Friday, September 01, 2006

Fighting filtering

I just posted this response on tictech, a list I moderate on my own for folks interested in technology in the Seattle Public Schools:
Justin, Amen! Thank you for saying it so well.

The Seattle School District currently blocks Technorati. Interesting that Wikipedia makes a special note in its entry on Technorati - that it is blocked in China. is blocked in the Seattle School District.

David Warlick is blocked in the Seattle School District.

Anyone who participates in and sees the potential in web 2.0 would shake their heads in disbelief hearing such things. I have mentioned it to a few people, and they thought I was joking. Why this has happened in Seattle is a mystery. If the above three examples do not mean anything, I would suggest a crash course on web 2.0 with one or more of the following. Will Richardson's book is amazing There's a downloadable pdf pamphlet put together by some of the truly genius minds in educational technology: Coming of Age: an introduction to the new world wide web - And people are probably tired of hearing this, but check the blogging of my third graders last year http://classblogmei The latest edition of Interactive Educator has two wonderful articles about web 2.0 stuff - and mentions my class and school.

Dozens of domains carrying millions of web sites, blogs, and wikis - with incredible educational potential - are blocked in Seattle Schools - whitelisted, as Justin says. Saying a site can be unblocked if you request it is not necessarily true. My school's wiki is blocked within the district, and with the current whitelist policy, it cannot be unblocked. What do I tell the parents who have put in tons of work on their school wiki over the summer?

I second Justin's suggestion that educators be actively involved in decision making on district filtering. It is about education, after all. There are a few of us educators who also happen to know a few things about technical stuff.

I can punch down a cat 5 cable with the best of them, break down and reassemble a computer, roam around in DOS, explain the difference between a switch, hub, and router - write in html, xml, javascript, and I know the difference between blacklisting and whitelisting...

... I also happen to know what a wiki is... and rss... and a blog (that it is NOT just a journal, for goodness sake)... and tagging... and a mobcast... and a Skypecast... and so on... - and I have seen what they can do in a classroom.

I would hope educators involved in decisions on district filtering be directly involved in the revolution that is sweeping through the education community worldwide, web 2.0. You know I am available if somebody asked. I bet Justin would be too. Anybody else? - Mark


Anonymous said...

Who's the filter maven in your district? Why are they allowed to make those decisions? To whom are they accountable? What's the rationale for such filtering?

Is there a rationale? I don't want to create work for you -- but I'm curious to know who gets to make those decisions in your area -- and across the country in general.

Whoever it is should be ashamed of themselves.

Mark Ahlness said...

Bud, accountability is a very good question. I assume it rests ultimately with the local school board, as it does with all major policy decisions in a relatively large school district.

I can't speak for other places, but my understanding is there are no educators in the group that makes filtering decisions here. I'm working on trying to change that.

Anonymous said...

If your school district is like mine, they probably use a filtering system like Websense. Websense blocks categories, so if a website is classified within a blocked category then it gets blocked... even if it is useful and appropriate. It is VERY frustrating, and it is something I have been fighting against in my school district as well.

Anonymous said...

Mark - I wouldn't assume your school board is directly involved - my district is probably close to your size (65,000 students) and IT in the past assumed a lot and didn't ask many questions about what teachers were doing or needed to do. We eventually got an Ed person in admin that was almost at the same level as the head of IT - but it took him 2 years before he would say "Um ... I think that might be too restrictive ... you see teachers might want to be able to _____ and that is valuable educationally because ___________ so let's not block that." My district doesn't block very much anymore (knock on wood) - Myspace and porn sites and occaisionally they block a site that makes you scratch your head (they blocked an anti-bullying site for a while for example) but when I let them know via email ... it was unblocked in less than 3 hours. I know your district is probably much more restrictive than mine, but my school board is not quite so minutely involved (although they would be quickly if there was a problem - especially if it was on the news). One reason is that teachers in the past used tech so little there wasn't much of a chance of a problem occurring. So I keep my fingers crossed constantly that somebody doesn't do something stupid and bring scrutiny on how we have things going now.

Mark Ahlness said...

Angela, Seattle uses Bess from Secure Computing (N2H2), sounds similar to what you are experiencing - good luck!

Brian, Seattle is smaller (46,200) than your district, and I think you are right that the school board is not directly involved. Good luck keeping the low profile :)

Mark Ahlness said...

This is late to be commenting here, but in case anyone is still following along, I forgot to mention earlier that Bud (the teacher) Hunt is also blocked in the Seattle School District. Sorry, Bud.

MHopkins said...

I'm having filter issues too. I've working to get approval for a wiki for my classes. After 23 weeks of school and countless discussions, I did it!!! BUT, now with our wonderful filter (Websense) the wiki can't be unblocked because there is no way to just open up my wiki and the students will be able to view the other wikispaces wikis(some that are not so good I guess). So, now I'm stuck, unsure where to go or what to try next. I'm looking for ideas/suggestions because I don't want to lose this great tool just because we subscribe to a filter that is quite limited in its ability to be modified. Ah, well I guess I teach in a building built by the lowest bidder, why would I expect to get access to something so useful, or my EdTech classes pages, or even my college's pages. Frustration grows as doors close and teaching moments fade while waiting for someone to figure it out.
If anyone has ideas let me know...PLEASE.