Additional profile information on Alfred Thompson at Google+
Computer clubs at schools seem to range from a complete waste of time all the way up to wonderful experiences that are both fun and educational. Organizing and running one was not, I am embarrassed to admit, one of my strong suits. I wish it had been otherwise.
The worst clubs, in my opinion, are the ones that are little more than an excuse to use the school's LAN for game playing. Now there are worse things in the world and I do think that letting students have game events using the school's LAN can be a positive thing. It is great as a reward for good behavior or as a fund raiser for some special cause. But really it is not an ideal use of a teacher's time to supervise on a regular basis.
The best clubs, also my opinion, offer students a chance to learn something beyond what they learn in class. Perhaps it is the chance to get an early exposure to programming, or perhaps a new programming language. Or maybe it is a chance to experiment with network programming, database programming or advanced graphics. The keys are that students want to have fun and as a faculty advisor you want them to learn something. The two really can go hand in hand.
Pat Phillips, someone who knows more about running computer clubs than I will ever know, has some interesting and helpful things to say at her Editor's Corner this week. If you are involved in a school computer club you will want to check it out.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has just published a Frequently Asked Questions list for student blogging. This is a document that I highly recommend that school administrators who are involved in student discipline read very carefully. The EFF is not the final arbiter of what is right and wrong of course but their FAQ is loaded with information about what various courts have decided with regards to student freedom of speech in general and Internet speech in particular.
Freedom of speech on the Internet is far from settled law of course. There are a lot of gray areas. But as a teacher, an administrator or even as a student you may want to ask yourself if you really want to be a test case. School districts that lose suits charging civil rights violations spend a lot of money in settlements. And than there are all those legal costs to think about.
We all know that students are going to push the limits of policies. That is the nature of being a student. It is the responsibility of schools to show students where the lines are and help them understand the consequences of pushing the limits. Proper education can help avoid problems caused by students pushing to hard or too far. But of course for that to happen the adults in the system need to know what is what.
Last week Brian Scarbeau installed a new departmental server at his school. He blogs about it here. One of the things he does that I think is great is that he involves his students in the process. They helped with the setup of the software and the migration of the data. And it turns out that having other people involved means that more people are there to remember the details from the previous setup.
I think that too often we exclude students from the process of setting up labs, servers and software. I agree that it is not something every student can or should be involved with. But when you have students who really want to learn and really want to be involved it can be a great learning (and teaching) experience.