Monthly Archives: November 2010

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. 

How far have we come in 8 years with balanced filtering in schools?

Over-filtering of Internet content in US schools has been a problem for years. In the 2002 report, “The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools,” authors wrote:

While many students recognize the need to shelter teenagers from inappropriate material and adult-oriented commercial ads, they complain that blocking and filtering software often raise barriers to students’ legitimate educational use of the Internet. Most of our students feel that filtering software blocks important information, and many feel discouraged from using the Internet by the difficulties they face in accessing educational material.

These complaints are not limited to students, of course. Many teachers have and continue to report problems with over-filtering of Internet content. The problems are not limited to websites with desired and appropriate content, however. Many schools have and continue to block access to web-based email accounts for students as well as staff, despite the fact laws (like CIPA) do not require such blocking. In the same report, authors noted:

In addition, many students describe schools that do not allow them to access their outside email accounts—the vast majority of students are not provided with school-sanctioned email accounts. In many cases, schools also prevent students from using instant messaging technologies, save their files to the school network, visit Web sites that teachers do not explicitly authorize them to visit, and—in perhaps the most extreme case we heard about—perform “right clicks” of their mouse to launch a (seemingly) innocuous pop-up menu within the Microsoft Windows operating system.

How far have we come as a nation, in our public schools, in eight years when it comes to balanced content filtering? Some schools have come a long way, but many others remain in the dark ages. BalancedFiltering.org seeks to change this impasse and accelerate the pace of change in local communities when it comes to discussions about balanced content filtering.

Source: Arafeh, S., Levin, D., & Rainie, L. (2002). The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved November 8, 2010, from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2002/The-Digital-Disconnect-The-widening-gap-between-Internetsavvy-students-and-their-schools.aspx

On blocking and banning and somesuch by Bill MacKenty

This is a great post shared by Bill MacKenty on his blog.
http://www.mackenty.org/index.php/comments/on_blocking_and_banning_and_somesuch/

via Bill Mackenty by Bill on 10/13/10


On blocking and banning and somesuch

I’ve never liked the idea of blocking or filtering. My students will be living in a digital world; they need to learn how to communicate in it. They need to learn digital literacy. Basic skills in being safe, appropriate communication, boundaries, the commercial aims of many social networking sites. They need to learn how to be in a digital world.

I don’t think filtering or blocking helps students learn, I think it actually prevents them from learning how to live and learn in a digital world. I understand as a school, we have a duty to keep students safe; we also have a duty to teach them. Herein lay the balance schools must maintain.

We /do/ block sites that are unquestionably bad – adult, openly illegal*, violent, and sites that could harm your computer. But many sites are not unquestionably bad; nor are they unquestionably good. And this is where we need to tread carefully.

One other point: it is not impossible to bypass filters. Kids are rather clever about getting around these things, and with the rise of handheld smartphones, schools can do very little to prevent a student from logging onto facebook, posting a picture or movie, or accessing the internet.

I dont thing removing access is a good thing.

What’s good about facebook

Facebook is popular. The Whitehouse has a facebook page, the UK Parliment, every major political candidate has a facebook page, every major corporation hasd a facebook page. Any social cause you can think of has facebook page. Colleges and Universities use facebook to communicate and stay in touch with applicants and students. Teachers use facebook because it is so easy to communiate with their students (teachers should use a separate facebook account, though). Many teachers report joy in staying in touch with their students over the years.

Let me repeat: facebook is so popular because it is easy to stay in touch and communicate. It is a major vehicle for communication and collaboration.

But it’s not all good, is it?

Facebook can distract students from learning (unless you are learning something on facebook). Facebook has numerous add-on and games that can distract students from work. There are privacy concerns related to facebook. There are add-ons and modules to facebook that make it easy for kids to say very hurtful things to each other. If a student exercises poor judgement, they can be quite embarassed. Fads, half-truths, and even lies can be very quickly passed around to a large group of people.

Not all that different from doodling on a piece of paper or a bad day on the playground.

What should schools do?

Schools need to engage in a genuine partnership with parents. We need to educate parents about the internet and technology. We need to share what we see and hear. We need to share our professional expertise with parents and help them make wise decisions about technonology and their kids.

But I don’t think we should think of ourselves as parents. I think we should think of ourselves as teachers. Hard lines need to be drawn in the world, but you need to be careful when you draw them. Our job is to develop kids, to support them and to encourage intellectual curiousity and learning. I’m not sure completely blocking access to a popular site fits into that model.

Where can parents look for help?

Click here for Google’s family internet safety.
Click here for Microsoft’s parent safety guide.
Click here for Facebook safety tips for parents
Click here for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre
Click here for netSmartz

* even this is tricky; is blocking a site which protests against a law appropriate? If we looked at some legalize marijuana sites, we would see advocating marijuna. Should we block that?