Filtration Fever Hits China (and US)

You can’t visit China without seeing the western influence there. Our tour guide had a Justin Bieber haircut that he had proudly made himself. Chinese who cannot speak English can sing in perfect Bieberese “Baby, Baby, Baby…” Ah, Bieber Fever is Everywhere.

 Government Snow
But, the government is everywhere too. In the sky, on the ground, everywhere.

The government made it snow on Saturday of the Flat Classroom conference. Snow?

Flat Classroom Conference 2011 – February Beijing, China

As I met Julie Lindsay the lead organizer for the conference, I commented how odd it was that it snowed that day. She laughed in her lilting sort of way

“Ah, the government made it snow last night, it is no big deal.” 

Others from Beijing verified this.

“I can see the snow cannons, they fire them near my house and seed the clouds,” said Julie.

Others said that this is a frequent occurence in Colorado and Utah where they need snow. I’m not sure but something in me gets upset at governments controlling the weather.

But it shouldn’t be surprising as filters have a whole lot of influence on the weather inside the computer screens. They can cast government snow upon the seeds of discontent and revolution. The can just cast snow upon any and all collaboration by chilling the pipes upon which such collaboration flows.

Yes, China is blocking Google services
I can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that China is aggressively blocking Google services. When I arrived in China in February, it was during the time when Middle Eastern unrest was spreading and I could not check my gmail for the first two days even behind my well-selected VPN. Google Docs was unstable as well.

She Who Shall Not Be Named
In fact, we had one young lady named Jasmine and because the government was so heavily filtering the word “Jasmine” (the Jasmine revolution) we renamed her on our wiki and in our projects to keep from losing our wiki. Our behind the scenes joke was that Jasmine was “she who shall not be named” as we did not want to speak the word.

The Company Who Shall not Be Named
Now, my friends in China are quietly moving to yahoo accounts just in case they cannot get back into their gmail. Even with VPN’s, Western expatriates are cut off from most Google services: docs, calendars, especially gmail. Unstable and unusable.

Keeping it Flat Anyway
Yes, this has put a hitch in things for Flat Classroom – an organization of global collaboration for students that we have kept decidedly apolitical. We are about teaching. Teaching technology, asychronous collaboration, online leadership skills. We believe that you can’t have excellence in education without global collaboration. Period. And yet, when things happen like this it can set us back.

This is nothing new. We will press forward. 

The Great Firewall of China
From what I understand, China has 7 firewall centers as part of their “Great Firewall of China” and these firewalls have been locked down tighter and tighter over the past few months.

Filtration Fever
in China
Despite the influence of entertainment, right now, not only can my Chinese friends not read this blog but now, they cannot read my email.

David Truss, Pair a Dimes Blog

But to segue, here are some words from my friend David Truss in China along with a picture he suggests people in schools with Filter Fever hang in their foyer:

“The Students Live website provides a number of different ways to connect and interact with the Olympic reporter student bloggers. However, we live in China which filters a lot of social software websites and so these were the options that my Grade 9 teacher was confronted with:

Facebook: BLOCKED

Twitter: BLOCKED

YouTube: BLOCKED

Blogspot Blogs: BLOCKED

Flickr: (recently) BLOCKED (again)

I had to use my VPN to bypass the Chinese filter in order to cut and paste the blog post, mentioned above, into an email so that my teacher could read it in his class. A potential global ‘conversation’ reduced to a reading, confined to a classroom. Frustrating!

Now here is the thing… I chose to move to a country where a lot of sites get blocked. I can’t imagine what it’s like for teachers in the ‘free world’ that have their own school districts do this to them!”

in the US
We in the US cannot look down our trusty 1Gbps Internet connections at our Chinese friends.

I can tell you from experience, the two toughest places to collaborate IN THE WORLD are: any school in China and US public schools.

Thank God for the progressive US schools, public and private, who collaborate anyway and that we have many of them in our projects. These schools are usually characterized by extraordinary leadership who understand  that:

YOU CANNOT HAVE EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION WITHOUT GLOBAL COLLABORATION.

What do schools block?
Like China, most US public schools won’t allow unblocking of even one Ning – even educational ones like Digiteen, Flat Classroom, or NetGen. They put our emails from us to the teachers into their blacklist filters and teachers can’t even get started. Joining a Google Group or Google calendar at school is out of the question.

They won’t allow kids to wiki because “people write porn on wikis.” (Yes, I had a school that said that.) Sad.

Some teachers have to create non-school emails and accounts and do work from home to make global collaboration happen in the classroom. Their filters are that locked down and no method exists for unblocking anything.

I think that we have to look at our practices and our filtering here in the US very closely.

Filter fever is a symptom of fear. We all see clearly what China is afraid of.

But what on earth are US public schools afraid of?

  • Are we afraid that our kids might learn to work with someone from another country? That is a business requirement. 
  • Are we afraid that we might have to shuffle our work day to work with someone from another time zone? We are surrounded by oceans that soak up the time zones and need to work through this.
  • Are we afraid of a future where we can no longer keep prosperity on our shores by the boundary of our country? We already live in a world where money flows through the Internet and can shift the GDP of whole countries in a day due to websites hosted in country.

Personally, I’m afraid of a future built upon a generation that has been cut off from one another. Students are the greatest textbook ever written for each other. Open the book. Make it happen.

Every Student Collaborates
Filter out the smut but please, we should be able to allow meaningful global collaboration with students all over the world for EVERY US public school system. It can be done inexpensively or for free – the only cost is to move outside our comfort zone.

We work so hard measuring if each individual child is learning that we forget to see if they can work together at all.

In this day of budget cuts, this is something we can do to invest in our future that won’t cost a lot of money and will pay huge dividends in future generations. Most students are woefully unprepared for this. Don’t say “they are already connected now on Facebook.” It simply isn’t applicable to the professional environment where they are headed.

Collaborate or be unemployed.

We Love Our Walled Window boxes?
I love my country (the US) and it disheartens me to know that our very future lies in collaborating with countries like India and China and all of the world and we continue to “wall our gardens.”

The problem is that I’d hardly call the technology ecosystems at most schools a garden – they are probably more like a windowbox if anything. Some would even say windowdressing as their internal networks languish unused with kids forgetting passwords and not logging in for months.

Let me repeat the motto of our Flat Classroom Conference: there is no excellence in education without global collaboration.

The question is NOT: “What are we keeping out?”  The question should be “What are we letting in?”

Remember your noble calling teachers, administrators, ed tech leaders. Few such callings are as noble as this: to promote students working together in the K12 level so when they grow up we have a world that can work together. Promoting collaboration and collaboration from the bottom up.

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20 thoughts on “Filtration Fever Hits China (and US)

  1. I might have shared this with you already Vicki, but here is my exasperated look at blocking both here in China and in the ‘Free’ world: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/warning-we-filter-websites-at-school/

    … and that was before this clamp-down! Things are really bad here now. It took several tries and about 3 minutes to get this post to load from the twitter bit.ly short-link. It might take me another 3 minutes to bookmark this page. Sometimes I give up. (I just deleted a 2 paragraph rant about all the things we can’t do right now- I vented, but don’t need to share it, the link above & my example of getting to this post says enough.)

    Instead, we should take advice from a famous Chinese man who was, according to Wikipedia, a “revolutionary nationalists who wanted to see China standing on equal terms with the great global powers.” His name was Mr. Deng Xiaoping. Loosely quoting him, he said, ‘A country is just like a house, it has windows and gates. If you close the window, you get no fresh air, and also no flies. But if you open the window fresh air comes in and also some flies.’

    Our school houses in the so-called FREE WORLD are choosing to stop the fresh air from coming in… for fear of a few flies.

  2. David – I admire you for your desire to reach across and am going to go back
    into this post and quote what you’ve said. thank you for taking the
    incredible amount of time it must have taken to both read and comment on
    this post. Good luck with the bookmarking site.

    I always find it funny that the definitive leader in social bookmarking,
    Diigo, has Chinese co-founders and cannot be accessed in China.

    Vicki A. Davis
    http://www.coolcatteacher.com
    Blog: http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com
    Twitter: @coolcatteacher

  3. I whole-heartedly agree that filtering/blocking is detrimental. The biggest problem in the US, as I see it, is the federal government. Many schools/districts apply for e-rate money to help offset technology costs, particularly Internet access. E-rate requires that all schools be CIPA (Child Internet Protection Act) compliant. CIPA requires draconian levels of filtering, pretty much ensuring the educational abilities of any Internet access are severely hampered. So, schools have a choice: get the government to help pay for Internet access in their labs and campuses, but be forced to block/filter just about anything that may be collaborative or educational…or use more reasonable policies but get stuck with the bill. It’s a no-win situation thanks to the short-sighted and uninformed policies of Congress.

  4. Yes, but this is what confuses me. Many people claim CIPA and yet others have ways to unfilter. For example, the visionary schools allow “specific URL unblocking” – so there is a system for teachers to ask that a specific site be unblocked. One doesn’t have to allow ALL of Ning in order to have one site. That is the problem.

    What my friends tell me is you can be CIPA compliant and allow access to many sites it is just that somewhere there is a breakdown and teachers CANNOT request access. In other cases, when things are unblocked – teachers with no valid reason to use a site don’t supervise kids and there are problems. Either way, teachers should be able to request a specific wiki be unblocked or to collaborate globally somewhere — they don’t have to be everywhere to be somewhere.

  5. Social media, as you know, can be used to teach. They are afraid of giving kids a voice. The kids have their voice and use it outside school and unfortunately, it will eventually impact their classroom. You don’t have to use all of this all of time to use some of this some of the time, as you know. Keep fighting the fight!

  6. Glad that I could contribute, thanks Viki!

    The Flat Classroom Conference was amazing and I realize that my first comment was only about filtering when your post was also about global collaboration. Meeting you, Julie & Kim Cofino was a highlight of the conference for me. All 3 of you are in my Brave New World Wide Web video that tells the story of how I became a connected/networked educator and just as importantly how I started getting my students connected. And now we come full circle… I was promoted before I had the chance to engage my classroom students with a truly global collaboration project, but now I’ve got a class at my school in the Flat Classroom project and thanks to you and Julie, I get to play along!

    The three of you are leaders in what you do with students and with educators. You deserve many kudos & I’d just like to say, “THANK YOU!” for all that you do.

  7. I agree – there can (and should) be a method for requesting a site be un-blocked. There are many reasons why this doesn’t always happen, though. Some school IT departments err on the side of over-blocking, some don’t have filters that allow whitelisting, and some are just ignorant – actually believing thinks like “all social networking sites are bad and have no educational value”. In reality, CIPA is pretty broadly worded. Schools (and libraries) must monitor Internet use by minors, block pornographic images, and block “inappropriate sites”. That last one is open to interpretation, and most schools paint with a wide brush.

  8. I couldn’t help but laugh at your opening comments on “Bieberese”. I was recently in Poland on a Service-Learning trip where I saw American culture (or American teen culture) everywhere. Justin Bieber is just one example of how American culture has permeated Poland, and, according to your post, China as well. As for the intense blocking of internet sites in China, I can only imagine how limiting and frustrating that must be for Chinese educators and students, when I become frustrated over just the slow speed of my internet some days! Thanks for your insights.

  9. Thank you for your comments Vicki! I work in a district that blocks everything!! I try to bring up conversation in our district tech meetings to try to get them to see that we need to be using the programs and teaching the students how to use them appropriately, but the frustrating thing is most teachers in our district want everything that has to do with social media blocked. Social media is too distracting, it keeps the students from paying attention to the lesson, they might say something negative about the class, or the school, or the teacher. They refuse to acknowledge that we could harness the power of social media and use it to do wonderful things in our classroom. Maybe someday……

  10. I need to find your video! Glad I didn’t too much embarrass you at the conference! I have followed you a long time as well, my friend. Thank you for the ongoing conversation and inspiration.

    Vicki Davis
    Cool Cat Teacher Blog

    Building the bridges of today that the society of tomorrow will walk across.

    Sent from my iPod touch

  11. You have totally nailed the issue!! Mind if I quote you?

    Vicki Davis
    Cool Cat Teacher Blog

    Building the bridges of today that the society of tomorrow will walk across.

    Sent from my iPod touch

  12. Yes! The culture is everywhere!! It is a bit disconcerting and encouraging at the same time!

    Vicki Davis
    Cool Cat Teacher Blog

    Building the bridges of today that the society of tomorrow will walk across.

    Sent from my iPod touch

  13. Here it is: http://blip.tv/file/1262079 You and Julie show up in the wiki section on an image with the Flat Classroom wiki… I was following along from the start:-)

    I wasn’t embarrassed, but rather honoured. Here I was coming to finally meet some people I really look up to, and the conference opens with you saying, “Where is Dave Truss?” and sharing how we’ve learned so much from each other over a span of years, having never met face to face.

    Then when you called on me to share something, I thought: “We need to do this more!”

    We go to conferences and we have incredible wisdom in the crowd and we have a culture of sharing that we foster online, and yet we don’t necessarily harness it at conferences. My reflection post will go deeper into this, but I think it’s time we ‘exploited’ the talents at our conferences and called in our PLN’s to be co-teachers in the room.

    You’ve inspired me to get my butt in gear and finally finish my Flat Classroom reflection post. Thanks as always for the learning conversation!

  14. Vicki,
    The problem of limited access is not only the fault of the government but, parents as well. Schools in the United States are under pressure to protect themselves against legal suits arising from the implications of online exchange. In some respects our society has become so litigation happy that schools have no choice but to block access to any material they deem potentially harmful. Unfortunately this makes it very difficult for students and teachers to utilize web 2.0 tools within their classrooms as sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are almost always inevitably blocked. In order to change policies however we must first change society.
    Governments, even open and democratic ones fear the ability of people to collaborate with one another. After all, social networking sites are the ideal medium for people looking to organize protests and revolutions to mobilize support for their cause. Given the American experience during the civil rights era and the dissent over the Vietnam War it is no surprise that schools and governments throughout the world seek to control the nature and extent of online communications. Just recently, the U.S. military contracted with Ntrepit, a California software company, to purchase a program that would allow military personnel the ability to create and maintain 10 different online personas for the purpose of manipulating the direction of online conversations. Think about the implications that this type of software could have on public conversations. Just consider the nuclear crisis in Japan for a moment- we know that president Obama has a nuclear agenda, and that he has received sizable contributions from the energy corporations, if Obama decided to use this software as way to mobilize public support for his agenda he could have the military counter the opposing nuclear energy. Eventually, after enough people disagreed with them, they would figure that they were the minority and likely become quietest.

  15. The other thing is that parents should start asking schools the question “how are my children collaborating with students in other places? This will help the discussions take place about the positive uses of web 2.0 tools in the classroom.

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