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Who watches the watchers…

September 19, 2006

I want to start by asking a question: Who decides what websites you can and can’t access in your school/college/workplace?

 The reason I ask is because, yet again, I have been prevented from accessing some sites that are banned by my school’s firewall software, Content-Keeper, only this time, I decided to play the game properly and ask for the restriction to be lifted for staff only… not the pupils.

I filled in the requisite request form (which doesn’t have space for stating the reasons for the request), submitted it, and a week later was given a cursory verbal reply of ‘no chance’ by the person I handed the form to. No reasons, no pointing me to a policy document, no chance to appeal, and no indication of who had actually made the decision.

The site I was asking to be made available is one known to most of us, flickr. My reason for wanting to access the site is because many of the bloggers I refer to in school, the ones I read regularly, use flickr as a matter of course. They use it to post photos, they use it to illustrate their blogs, and most importantly, they have pointed me to flickr as a really convenient source of CC photographs that can be used in class to enhance my teaching and the pupils’ learning… and this got me thinking.

How many of the Web2.0 tools that we take for granted have been banned in schools, who has made the decision to ban them, and how does banning them improve things for the pupils?

ArgumentA while back, I wrote about the information I could find about the pupils from my school by looking at their Bebo profiles. At the time, I voiced the opinion that, rather than preventing pupils from accessing these sites, we should consider opening up access, and teaching pupils how to use them responsibly. Most research tells us that the parents don’t really understand what it’s all about… they are happy to leave their children ‘playing on the internet’ and give no thought to what is actually going on. I think a lot of parents are scared of the ease with which their children use the internet, and this gets combined with the belief that using the PC will make their children do better at school… so the parents sit back and don’t intervene.

It’s not, however,  that the parents are unaware of the potential dangers. They are all too aware of them… but they are dangers born out of ignorance and fear. I run my school’s website, and in a recent survey that we issued to parents, online safety advice was one of the most common requests for information. Thank goodness for Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher)! Her latest post – 11 Steps to Online Parental Supervision of your Children – is a timely reminder that schools do not have the sole responsibility for keeping kids safe online. I shall be recommending it on our website, and have offered to give a training session for parents on keeping children safe… and this brings me back full circle…

How can I demonstrate the potential and the pitfalls of the internet when someone, somewhere has made the decision to block a vast number of sites for me? I’m not surprised that porn sites are blocked, but it’s very difficult to demonstrate to parents the potential of Web2.0 when I can’t access flickr, typepad blogs, edublogs… etc, etc, etc…

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2006 9:11 am

    I think it is quite shameful that the professional requirements of a teacher can be thwarted by a know-nothing philistine with a bit of technical knowledge and more power than (s)he has responsibility! This is an experience, sadly, that is replicated acrossthe country and across the world and I think we need to start doing something about it. Maybe it’s time we started producing a ‘hall of shame’ somewhere that pinpoints the authorities and schools that are making educational decisions (they are educational decisions, not technical decisions!) on the basis of no educational knowledge or experience whatsoever – perhaps a public wiki!!

  2. September 19, 2006 11:06 am

    I’ve got a whole collection of screenshots that I’ve taken over the years of sites that Content-Keeper has prevented access to. My all-time favourite was when I was banned from accessing my own council’s website because it contained “Chatrooms, Entertainment, Dating Sites, Computing/IT”…

    Sometimes I despair…

  3. September 21, 2006 10:11 pm

    I thought Steve’s comment at the TeachMeet was interesting – that Becta are recommending Flickr as useful tool for schools. How could we lobby LTScotland to do something like this? We have to find people with power to speak up for teachers? (I think we might be pushing at an open door if we find the right places to push.) I wonder if ScotsEduBlogs wiki would be a place to start sharing ideas on who we contact, how best to work for change and what sort of evidence we can offer to support our case?

  4. September 21, 2006 10:38 pm

    Excellent idea… as is your taste in music, good sir.
    It might be worth considering drawing up a list of sites that are banned but that we feel should be considered for opening up. I am with David Warlick when he speculates that perhaps the final decision as to whether a teacher or pupil is allowed to access a site should lie with the teacher… now that’s a radical iDea!

  5. September 22, 2006 12:50 am

    This is an href=http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4241.html>IT governance issue. It’s probably not been thought about at the right level. People who see themselves as “IT Security” experts often pride themselves on how paranoid they are, and have absolutely no concern for the needs of the organisation. Their decision could be rational if their job is to avoid any risk… Governance structures are needed which balance acceptable risk with the wider needs of the organisation. This means gaining agreement at a senior level of an appropriate balance.

  6. September 22, 2006 8:04 am

    Neil – Whoah! I don’t understand why we haven’t met at some of these gigs. 🙂 I was at the same Rush gig but had significantly poorer seats – stuck way up at the back left-hand side. I had just bought Gabriel tickets and had to wait two pay days before I could afford the Rush tickets by which time… This looks like it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, unless you tell me that you were close enough to get one of the t-shirts from Geddy’s tumble dryer – in which case I’ll be consumed with jealousy and hate you forever. 🙂

    David – I think your right about getting the support of senior education people in the authorities and that’s why I think we’d be pushing at an open door. I suspect many of the education people get it. I am the Jordanhill representative on a body the revels in the name of SICTDG (pronounced “sick dog”!). The membership of this committee is mostly high heid-yins from the authorities who are interested in promoting/supporting/developing ICT in schools. The issue of their relationship with “corporate” IT has been discussed before. 🙂 I wonder if I should speak to the secretary about getting this issue on the agenda of a forthcoming meeting?

  7. September 22, 2006 9:02 am

    A public wiki could provide problems.
    If there is a site I’d like unblocked, I ask and the authority will give a response.
    At that point I don’t think much will be gained by trying to put pressure on from below, it might even lead to a worsening of relationships between the teacher and the authority. This is something that I would not like, I’ve had great support for all sorts of interesting stuff from my authority.
    Discussion with SICTDG, or at similar stratospheric level might be more fruitful with less loss of ground troops.

  8. September 22, 2006 1:13 pm

    If technology (and I’m including access to sites here) isn’t immediately useable when you want it, you tend to lose interest. And then you end up with bits of paper, blackboards, old-fashioned registers – because they don’t need to be unlocked by someone in another galaxy far away …..

  9. September 22, 2006 2:22 pm

    I’d second what David said. This problem needs to be addressed at a very senior level in education authorities. The problem is that too many senior executives are ignorant about IT, and unwilling to risk exposing their ignorance by questioning the actions of IT departments.

  10. September 22, 2006 4:05 pm

    David – No luck with the tumble-drier t-shirts… but you might not want to know about the really good seats I had for the Kansas date on the Vapor Trails tour. I decided that they were probably never coming to Scotland again, so I’d better go there. It was only attending the Glow mentor’s do that meant I wasn’t wearing my VT rugby shirt… next time!

  11. September 22, 2006 5:17 pm

    David – there’s a better way than taking this directly to SICTDG – happy to discuss offline.

  12. September 22, 2006 10:35 pm

    For those following the Becta line on Flickr, I’ve found this article on the BECTA website. Is there a better statement or recommendation of Flickr on the site that anyone knows of? If so, could you post a link here.

  13. September 23, 2006 1:48 pm

    Just noticed Miles has posted a link to the Eurobarometer survey on Safer Internet (http://elgg.net/mberry/weblog/131311.html). He points out that: “…in continental Europe, schools Internet access is much more rarely filtered: 71% of UK parents said children’s internet access was filtered at school, compared to 31% Europe wide (after us the next highest was Ireland at 45%). I wonder how they manage to square this more relaxed approach with their duty of care – perhaps they rely on teachers for this rather than technology.”

    Survey link:
    http://www.europa.eu.int/information_society/activities/sip/eurobarometer/index_en.htm

  14. September 24, 2006 10:25 pm

    I like this quote at Shifted Librarian (http://tinyurl.com/zpda5) from Stephen Abram: “We don’t teach our kids to drive by removing all of the roads.”

  15. September 24, 2006 11:01 pm

    I wish I could find some practical way of making the case for using social software in my school. I’m approaching it by using what software I can, and then I’ll try to demonstrate how useful it is when I have concrete proof of usage by pupils.

    It’ll be a long process, but I hope to get there… the irony being that, at the moment, there are probably just a handful of teachers that would use the software anyway!

  16. September 26, 2006 11:17 pm

    “…perhaps they rely on teachers for this rather than technology.” Ah! Theses crazy continental types. That would never work here. 🙂

  17. September 29, 2006 9:31 am

    Its shameful that sites are blocked from staff.

    Do the local authorities put speed restrictors on all its vehicles so the drivers cannot speed when in a 30mph zone?
    The technology is there to do it so why don’t they implement it for their drivers. I feel its much the same as banning sites.
    I was blocked from a website the other day for reasons of “bad taste”. If I wore a Hawaiian shirt to a council social would I be stopped from entering if my sartorial elegance was deemed to be in bad taste by a council official? Just a thought.

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