What to do about filtration? Allow ad hoc distributed filtration!

Do you wrestle publicly?

I have been this week. I’ve been grappling with issues, new ideas, new tools, and a very exciting wiki project. I wrestle with the questions that plague educators everywhere. I wrestle with my good fortune. (And its public because I blog about it!) You see, I am a teacher but also have the good (or not so good) fortune to also be the technology administrator and I control my own filter.

Bud Hunt had a profound comment in the midst of his keynote this week. He was talking about an engaging discussion that he and his students were having about the problem of school violence. As they wrestled with thoughts about how to solve the problem, they began to “ask the Internet.” Immediately when they typed in “school violence” it triggered the filter. Bud says,

“It is frustrating to teach information management when you can’t find answers. Driving into a filter is like driving into a brick wall, it stifles interest in continuing the journey.”

I have control over my filter. If this were my scenario, I would go and allow the search and then after class, promptly turn off the ability to search those questions.

So, let’s propose solutions!

I don’t like to complain without proposing solutions. I’ve had countless educators complain that they could only participate in the K12online project from home because it was blocked. Or the Math wiki being done by Jeanne Simpson and Chris Harbeck for the k12wiki project. Their assignment was to find and categorize math videos according to standards. However, Jean can look at the wiki, but because YouTube and Google video are blocked, she cannot see the embedded videos.

I would propose one of the following two solutions:

Ad Hoc Unblocking with Accountability

1) An adhoc login for teachers to allow something to be unblockedfor a specified period of time –

Teachers should have the ability to “sign into” the filtration service at their school. Then, they could use their username and password to enable a certain search or service for a specified period of time (i.e. October 30th from 8 – 9 am) I want youtube to be unblocked.

All use (or abuse) of the unblocked service would then be monitored. It would be the teacher’s responsibility for monitoring the use in their classroom. It would be tracked and monitored under the teacher’s user id. Think of it like signing up for a video projector or television cart. You are signing up for the use of a resource – access to a certain site or location.

Distributed filtration
2) Distributed filtration methodologies –

One of the drawbacks with the first suggestion is that some schools have one filtration service for the entire school system or school. I believe if there was a mechanism to have a primary filter installed for the school, but for technology classrooms to have their own filtration either through a virtual partition or separate device.

This would allow the technology classrooms to unblock and allow certain domains without affecting access for the whole school.

Let people do their job and hold them accountable.

Stop throwing rocks, please!

We have too much to do to keep throwing rocks at one another! Fighting over filtration causes resentment, inefficiencies, and frustration. There are valid points on both ends of the filtration discussion, however, the bottom line is this… student learning.

Student learning…

Student learning…

Not, “it needs to be easy for a technology administrator to manage.”

I’m sorry, but classrooms are tough to manage too. Nothing about schools are easy and caveats abound. (Just ask principals who scratch their head with the student who always seems to find the one thing left out of the handbook!)

Neither does it does need to be, “everything should be unblocked and let teachers do anything they desire.” We as teachers must be responsible and accountable.

The Fact about “Sex”

I mean, really, what teenage boy can resist typing in “sex” at Google? The word “Sex” should be blocked in 99.9% of the cases in schools.

However, what if a biology teacher is teaching asexual reproduction. Shouldn’t they be allowed to request that search be unblocked temporarily? (It happened last week, and I did unblock it!)

Accountability and Flexibility with filtration

This ad hoc method of enhancing filtration would give both accountability and flexibility. Would it be harder for technical administrators to handle? Sure it would.

Would it be harder for teachers to deal with than having everything unblocked? Sure.

But wise men know when to meet in the middle.

The teachers have to request the ad hoc unblocking of items and then administrators or tech support could allow or deny the request. We do so many other less important things this way, why not apply this to filtration?

Perhaps there is something out there that allows this. I actually have to log into my filter and unblock and reblock things. (I keep a list.)

Manufacturers need to take note.

Manufacturers who want to work with schools should get their act together and offer such an ability to progressive schools who know there is something more. (My husband who is from an industrial background wonders if something couldn’t be set up in Sharepoint to manage this.)

We’ve automated gradebooks, testing, attendance, lunchrooms, etc. and a piece of paper has to be filled out to unblock a website. In fact, there is NO system in place in many schools for getting sites unblocked. (According to the e-mails I get!)

This is about teaching.

Letting technology administrators with no accountability for curriculum or testing make all filtration decisions is about like letting the janitor decide how to lay out the room. (As we say in South Georgia, it is like “the tail wagging the dog!”)

Teachers should be able to group their desks for cooperative learning projects (some can’t do that either — if this is the case at your school, get Marzano’s Classroom Management that Works and read the research) and they should be able to have a system for requesting access to online resources. It just makes sense.

To tell teachers to trust “Big Brother” with no method of recourse is telling them “Act like a professional, but I’m not going to treat you like one.” It is demeaning to the professionals that teachers are.

Leave the pity party and join the problem solving party.

So, folks, you know I don’t like pity parties and we’ve all heard enough complaints on this one. (Over and over and over at all live K12 conference events! It is the silent giant in the room.)

I’ve been a programmer,and I know we have the programming know how and ability out there to create interfaces to allow ad hoc teacher filtration and provide accountability.

There are enough GREAT technology administrators and principals out there who can tackle this one. There are enough trailblazing teachers who would take the responsibility seriously and come up with some best practices for handling such a system.

I want to know who is doing something like this? Does it exist? If it doesn’t, the discussion should start.

After all, I think most educators truly want what is best for student education. And if you think that you can’t find useful information in blocked places, go to the Math Wiki created for the K12 online conference and look at the videos that Chris and Jeanne are posting. That should be enough to convince even the most vehement opponent of ad hoc filtration.

Ad hoc filtration capabilities for teachers with administrative approval.

Somebody needs to be talking about this!

Let’s join the problem solving party and leave the pity party behind.

What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “What to do about filtration? Allow ad hoc distributed filtration!

  1. Vicki, this is a great post and so timely! This is hot hot hot issue at our school. Emails have flown back and forth for the last two weeks between frustrated teachers and administrators about too much blockage! I lost half of my class time the other day because my students were blocked from my moodle and personallearningspace blog – which I had asked to be unblocked (and permission was given) last week. I had to give up on my plans to communicate with some students in Israel and move to plan B.

    I will certainly be passing along your ideas – they make so much sense! Even today, I was buttonholed by one teacher in the staff room who asked me, “just give me a one word reply to this word – webblock”! I think my one word was “ridiculous!”. Once again today sites I wanted my students to visit were blocked. These were award-winning sites by teams from Global Virtual Classroom!! The category – “uncategorized” – how helpful is that?? Does that mean anything and everything falls into it? The technician emailed me earlier this week to tell me that my server site (managed exclusively by me) was now blocked because a “web.exe” virus file was found on it by the web filtering software. Say what?? I certainly didn’t put it there!!

    I say there are better programs out there – any advice anyone? Is anyone *happy* with their web filtering software?

    Vicki, your idea about accountability is great – we are professionals and we should be able to be trusted. I like your idea of sign-in and sign-out. Works for me! Let’s hope your ideas catch on!

  2. At my last school there was enormous frustration when filtering was introduced. It seemed reasonable for the kids, but it was definitely unreasonable for the faculty – your examples are typical of the reasons why our teachers wanted access to blocked sites. Initially, faculty and students could request that sites be unblocked, but the system was unwieldy and it took too long for sites to be unblocked for teachers. Eventually faculty access was put on a different VLAN to the students and faculty were able to access sites without them being filtered, while student access remained filtered. That seemed like a good solution to me – until I heard that there were some faculty who were accessing inappropriate sites. Apparently some faculty can be trusted more than others 🙁 If I were in charge, I’d go back to the model where sites could be unblocked by request – but I’d expect the tech support staff to respond promptly (within 24 hours) to those requests with a yay or nay.

    Some of our blocking was of sites that required large amounts of bandwidth and not because the content was objectionable. I found that frustrating – but if accessing those sites for my classes was going to slow down access for everyone else then I admit it was reasonable. Bandwidth is still an issue for many schools.

  3. The school where I work is in a district that is geographically close to the school district where my children attend. My son is in debate and has repeatedly had problems accessing sites at school that contained evidence needed for a debate case. When the teacher has requested that particular sites be unblocked she has met with a brick wall. I’m not usre what filter we are using where I’m employed but I do know that it was free. I also am able to email our tech director and get indiviual links unblocked (or vice versa if necessary). I know that having individuals decide what can be unblocked or blocked is an entire minefield all it’s own but I think it is much worse to rely comletely on a piece of software to make all our decisions for us. I think that filtering is necessary and many times it is tied in with funding, but if a student is trying to access a site that is educationally sound and the only answer we have when it is blocked is “sorry but it is blocked by the software” then I think we are telling our students that we are not capable of making judgement decisions ourselves. I think that filtering is great for protecting our students but it needs to have a human factor. If a teacher is unable to utilize sites they deem appropriate for a lesson then we are also saying that while we feel this teacher is competent to teach our kids – they are not competent to decide what information is appropriate to teach them. Someone, somewhere has to be willing to make a decision.

  4. Vicki, the problem in most large US districts is that filtering has gone from blacklisting to whitelisting – a denial of everything unless unblocks are specifically requested, individually. This is fundamentally unethical and, in my opinion, denies and stonewalls the access to which students and staff are legally entitled.

    Many of us are out there working within the system, one in which technicians determine access for the students. When requests for more access are met with LESS access, you learn to keep your mouth shut. It is about power, and teachers have none in this one.

    I will listen to my colleagues’ complaints because somebody has to. Then I’ll do what I can for us behind the scenes. It is a lonely and dangerous battle, but many of us are in there wailing away. – Mark

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