More Than Bandwidth: FCC Should Address Content Filtering in Schools

In his May 5, 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “FCC priority should be faster bandwidth,” Blair Levin contends the FCC should focus on increasing available Internet bandwidth in U.S. communities. He compares available access speeds and prices in United States cities to Japan, which is leaps and bounds faster and cheaper.

Levin is correct to argue the United States government needs to adopt policies to promote faster broadband access. The FCC and other government agencies also need to pay attention to continuing policies of draconian content filtering in many public schools, however, which sadly remain opaque or hidden to most community constituents besides students and teachers. While some school districts have adopted more balanced approaches to content filtering in the past several years, allowing teachers to bypass content filters and allowing greater student access to websites for interactive publishing, we still have a long way to go. The FCC and other government agencies could do a lot of good by promoting research and amplifying research that highlights these restrictive content filtering policies in some schools.

As educators and advocates for blended learning in our schools, we need to find ways in upcoming months to highlight the digital divide that continues between school and business Internet access in the United States. Many school districts and school leaders continue to resist the imperative to help learners of all ages become responsible publishers online. As more educators work to Map Media to the Common Core in the years ahead, hopefully these dynamics can constructively change without intervention from the federal government.

If you are an academic researcher or someone interested in research to promote improvement in schools, consider researching the need for balanced filtering in education.

Balanced filtering

Hat tip to Doug Levin for sharing this article link via Twitter.

Working Behind a Filter: Resolve Shortened URLs with Unshort.me

It’s “back to school” time for many school districts in North America, and for many teachers (like me) this means “back to working behind an Internet content filter” for a large percentage of the working week. Even when you’re fortunate to work for or with a school district which is “enlightened” when it comes to BALANCED Internet content filtering, challenges and obstacles can still come up with Internet website access. In this post I’ll describe a method for “resolving” or revealing Internet website links created with URL shortener websites (like bit.ly, tinyurl.com and others) which are blocked by your school content filter. In some cases, the “unresolved” or “full” Internet URL/link may be accessible from behind your content filter, but the URL shortener website itself is blocked. In these cases, unshort.me can help. Before I explain how I used unshort.me today to address this situation, I’d like to explain what I mean by “enlightened” in the context of school district Internet content filtering. In my book, a school district qualifies as “enlightened” for Internet content filtering when they:

  1. Permit teachers to directly bypass the district Internet content filter when needed for instructional / professional purposes by logging in with their staff/faculty credentials (The LightSpeed web filtering solution is one which permits this, and is used by our district
  2. Provide teacher access to YouTube, and at least limited student access to YouTube via the free YouTube for Schools program
  3. Take a balanced and reasonable approach in expeditiously responding to “unblock” requests from teachers and staff.

Here’s my situation today: I accessed the Twitter profile of a new colleague, and bypassed the district content filter to access Twitter. (Remembering my userid and password was a challenge, but I did it!) I next encountered a link shared by someone who follows my colleague that I wanted see.

bit.ly link example

The problem was: That link was shortened with the URL shortener service bit.ly, and even with a teacher content filter bypass I can’t access bit.ly on our district network.

Blocked - bit.ly

Enter unshort.me. This website (which is NOT blocked on our district filter) allows users to “unshorten” or resolve shortened URLs to their full, original web addresses.

Unshorten any URL - unshort.me

By using unshort.me, I was able to link to the PDF program for the August 29th Smart Start Oklahoma conference as well as see their website address so I could truncate it (remove the directory names and file names after “.org”) and visit their homepage: www.smartstartok.org. The website unshort.me is a helpful one for your digital teacher toolkit. What other websites or techniques do you like for working around a situation like this with shortened URLs blocked by a school district filter?

Advocating for Balanced Content Filtering in Oklahoma City Public Schools

Today I had an opportunity to meet with the superintendent and CIO of Oklahoma City Public Schools to discuss my concerns as a parent in the district about the overblocking of Internet websites. I had heard a great deal from other people about the district’s policies and the reasons for those policies, but it was good to meet face-to-face with district leaders and hear firsthand about their perspectives on filtering. This evening, I had an opportunity to speak for three minutes before the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education and share my concerns. This is the transcript of the prepared statement I shared with the board, which took exactly three minutes. A loud buzzer went off at the end of the three minute period, and I felt a bit like I was on “The Gong Show” and had done poorly when it went off. I also recorded the audio of my statement using my iPhone and the free Cinch app, which I’ve embedded below. I’m hopeful my advocacy and the work of others in the district will lead to the formation of a task force (which will include parents) that can recommend changes to some of the district’s current policies on Internet filtering. MANY thanks to those who completed my online survey/request for assistance on the content filtering policies of large, urban districts. I integrated some of those results into my prepared comments this evening.

Chairperson Monson, Members of the board and Mr Springer, I appreciate this opportunity to visit with you.

My name is Dr. Wesley Fryer, and I am a digital learning consultant in Oklahoma City. Tonight I want to share deep concerns with you as a parent of three students in Oklahoma City Public Schools regarding the overblocking of Internet websites in our district. I want to call on you to establish a task force to further investigate these issues and make recommendations so students and teachers in our district have opportunities to use interactive websites like Evernote, Edmodo, and Google Documents. These websites provide important platforms for students to practice safe collaborative writing and social networking.They are free and are being used by students and teachers in other large, urban school districts around the United States today which comply with legal requirements of E-Rate including the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

Since August 26, 2011, I have been working with teachers and staff in our district to get the website Evernote.com unblocked so the debate team at Classen SAS can use it to share research and evidence. I have worked with our classroom teacher, school librarian, school principal, and secondary schools director. This morning I met with both our district superintendent and district CIO. I have been told Oklahoma City Public Schools blocks the website Evernote.com because it poses a security risk to the network, because students could upload pornography to it, and because providing student access to sites like this would risk the loss of millions of federal E-Rate dollars.

In mid-October 2011 Oklahoma City Public Schools started blocking student access to both Google Documents and Google Mail. Last week our district started blocking student access to Edmodo.com, a free and secure website for in-classroom social networking and electronic assignment management. These decisions are not justified and should be reversed immediately.

Oklahoma City Public Schools has a professed commitment to “Preparing Students for Success in School, Work, and Life.” We have a problem, however, with a disconnect between these professed commitments involving digital literacy and the reality of draconian Internet website filtering in our classrooms.

Some of the information about the Children’s Internet Protection Act’s legal requirements provided to district staff is inaccurate. It is not true our district would lose $4 million of federal E-Rate funding if we provide students and teachers with access to sites like Evernote, Google Docs and Edmodo. Yet the threat of that monetary loss is regularly brought out at district meetings where content filtering issues are discussed. Large urban districts like Fairfax County Public Schools, Seattle Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools provide access to these three sites today. A district task force can research these issues further and provide recommendations to the board which support more balanced content filtering policies.

Thank you for considering these ideas and for your service to our community.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ – click to view more info about ‘Austin’s Gong Show feat One Eyed Doll at Ruta Maya’ or find free ‘gong show’ pictures via Wylio”>'Austin's Gong Show feat One Eyed Doll at Ruta Maya' photo (c) 2008, MarkScottAustinTX - license: <a href=http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/” width=”500″ style=”float: none; margin: 10px auto;” />

Pennsylvania Newspaper Article / School Tech Director Misrepresents CIPA

Update 11/16: Note the original title of this article has been changed, my intent in writing this is not to personally attack the reporter who wrote the article, but rather call attention to these issues which desperately need clarifying in our communities.

Update 11/17: After reaching out to the newspaper reporter via phone and email I have learned her quotations in this article came from the district technology director at a school board meeting. I am in the process of contacting the Assistant to the Superintendent for Operations for Parkland Schools for additional clarification. To address the reporter’s concerns about this blog post I have changed the title again. The initial title was, “Newspaper Reporter Marion Callahan Misquotes CIPA.” The title was changed on 11/16 to “Pennsylvania Newspaper Article Misquotes CIPA.” I have now changed the title to “Pennsylvania Newspaper Article / School Tech Director Misrepresents CIPA” and also changed this blog post permalink. The current Google search results for the reporter’s name which include “misquotes” in the title is her concern.


Sunday’s article, “Parkland students may soon take laptops, Kindles to class” in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper “The Morning Call” shares an exciting story about BYOD (bring your own device) computing plans in a local school district. The reporter, Marion Callahan, interviewed a school administrator at a recent board meeting. Her interview quotations may give readers a misleading impression about the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Those statements give the false impression that school officials are mandated by federal law to ban student smartphone use at school. While districts are obligated to implement and enforce a Internet content filtering policy on their school networks, schools are not required to outlaw smartphones at school which can bypass school-provided Internet access. With respect to current policy in the Parkland School District, Callahan wrote:

Smartphones, however, are off-limits. Until the district can find a way for its network to limit access, students are not permitted access to the Internet with phones during school hours. The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires that schools have a content filter in place and make every effort to block objectionable sites.

Callahan’s statements in this paragraph misrepresent the requirements of CIPA for schools. Students as well as staff at U.S. schools receiving federal E-Rate funding are NOT prohibited by law or mandate from using their Internet-capable smartphones at school and accessing the Internet through their privately-paid / cellular company provided Internet access. Too many school leaders use CIPA and other legal requirements affecting computing to maintain draconian content filtering policies which make China’s firewall look like a benevolent Santa Claus. This must change, and change starts with the truth.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ – click to view more info about ‘Santa’s Spreadsheet, after Haddon Sundblom’ or find free ‘santa claus computer’ pictures via Wylio”>'Santa's Spreadsheet, after Haddon Sundblom' photo (c) 2009, Mike Licht - license: <a href=http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/” width=”413″ style=”float: none; margin: 10px auto;” />

If wireless Internet access is provided by the school receiving E-Rate funds, that school-provided wifi access must have some kind of content filter in place. The school is not obligated to provide wifi access, however, and certainly is not obligated to ban student use of smartphones or ban students from accessing the Internet with their own carrier data plans. The project wiki, “Unmasking the Digital Truth” highlights the requirements for CIPA:

CIPA requires schools and libraries using E-Rate discounts to operate “a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with Internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors…”

See the May 2011 post on BalancedFiltering,org, “Do your school administrators REALLY understand CIPA?” for additional information including clarifications on CIPA requirements provided last spring by Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Education Technology. Misunderstandings of CIPA like the one highlighted by Marion Callahan in this article might seem like a minor detail, but they are not. Widespread misconceptions about CIPA abound in in our schools today. The last thing we need mainstream media outlets to do is further confuse and obfuscate ‘the truth’ when it comes to content filtering in schools. This is the reason the “Unmasking the Digital Truth” project highlights the facts, laws, and court decisions behind eight primary reasons school leaders in too many U.S. schools today over block the web far beyond their legal mandate to do so. These reasons include:

  • CIPA – The Child’s Internet Protection Act (mandates basic content filtering – U.S.)
  • e-Discovery – Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) requiring email archiving under some circumstances (U.S.)
  • FERPA – The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (U.S.)
  • COPPA – The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (U.S.)
  • Bandwidth – Often a concern the school does not have enough to support a particular website/tool
  • Control – Educational leaders sometimes want to limit potential user behavior
  • Liability – Concern that website access will lead to lawsuits from and litigation with parents
  • Fear – More generalized feelings that web 2.0 sites and technologies are bad / dangerous

I applaud the district leaders in Parkland School District in Pennysylvania for embracing a vision for digital learning which will support BYOD (bring your own device) computing for students and staff in the near future. I hope, however, local newspaper reporter Marion Callahan will clarify her misleading statements about CIPA so all community members in and around Allentown can gain a better rather than a murkier understanding of CIPA requirements. While the school district (which receives E-Rate funds) clearly has a legal obligation to provide a basic level of content filtering on its network when students, staff, and community members access the Internet through it, the district is NOT obligated by law to ban Internet-capable smartphones for students or anyone else or ban smartphone Internet use through commercial cellular providers. All schools in our communities need policies which support balanced content filtering. All our schools need “smart networks” which can enable both flexible access as well as accountability for network users. It sounds like leaders in the Parkland School District are on the right road forward. Hopefully we’ll see more BYOD initiatives in our U.S. schools in the months ahead, as well as state-funded digital learning initiatives providing mobile computing devices for students who cannot afford to bring their own to school.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ – click to view more info about ‘Too many cables’ or find free ‘too many cables’ pictures via Wylio”>'Too many cables' photo (c) 2009, KIUI - license: <a href=http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/” width=”500″ style=”float: none; margin: 10px auto;” />

For additional guidance and information related to digital literacy and school leadership I recommend “What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media” by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann. (Steve Dembo and I co-authored chapter 3 on “Podcasts and Webinars.”) Hat tip to John Maklary for sharing this article.

ACLU Sues Missouri School District for Overblocking Internet Websites

eSchoolNews’ August 17, 2011 article, “ACLU sues Missouri school district over internet filtering,” provides details about a new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Camdenton R-III School District in central Missouri. The lawsuit is part of the ACLU’s “Don’t Filter Me” campaign. Camdenton Schools are accused in the lawsuit of prejudicially blocking students’ access to educational websites about gay, lesbian, and transgender issues, while providing access to anti-LGBT sites.

Diagram of school content filtering

According to the ACLU’s August 15th press release:

The lawsuit argues it is discriminatory and unreasonable to require students to ask for permission every time they want to access a new LGBT website when students can freely access anti-LGBT websites.

The press release also reveals Camdenton Schools is using the URL Blacklist for content filtering. According to the ACLU, URL Blacklist:

…has a viewpoint-discriminatory category called “sexuality,” which blocks all LGBT-related information, including hundreds of materials that are not sexually explicit. The filter does, however, allow students to view anti-LGBT sites.

The April 11, 2011 article from the ACLU, “ACLU “Don’t Filter Me” Initiative Finds Schools In Four More States Unconstitutionally Censoring LGBT Websites,” provides more details about which LGBT-related websites are blocked and permitted in some U.S. school districts. The article links to the “Don’t Filter Me: Students, Check Your School’s Web Filter!” page. This campaign asks students at school to check for access to the following five LGBT websites:

  1. Day of Silence: http://dayofsilence.org
  2. It Gets Better Project: http://itgetsbetter.org/
  3. The Trevor Project: http://thetrevorproject.org/
  4. GSA Network: http://gsanetwork.org/
  5. Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network: http://glsen.org/

The campaign also asks students to check if the following “anti-LGBT, ‘pray away the gay’ websites” are accessible or blocked:

  1. National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality: http://narth.com/
  2. People Can Change: http://peoplecanchange.com/
  3. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays: http://pfox.org/

The following video provides an explanation, targeted at students, for how they can help in the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign.

As far as I know, this lawsuit by the ACLU against a school district for over blocking Internet websites is the first of its kind. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires schools and libraries in the United States receiving federal Erate funding have a policy for blocking offensive Internet content and enforce that policy. Schools locally define filtering policies, however. According to the ACLU’s press release:

“School districts cannot use filtering software that discriminates against websites based on their viewpoint,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “This filter was designed to block more than just adult content and is not viewpoint-neutral. There are many other filtering systems available that do not arbitrarily group websites like PFLAG in the same category as adult-oriented websites.”

It is very important for school officials to understand the laws in the United States related to Internet content filtering as well as the importance of not “over blocking” web content. As I’ve written and noted previously, some of our U.S. schools filter Internet content more severely than China. This is a big problem, and should be addressed for a variety of reasons. I started the projects “Balanced Content Filtering in Schools” and “Unmasking the Digital Truth” to help address these issues. I also included an appendix in my July 2011 eBook, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing” on “Balanced Content Filtering in Schools.” The issues here go beyond LGBT website access. In the United States, we ideologically support free expression and the marketplace of ideas. We recognize the need to censor certain kinds of content on the Internet in our schools and libraries, through the CIPA law, but that mandated censorship is still LIMITED. It will be interesting to follow this case and see how this develops. Hopefully one outcome will be more balanced approaches toward content filtering in Camdenton Schools and elsewhere.

For more background about this ACLU campaign, see the March 2011 article in the Yale Herald, “Yale Law goes online for LGBT rights.”

 

 

 

 

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The phrase “CIPA complaint content” can be misleading

Today at the “Building Human Connections in a Digital World” Educational Technology Conference in Missoula, Missouri, I attended Terrisa Metzler’s presentation “Balancing Learning and Security in a Web 2.0 World.” I am very interested in the topics of this presentation because of the Balanced Filtering in Schools project (balancediltering.org), the “Unmasking the Digital Truth” project, and my breakout session next week at the “Technology Runs Through It” conference in Missoula, “Smart Networks.”

Terrisa Metzler, regional sales manager for Lightspeed Systems, presented this session. During the session in demonstrating the “My Big Campus” educational / social networking platform Lightspeed offers free to everyone (not just its customers.) Terrisa made a comment I’d like to address which can be misleading. Terrisa showed how teachers can embed “cleaned” YouTube videos on their webpages within My Big Campus, and stated this is good because it protects students from “non-CIPA compliant YouTube videos.”

CIPA is the Children’s Internet Protection Act and applies to all U.S. schools and libraries (both public and private) which receive federal E-Rate funding.

Here is the clarification I’d like to offer: There is no such a thing as “CIPA compliant content” or “non-CIPA compliant content.” There obviously IS content online not appropriate for school, but that determination is not made by the CIPA law, it’s made by local authorities. CIPA requires that each school or library subject to E-Rate rules have a filtering policy in place and enforce it, but it does NOT definitively state specific videos and other webpages which should be blocked and should be accessible on school networks. Tina Barseghian’s recent post, “Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites” (highlighted in the BalancedFiltering.org post, “Do your school administrators REALLY understand CIPA?”) is an excellent article about these issues.

Words matter, and we need to be careful that our discussions about content filtering, CIPA, e-Discovery, FERPA, COPPA, etc. clarify requirements rather than confuse people.

It is confusing to say, “My Big Campus” keeps your school CIPA compliant by filtering out non-CIPA compliant YouTube videos. CIPA requires a content filtering policy and enforcement of that policy. CIPA does not define “compliant / non-compliant YouTube videos” or other content.

Teresa also said: “WikiPedia is a site of hotlinks, and students can quickly get to inappropriate content” from WikiPedia articles. She then advocated for how Lightspeed Systems lets teachers whitelist (allow on the content filter) just a specific WikiPedia page, but then every hyperlink on that page is blocked from student access.

I have big reservations about this. I understand Lightspeed Systems is a vendor and is creating a product to meet consumer demands, which include IT personnel who want to overblock the web for students and teachers far beyond what is required by US law. I also understand a system in place which lets teachers directly unblock websites for student access, and specifically whitelist websites for student access, is a HUGE leap forward from the “digital prisons” in which many of our K-12 learners live today at school.

The perspective of educators like Matthew Kitchens, who wants to shut down open web publishing of content by students at school and for school, is also troubling. Lightspeed Systems tweeted a link to Matthew’s post and amplified this today. Matthew wrote in July:

I believe social networking has a place in the classroom, when used within a closed, monitored learning management system(s)…

LightSpeed Systems is a big company and has a lot of clout. Terrisa said Alan November as well as Kevin Honeycutt are now presenting on behalf of LightSpeed Systems at educational conferences. I am very appreciative of Terrisa’s session today, but I think it is very important to be careful and scrutinize the words and phrases we use to discuss these issues. These aren’t minor points.

Terrisa said in our session, “Every filtering company today is working hard to block Google image thumbnails, and we’ve done it.” She then went on to describe a hypothetical student who tries to search on the network for ‘Playboy.’

The issues here are both technical and human. Schools need policies in place to protect students and comply with CIPA as well as other laws. There is a significant difference, however, between protecting students from objectionable content and trying to stop all students from searching for anything inappropriate online. We also have obligations as educators to help students use sites besides Google Images which are copyright friendly and less inappropriate image content. I’m tackling that issue tomorrow at the conference in my breakout on Pecha Kucha presentations and ending PowerPoint abuse.

LightSpeed Systems has some good products and services. The ability for IT in your school/district to have access to bandwidth utilization graphs as well as data like that shown below by Terrisa in our session is vital. Many of our smaller/rural schools don’t have this kind of capability and need it. In Oklahoma, NewNet66 is a great organization putting tools with similar features in the hands of its member school educators.

Traffic by Protocol

I’m really interested in advocating for more balanced content filtering in our schools. LightSpeed is doing some good things to address overblocking, but I’m concerned about advocacy which would push everyone onto the “closed web” and discourage learners from publishing on the open web. See my notes from Karen Fasimpaur’s session, “Open Educational Resources: Share, Remix, Learn” at the 2011 ISTE conference for more on that topic. I’m also concerned with definitions of WikiPedia like “it’s mainly a hotlist of inappropriate links” which perpetuate misconceptions about the site rather than clarifying what the value of the site is and how it should be used AND authored by our students. I’m finally concerned about phrases like “CIPA complaint content” which are misleading and do NOT help others better understand the actual requirements and terms of the CIPA law.

On a related note: Two free websites which can be used to show “cleaned” YouTube videos “live” to students are VideoPure and QuietTube. These weren’t mentioned by Terrisa, but I want to share them since they relate to the topics of this post. Those sites don’t stop students from visiting other “related” videos on YouTube, but they do eliminate related videos, comments, etc. when showing a YouTube video to students live in class. I included those sites in the Video chapter of my eBook,”Playing with Media: simple ideas of powerful sharing.”

What’s your take on these issues?

 

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Do your school administrators REALLY understand CIPA?

Tina Barseghian’s recent post, “Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites” is a great read on the topics of content filtering, liability issues for school districts, digital citizenship, etc. The current U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Education Technology, Karen Cator, shared six clarifications regarding CIPA and content filtering which Tina elaborated on in her post:

  1. Accessing YouTube is not violating CIPA rules.
  2. Websites don’t have to be blocked for teachers.
  3. Broad filters are not helpful.
  4. Schools will not lose E-rate funding by unblocking appropriate sites.
  5. Kids need to be taught how to be responsible digital citizens.
  6. Teachers should be trusted.

These messages are commonly misunderstood by many school administrators, teachers, parents, and IT directors. Please read the entire, original post for more details. For more resources refer to “Unmasking the Digital Truth.” http://unmaskdigitaltruth.pbworks.com/ Cross-posted to: http://www.speedofcreativity.org and http://balancedfiltering.org Hat tip to Ron Henley, Karen Montgomery and Dean Mantz for sharing this with me and bringing it to my attention. Filter FAILphoto © 2010 Kevin Jarrett | more info (via: Wylio)

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What websites should be whitelisted on school content filters?

Many of our public schools in the United States today “overblock” the web and prevent both students and teachers from utilizing powerful, interactive tools which can assist in content creation, collaboration, and sharing as well as constructive, on-task digital learning. To promote more balanced filtering of Internet content in Oklahoma schools, Eric Hileman (the Director of Instructional Technology/Telecommunications at the Oklahoma State Department of Education) is soliciting input from educators everywhere via Google Forms to share websites EVERY school should permit on their network, and the reasons why. This Google Form is accessible from bit.ly/whitelistsurvey, and results are also viewable publicly. If bit.ly is blocked in your location, this is the direct link to the Google Form. School Filters - Whitelist Recommendations Eric is going to continue sharing the results of this survey via Twitter, and I hope to amplify those results both here on BalancedFiltering.org as well as my primary blog, “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.” Please share this project and these links with others. This is a great project and the shared results could prove extremely useful for schools everywhere, not just in Oklahoma.

Cross-posted to “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.”

The Case for Balanced Internet Filtering in Schools

On October 29, 2010, I shared a five minute “lightning talk” at OpenBeta5 in Oklahoma City at the Co-Working Collaborative, making a passionate case for why we need balanced content filtering in our schools. Thanks to the videography work of Opus Video Productions, that presentation is available on YouTube.


  

See my October 29th post, “#OpenBeta5 and Ideas for the Balanced Filtering Online Gradebook,” for more background, along with the referenced websites from the presentation balancedfiltering.org and Unmasking the Digital Truth. One of my top new year’s resolutions for 2011 is getting this “Grade my school content filter” web application built and offered free for teachers, students and parents around the United States to begin using to catalyze change in support of balanced Internet content filtering in our schools. I’m submitting this talk as a proposal for TEDxOKC on April 8, 2011. By that time, I hope the “Grade my Content Filter” web application will be available for use!

Follow this project on Twitter: @balancedfilter!

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Persistently ask for websites to be unblocked

When you want a website unblocked at your school, how many times do you ask if it’s not done by the IT department in a reasonable amount of time? (Or for most small schools, the individual or company responsible for “whitelisting” websites on the content filter doesn’t unblock your requested site.) One time? Two times? Three times? Maybe we all need to KEEP ASKING until we get the result we want and need: An unblocked website. Consider the following quotation from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who was interviewed for an article in Arstechnica recently:

 

At the end of the day, businesses, when a consu… when a user—let me not use the word “consumer”—when a user comes into work and asks for something over and over, IT’s going to have to give it to them. Now, do I expect the user to come in and say they really want their company to use SQL Server versus Oracle? No. But anything the consumer can use at home, they will develop a point of view on and ask for it at work. And eventually, IT will give it to them.

 

I think this quotation is potentially very instructive. Does your IT department block your access and student access to a particular blog or wiki tool now? Write up your request to have it unblocked and explain the reasons why. Then, if the request is turned down, submit the request again a month later. There is a Biblical parable which comes to mind in situations like this. It is sometimes referred to as the story of “The Friend at Midnight.” You can find it in Luke 11:5-13. The lesson is, persistently asking for reasonable things gets results. This is most likely true with school IT departments as well, especially when requests are submitted professionally, with logical and clear explanations, and repeatedly.