educational and digital: as our back table filled out I found myself in the company of Barbara Coloroso, Shadi Hayden, Allan McCullough, Parry Aftab, Kevin Harrison, and Sharon Rosenfeldt, along with my peers from Home and School, Shirley Jay, Chris Mears, and Heather Mullen. And, of course, Bonnie Bracey Sutton.

How can we help?”, asked Parry.

I began by telling the story of TeacherNet, our project to outfit Prince Street Elementary School with wifi, a project that is a local success that we hope to spread to other schools.

I then laid out much the same tale as Frances Squire, Ben Boyle and Ghenyk McDonald told to The Guardian last week: we present Island students and teachers with a heavily filtered version of the Internet that renders it so much less than it can be, and leave them to use hand-me-down computers running a decade-old operating system that leaves them unable to experience many valuable tools and resources of the modern web. The end effect of which is to stymie much of the potential of the digital classroom.

What can we do?”, I asked.

Their responses were universally supportive and practical.

No, you are not crazy, they told us: you’re facing the same challenges as digitally engaged parents, students and educators around the world. Keep at it.

You have allies, they told us: a bunch of smart students and adults, along with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and LinkedIn will be here this weekend and we can rally them all to our cause, and shine light on the potential of Island schools with their help.

Shout about your successes, they told us: when a project like TeacherNet works, spread word of it far and wide.

And, perhaps most importantly, they each, to a person, confirmed my own belief that giving students agency in a digital era – rather than try to lock them inside leaky digital prisons – is not only the best way to engage them and to improve education outcomes, but it’s also, as it happens, the best way to counter cyberbullying.

Those around the table not only offered these wise words, but they offered to help us help those in a position to change policy and improve infrastructure understand the challenges and opportunities ahead: changing policy about technology, especially about filtering, is a significant step, and we need help making the case for these changes, and getting all concerned to understand the risks and rewards.

My fear going into this weekend’s StopCyberbullying Youth Summit was that I was going to be confronted by a philosophy that sought to address cyberbulling through the same “if we close the blinds we can pretend it’s not there” attitude that our education system manifests toward technology in general.

I thought I was going to meet people who wanted to build better filters, tighter firewalls, and to make the Internet even less of what it is in schools.

I was wrong.

Around that table of people who have thought long and hard about all of this was a surprising consensus: the way forward lies through giving students more control over the tending the digital ecosystem, not less.

I’m looking forward to diving deeper tomorrow; as it is, we have some new wind in our technology-advocating-sails, for which I owe a great debt of gratitude to all who sat around that table this morning.