Starting to notice - the only people school firewalls keep away from resources are the teachers - students know of every proxy on the planet

Realized a while back - the only people school firewalls keep away from resources are the teachers - students know of every proxy server on the planet (or create their own at home if needed).

Should the focus shift WAY to the "Acceptable use" side and away from "blanket blocking" of every useful sites online? What happens when WIMAX and other large area wireless broadband technologies are main stream and there is no single "pipe" schools can block?

The tendency is to show the frustrated teacher who cannot access Youtube video resources the very tools (vtunnel ect.) that the students are using to update their Myspace accounts while at schools.

Intersting

Tags: Security, firewall, proxy

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Hi Rich,

There's no doubt in my mind that filtering is an absolute waste of time and resources. Do we really think that we are blocking anything from students?

One of my students (high school teacher) once told me that del.icio.us was blocked at his school. What possible rationale guided that decision? This is the natural, irrational result of putting people in charge of determining what a "good" service is and what a "bad" service is. Everything will be marked bad.

Also, no need to wait for the WiMax pipes. Most newer phones enable students to check email, Facebook, and even surf for porn via the built-in browser. My phone had the ability to do this 4 years ago and I'm sure the newer versions just do a better job. Given a cable and the right settings on your phone, your phone becomes a modem that can be (and likely is) used to go online.

I'd say ban the Ban.

Dan
Well said Dan !..... All these filters are doing is limiting access to the teachers really... the more I see these "filters" in practice the more I realize just how crazy the concept is. Its a real shame these "filters" are so wide spread.... We run into them virtually EVERYWHERE we go.
I'd have to object to this. Simply because the kids can get at potentially objectionable content doesn't mean the school should be making it available. Kids can get at smokes and girly magazines if they choose to, but I don't think we'd advocate the school canteen selling cigarettes or the library stocking Playboy. The school makes choices about what it will endorse or not. If the kids can work around that, that doesn't mean the school should then make the banned content available.

I will, however, freely agree that schools often do ban content that should be available. An entire school district will have the same filtering and might block YouTube (which has a fair bit of objectionable content) and then it will be virtually impossible for a single school to override that because they're using YouTube for something positive. Individual school should get more control over their filtering than is usually the case.
Hi James,

I have to disagree with your logic. I would say that it is more like not letting teachers into the school because they might have a packs of smokes in their pockets or Playboys in their backpacks. The rationale being that student could get into their pockets and steal the cigarettes.

Schools certainly should have policies that address the mis-use of computers, but blocking sites is not the answer.

Dan
I think the decision makers on this issue have been hiding behind CIPA and other laws to justify their overuse of filters to manage bandwidth and productivity. Perhaps if enough teachers get informed about this issue, and push their administrators to take back control of filters from non-educators (often in a central office somewhere), things might change. I'm actually going to be asking some other teachers at my school their feelings about this at a meeting this afternoon. Here's the text of a handout I prepared:

*****
Core question: Are we happy with the current Internet filter at THMS?

What the law says

Federal law (the Children’s Internet Protection Act) says that schools which receive the E-Rate discount must “block or filter Internet access to pictures that: (a) are obscene, (b) are child pornography, or (c) are harmful to minors, for computers that are accessed by minors” and schools must have a policy addressing Internet use.

Virginia law (Code 22.1-70.2) says that schools must have an acceptable use policy for students and staff, and that schools must filter out child pornography and obscenity.

Our school goes far beyond the requirements of the law in filtering content.

Filtered sites

Of the 100 most popular sites in the United States (according to alexa.com), 5 are pornographic and have to be filtered at our school under state and federal law. Of the remaining 95, 21 sites are blocked, including many that can be used in education.

Our filter also blocks access to many stand-alone computer programs that connect to the Internet.

Here are some ways currently blocked sites or programs could be used for legitimate purposes:

YouTube and other video sharing sites include videos from civic and world leaders, clips demonstrating all kinds of content concepts, and authentic language examples for language learners.

Instant messaging tools like Skype or iChat can be used to bring in guest speakers (through text, voice, or video) from around the world - with no travel costs.

iTunes and other legal media downloading programs can provide access to educational podcasts, music samples, documentary films and more. iTunes U is being used by dozens of colleges and universities to make course content available for free through the iTunes client.

Social networking sites like Facebook or Global Education Collaborative are used to connect not only friends but also professional networks. They can also be used to model Internet safety (96% of students with Internet access outside of school report having used a social networking site).

Would more teachers use these sites for instruction if they were not blocked?

Options

1. Status quo; we can maintain our current level of filtering, thus cutting access to some of the best new technological tools in education.
2. We can reduce our filters for all school Internet users to keep our “one size fits all” use of filters.
3. We can create different levels of password-protected Internet access for administrators, teachers, and/or various age groups of students.
Great idea Jeremy!

I would suggest that you use more solid examples for each technology. Since you can't link to them from the school network :( you should describe them in detail. For example, point out that YouTube has a Presidential Election site with videos of all candidates discussing important issues that are difficult to replicate with text reviews of the videos (interview, debates, and so forth).

You need to make sure that the teachers/administrators understand that aggressive filtering is not protecting students, it is potentially hurting them. Bring education back to school.

Dan
Hi Jeremy,

How did the meeting that day go? Did you move towards more openness in accessibility?

Thank you for posting this--it's worth taking note of again and again. I think I'm relatively "spoiled" with open access. Things that get blocked are re-opened up as soon as the kids go to administration and tell why it's educational. (Yeah, they're used to seeing my students pushing the edge.) In class, we have CR2.0 and my 4/5 homeroom class ning network, iTunes, Youtube, Skype, iChat, other forms of chat, email for every kid (Gaggle), Moodle. Facebook is blocked except for on cable; the wireless system filters it.

Overuse of filters is something we can keep a "group eye" on. In many ways, this group (CR2.0) is setting the stage for "interpretation of policy." So let's keep this debate in the limelight.
I teach elementary kids so don't deal with some of the problems facing teachers of older kids. When my kids are online they are there for a purpose, generally I scan sites on a studied topic and put those together on a webpage. Am I limiting their options? Yes. Am I saving them (and me) hours of wasted time by limiting "free surfing"? Yes. Am I giving them enough sites to choose the good one's over the bad? Yes. Am I teaching them to aviod inappropriate sites? Yes.

I've never been a big fan of censorship--it's been my experience as a parent and teacher that once you say "no" they curiosity meter goes up. I think it's most important to teach kids to enjoy learning interesting things and that there are things that they need to avoid. Am I rambling? Yes.

I've mentioned this before but when a site is blocked by our district we see a popup and have the option to ask the CIPA representative to unblock the site, most of the time they do. It's real hush hish who this "decider" is, afraid of TPed house or slashed tires, I guess. I always picture this CIPA guy like the Wizard of OZ---"PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE LITTLE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!" Surf on, N.
Yes, filtering can be a frustrating experience. Our district is basically sheltered under Border Manager and many many useful sites are blocked. Because I do video conferencing, my connection is open and not filtered, so YouTube and anything else is available - but only under my supervision. All of my classroom kid machines are blocked. On my smartboard, I use YouTube frequently (for example science experiment demos and Blue Man Group on global warming). My students are grade 4, but many are already carry sophisticated devices as described by Daniel Craig. I don't think my kids are using proxies yet ... but it's only a matter of time!

Terry
At our school we have two levels of filtering - set during the login script - that allows teachers to access sites that the students can't. I use Youtube frequently, though I often embed selected videos rather than use the site itself. As for the decision to censor particular sites, well, blocking porn is pretty much a no-brainer, as it is very easy to stumble on it by accident (During a teacher Smartboard training session in Sept 2005, one of the teachers went to google, typed "katrina" and clicked "I'm Feeling Lucky". What popped up was no hurricane!). What precipitated the Youtube block was a student playing one of the Al Jazeera beheading videos in a computer lab when the supervising teacher was momentarily out of the room. That left a few students scarred.
Facebook was blocked because some students were using it for purposes of harrassment, and were posting from school during school time.
I don't really have an issue with protective blocking, it can get out of hand, and it gets to be a case of playing catchup with the students (plugging proxy holes) or reactive slamming the barn door after the horse has fled. Ultimately, there is a fear of liability - those who make the decisions are the ones who will take the hit if anything untoward creeps out of the web and poisons the mind of a child.

But lord, del.icio.us? Give me a break!

Ed
So far the only things that I couldn't get unblocked in the last year were flickr and YouTube. I did protest the flickr block since there are so many other photo sharing sites that weren't blocked, I didn't really understand the flickr block. I researched and wrote a lengthy letter to the Technology Committee (IT people and asst. superintendent). I recieved a nice reply-it turns out there was a parent complaint about flickr. That was the reason for the block---I actually understand that gesture more than I understand the willy nilly blocking of 8 million blogs!
There are lots of good ideas and discussion in this thread. I think it was Jeremy who talked about the impact on instruction. Instruction, in my opinion, is probably the number 1 negative side effect of too much filtering especially if more dynamic filtering is used or the parameters change of what is blocked. If a site is available at one time but then blocked when it's going to be part of instruction, it can really throw the monkey wrench into the spokes. It's like giving a teacher a textbook to prepare and then taking it from them and the students right before their lesson.

I think there is an interesting paradox and balancing act: on the one hand we need to filter to keep our students safe and to comply with CIPA. But on the other we need to teach 21st century skills and prepare students for their lives post K-12 school. And many of the tools needed to do this are classically on the "block" list.

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