Would You Please Block?

Ever since we opened up lots more of the Internet in our school district earlier this year, the district has received several requests from teachers and other staff to block resources that are distractions in the classroom.  I’ve written a stock response to those requests that I thought might be worth sharing.  It’s my hope that their requests and the conversations that come from this response lead to changes in classroom practice.

Here it is:

Thanks for your question.  When we implemented our new filter this school year, we looked at all the things we were currently blocking, what things were required to be blocked by law, and what we were blocking that we shouldn’t be.

What we’ve decided is that we will no longer use the web filter as a classroom management tool.  Blocking one distraction doesn’t solve the problem of students off task – it just encourages them to find another site to distract them.  Students off task is not a technology problem – it’s a behavior problem.  It is our intention that we help students to learn the appropriate on-task behaviors instead of assuming that we can use filters to manage student use.  Rather than blocking sites on an ad hoc basis, we will instead be working with folks to help them through computer and lab management issues in a way that promotes student responsibility.  We know that the best filters in a classroom or lab are the people in that lab – both the educational staff monitoring student computer use as well as the students themselves.

This opens up possibilities for students and staff using websites for instructional purposes that in the past were blocked due to broad category blocks.  It requires that staff and students manage their technology use rather than relying on a third party solution that can never do the job of replacing teachers monitoring students.

That said, we will still block sites that are discovered to violate CIPA requirements.  If you discover one, please do not hesitate to share it with us.  Also, if you discover a site that shouldn’t be blocked, please pass that along so that we can open it up.

I hope this makes sense.  I’d be happy to speak further with you if you have further comments or questions.

How do you talk to folks in your districts about your Internet (un)filtering?

101 thoughts on “Would You Please Block?

    1. Bud, well written – direct and intentional, just the way I like things.

      I think it’s worth noting that filter software can also give educators/parents a false sense of security. Not only must we be wary of its ineffectiveness, but we must also not be tempted to rely on its perceived function to replace the need to educate and parent.

      I have presented on internet Safety and Parenting the Net Generation numerous times and all too often, adults are far too eager to argue for banning and blocking sites, and demanding stricter controls or policing by outside sources instead of taking on the issue of educating and empowering their child/student themselves.

      We can no longer place the responsibility of rearing our digital youth with “virtual parental controls”. They are worth more than that. We need to do it the “old fashioned” way – talk to them.

    2. I am very impressed with your wording and the placement of the responsibility where it belongs. It is up to the teacher to monitor and up to the student to use the filter between their ears.
      Nicely done. Thanks for sharing.

  1. Wow, I long for the day when I have to beg my school district to block something. So many things are blocked now that Internet access is not much of a tool, especially for the new web 2.0 resources.

    1. Unklar,

      Do you ever have conversation with the folks who manage your filter? The most progress is often made in making relationships with those folks and working to explain what you need and why.

      1. I have a good relationship with the “filter people” and can get most anything unblocked for “special events.” Since I’m one of those teachers who changes lesson plans on the spur of the moment quite often, this often prevents me from using websites that are normally blocked because I don’t “plan ahead.”

        1. Tricky, isn’t it? We want to create flexible environments, but we do also want to promote thoughtful planning. Which one of those should win is complicated.

  2. I wonder how many “technology issues” you encounter are really policy issues. Specifically, a lack of a policy or an unwillingness to enforce the policy, e.g., “Can’t we just find some application to monitor this and stop this activity or behavior?”

    1. Zoe,

      I think that’s quite true. We seem to separate lots of issues that involve technology into some sort of stand alone “technology” category – when usually they don’t belong there. Using technology to avoid issues with people or behavior is never good policy.

    2. Well, I’d say all “tech” issues are actually behavior issues.

      The core rule is “Do not disrupt learning.” If a use of technology disrupts learning, it should be addressed.

      The problem is that most teachers and principals don’t know all of the ins and outs of every way that a student could create a disruption. The right solution would be to educate educators and provide generic guidelines that would help educators make informed decisions about what is disruptive and how to address it.

      The easy road, though, was to make zero tolerance, black-and-white rules. That’s what we have, and that’s what’s holding us back.

  3. Brilliant! Moves the decision closer to where it does the most good as far as educational content, and also puts the responsibility for habits closer to the students themselves.

    I think many businesses would benefit from this approach as well.

    1. Thanks, Dean. We started with our central office before we went forward with the changes to our filters. We wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page before we made this change. I expect to have this conversation continually over the next several months.

  4. Bud, you’re describing the chaos created when districts go from blacklisting, to whitelisting, and then back to blacklisting – although I imagine you have some sort of hybrid going on.

    You are headed (back) in the right direction, and I hope others will follow.

    But good luck to those in the classroom trying to figure out what’s happening. I’m not at all surprised to hear that it does not make sense to some. – Mark
    .-= Mark Ahlness´s last blog ..Dream Come True =-.

  5. When teachers at my school ask me questions like “are they allowed on facebook?” and “how do you keep your students off of you-tube?”I have a standard, two part, response:

    1)There are no sites that are “banned”.
    2) There are several “activities” on computers that are banned. (Porn, online chat with “strangers”, cyber bullying, streaming videos of idiots jumping out of moving vehicles etc.)

    The bottom line is you have to know what your students are doing, and you can only do that by monitoring them and making sure they are on task. It is impossible to block everything, but it is possible to monitor the students and provide guidance when necessary.
    .-= Angus McIntosh´s last blog ..Something Is Wrong Here… =-.

  6. Great response Bud, I might borrow some of it if that’s ok? Our filtering is similar and I am about to launch an e-safety drive with staff and students.

    I have a new AUP ready to roll developed from: http://edorigami.edublogs.org/2009/05/21/digital-citizen-acceptable-use-agreement/ and some guidelines for what to do when you discover something untoward: http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/2009/09/5-steps-to-online-safety.html

    This will really help explain, in language clearer than I am normally capable of, some of the decisions we’ve made.

    I’ll blog about my experiences as I launch our safety/filtering/monitoring drive.
    .-= Dan Stucke´s last blog ..Google Wave – Directory of Educators =-.

    1. Clix,

      I can’t speak to “griping,” but I’m eager to continue the conversation with our staff as we all work to get our heads around our new filtering paradigm.

      I’ve submitted it to the carnival – thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Nice note and thanks for sharing, Bud. I might also add that your filtering policy also puts more responsibility in the hands of the school for teaching creative and responsible use of the open web. Schools that filter heavily further push the responsibility for teaching students how to effectively navigate the open web into the home. Your excellent policy makes such instruction a community responsibility.
    .-= Matt Montagne´s last blog ..Google Apps for Education – Rating Our Transition – The Good =-.

  8. Bud
    Thanks for writing this, I have a similar policy here.
    One of the things I have found is many people have a misconception about what CIPA requires and does not require. Here is my favorite part: Schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online
    activities of minors.
    Many of the blocking mentality people do not pay attention to that. They say “we have too many computers to monitor”, sounds like a compliance issue. Also the part that says:
    Schools and libraries subject to CIPA are required to adopt and implement an Internet
    safety policy addressing: ……the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms
    of direct electronic communications;
    How can we do this if all social areas are blocked?
    .-= tsakshaug´s last blog ..Diigo bookmarks for today 10/06/2009 =-.

  9. Great approach. As an visitor to schools across the UK promoting the use of technology and web 2.0 in the classroom I have an inordinate amount of difficulty with mass blockage. From TeacherTube to GoAnimate, Wordle and many more it’s often a struggle to have anything unfiltered without at least a months notice and a great no. Of calls/mails and hours of beard scratching to the tune of ‘hmmm’ and ‘aaaah’. I support this approach and only hope it spreads.

  10. Great work Bud! We just opened a few major websites, and are working to get everyone to understand the discipline issue. I just did a parent meeting this morning, and let them know that filtering in school does nothing if the parents aren’t filtering when they get home, or if the parents aren’t discussing Internet use with their kids’ friends’ parents. By teaching correct use in the classroom, we hope it translates to home. But just like alcohol and anything else we bar kids from using, if we don’t educate them, they will binge when no one is looking.

    Jeremy

  11. Brilliant. As usual my friend. Your command of language and the artful way your tone comes across in text is what gives this letter it’s strength.

    I agree with Derek: “Students off task is not a technology problem – it’s a behavior problem.” A wonderfully gentle but pointed observation.

    Thanks for sharing. I too am adding this post to my delicious account.

  12. Bravo Bud! We can never hope for students to develop as independent learners if we seek to control every opportunity for them to make independent decisions. Let’s put the effort into MODELING rather than blocking!

  13. This is very similar to the converstation I had with a technology person back in 1999 while I was doing my student teaching. She was excited about this budding web filter technology that could make it impossible for students to see bad content on the web. I suggested that the best filter would be a teacher involved with what the studens were doing.

  14. Bud,
    This is the best explanation of filtering and teaching responsible internet use I have ever seen. I am one teacher who appreciates being able to get to sites without a filter denying it arbitrarily. I am now teaching pre-service and inservice teachers in technology. May I share this with them?
    .-= Laurie Fowler´s last blog ..Welcome back to school! =-.

  15. Great post, Bud,
    I wish that this was what I would hear from our “filter people.” You get it so right and I can only hope that we swing toward this approach in the future.

    “Students off task is not a technology problem – it’s a behavior problem.” And possible an engagement or an instructional issue.
    .-= Lee Ann Spillane´s last blog ..I Want a Teacher =-.

  16. Alright folks, after last night’s discussion on Twitter about filtering and CIPA, I’m dying to ask all of you here:

    Do you really subscribe to the idea that ALL websites that don’t violate CIPA requirements should remain open in schools?

    Certainly “students off task is a behavior problem” that should be addressed by the teacher and administration (rather than IT), but do you really not want help from technology in the fight?
    .-= Darren Draper´s last blog ..Why I Share =-.

    1. I stick by my position. It is a classroom management and then administrative issue and not an IT issue. Why punish the masses for the crimes of the few.

      Besides, we are training the future workforce. If we do not train them to appropriately handle the distractions they can find on the internet during “work” time, then who will. We are the closest setting they have to a paid job before they end up in that setting.

      It was a great conversation, Darren. Thanks for letting everyone pile on.
      .-= Scott S. Floyd´s last blog ..$1000 TCEA Twitter Contest Begins! =-.

    2. I think the question is short-term vs. long-term.

      When you block distractions, you get a short-term gain of attention (maybe), but many losses in the long-term: students don’t learn constructive behavior, IT ends up having to block more and more sites in a never-ending battle, we end up blocking things that have educational use and negatively affecting education quality.

      When you don’t block distractions, you get a short-term loss of distraction while teachers regain student’s attention, but you reap the benefits long-term.

      Sometimes we need short-term solutions until we can get the best long-term solutions in place. We’ve been using overactive Internet filters for 15 years now…exactly how long is education going to leave this short-term solution in place?

      1. That’s the real problem, Matt. The lines are far too blurry here to make hard and fast rules for banning and blocking sites. Above and beyond the categories that Bud has chosen to block (see http://twitter.com/budtheteacher/status/4698924650), there are a number of sites that must be individually considered (Facebook and Candystand, for example). I suppose if I were hard-pressed, criteria would likely sound something like this:

        If the potential for good greatly outweighs the potential for bad, then the site should remain open and accessible. Otherwise, why not block sites if they cause undue distraction or are otherwise inappropriate in attempting to create an effective learning environment – even if such sites don’t violate CIPA?
        .-= Darren Draper´s last blog ..Why I Share =-.

        1. Karl,

          As our district is still very much in a formative stage of development (wouldn’t it be nice if all districts were?), final decisions regarding who decides have not yet been made.

          Ultimately, don’t you think such decisions should be made by the district’s superintendent (or those to whom this task has been delegated)? Personally, I would hope that curriculum-type people (like teachers and others that have a vested interested in the success of the curriculum) would be as involved in these decisions as much as technology-type people inevitably are.
          .-= Darren Draper´s last blog ..Why I Share =-.

        2. Darren – In *general*, I think the further from the classroom that a decision is made, the less likely it is that the decision will be the right one. That doesn’t mean good decisions can’t be made far from the classroom, just that it’s less likely.
          .-= Karl Fisch´s last blog ..Warrior Work 10-13-09 =-.

  17. I just had a chilling devil’s advocate thought:
    if we subscribe to this idea wholesale — the idea of not using technology to solve behavioral problems — it’s going to fail, and fail hard.

    For example, why does each teacher have a different account to log in to their computer? If you can’t trust them to leave other’s files alone and respect privacy, isn’t that a behavioral problem?

    Obviously, the correct solution is somewhere in the middle…I’m curious, where are those lines drawn?

    1. Our staff does not have that. While they did, it was only to direct them to a network folder for excess storage. All new machines put into place over the last year or so do not have that. Neither do the student machines. We encourage them to use flash drives, blogs, or online storage such as their Google Apps accounts for storage of files they prefer to be kept private or backed up in a different location.

      All staff and students have the exact same filtering and storage policy.
      .-= Scott S. Floyd´s last blog ..$1000 TCEA Twitter Contest Begins! =-.

  18. This is awesome Bud! Would you mind sharing your AUP and what consequences students face when breaking the rules for internet use? I need info and ammo for the revise of my district’s tech plan.

  19. Love this post! My favorite is: “Students off task is not a technology problem – it’s a behavior problem.”

    Tomorrow I am rolling up my sleeves and re-reading the post and each comment. Keep blogging about this it is so important to have someone to turn to when I face a Network Guard Dog that is not a professional education specialist.
    Thanks!

  20. This has been very interesting to read. I really like what Bud has done, but I also understand what Darren has brought up.
    Do we or don’t we? Do we have passwords to the computer or not. I’m personally glad that we have personal logins. If we didn’t, how would we keep email seperate? How do we keep school finances out of the hands of students without passwords. The answer is a password, for security reasons. Then how can I justify an open access internet if I still have passwords? We need to teach our students to use the internet correctly and trust them to do it and then in the same breathe tell them that we don’t trust them to not change their grades or look into the school finances by using passwords.
    I may be totally off on this but it seems like a double standard.

    Now for my district, I’m glad that Darren has opened our internet up. We still block things but I think that we have access to what we need to educate our students. If a site is block then we have the ability to ask for it to be un-blocked. I guess we need to sit back and let Bud run the test for us to see if it works. Then go from there.

    1. I think you’re totally off on that. I think there’s a big difference between an open resource and a payroll account. I think there’s a big difference between one student’s intellectual property held privately and a public posting of work.

      That said, I’d never advocate for no blocking whatsoever. I get that it’s a balance of law and community and behavior and lots of other things. What I don’t get is why we so continually sell our students and teachers short and assume the worst of their abilities and intentions.

      1. This line exemplifies my BoE and district in general:

        “What I don’t get is why we so continually sell our students and teachers short and assume the worst of their abilities and intentions.”

        Even my admin has a rule that we are not to open or send (school) email except before/after school and a lunch break. It blows my mind! Yahoo and Gmail are off limits district-wide. My goal is to educate the decision makers about all of the things discussed above.

        And Bud, I’d still love to see your AUP. Why not post it here to go with the post?

  21. I think that we need to teach students to be their own best filters. As soon as there is a choice of resources ,filtering takes effect. I do it, you do it, we ALL filter content.
    If we wanted everyone to have exactly the same “information” and an identical education, we could give them all the same text book and nothing else. But that is not the reality. There are so many resources available today, that the filtering must starts with the question “Where am I going to find the content I am looking for?”
    It comes down to personal choice. The consumer of the information must decide if the information is useful or not, if the source is valid or not. These are important things for our students to learn how to do and gain experince at.

    Way back “in the day” the content filter was the crusty old school librarian who removed the pictures of the African women from the National Geographic magazines, but at least she left the rest of the articles intact for students to read. Today’s techno-filter can continue “blocking” the porn, violence and hate sites. The technolgy is helpful, but it MUST NOT be so intrusive that the “good” information is filtered out as well.

    1. Angus,

      Your mention of student filters, the ones in their heads, is exactly where I think the focus should be – we need our students to be ready to be in and of the world when they leave school. Those aren’t developed by Internet filters. They’re developed by students and teachers grappling with information in a classroom environment.
      Many of us would disagree on what constitutes “good” information. I’d rather that a teacher gets to make that judgment call at the point of contact with students, rather than an IT staff person making the call 20 miles away in a poorly-lit cubicle.

      1. Point well taken, Bud.

        I think that a compromise could be made between our differing points of view if even some non-CIPA violating, but distracting sites were blocked but that teachers were given the keys to overriding the filters. Sure, this wouldn’t work in many school environments, but I think it might be a direction we could work toward in our district.

        Remind me to get your IT folks a case of good light bulbs.
        .-= Darren Draper´s last blog ..Why I Share =-.

  22. I agree that one of the skills we should be teaching students is the responsible use of the internet. Even if we block sites at school, students are often on unfiltered internet away from the school environment, so we do them a much better service teaching them responsibility. It is impractical to think that we can ban everything on the web that might be objectionable. I like the response by Angus McIntosh. Ban inappropriate activities, not websites.

  23. A couple of questions came to mind as I read the comments/replies to Bud’s post about web filtering. Isn’t it our responsibility to teach about digital citizenship to the teachers, students, and the parents? Don’t we want to talk about these issues and what constitutes 21st century learning in the classroom? I think educators don’t want to “go there” with students regarding digital citizenship because of their own insecurities they have about using technology, and this would include using the web in the classroom. If teachers are feeling insecure, they are not going to want to have these types of discussions with their students, much less with the parents. I think it’s all about communication and addressing digital rights and responsibilities as we (IT in the district) teach the teachers, students and community about Digital Citizenship. These types of discussions are not going to happen if everything is blocked in a school district because it is for the “benefit of the students.” Students can be their own best filters if we give them the tools and teach them how to use those tools appropriately and effectively when using technology, whether it is used at school or at home. It is a life skill teachers and students need to learn, evaluate, and reflect on as choices are made about what is considered “good” information.

  24. I wish my district was as progressive as yours about their philosophy on filtering. I think they block sites to keep teachers off of them as much as students. They seem to be afraid that some sites are keeping teachers ‘off task’ and over using district resources.

  25. Good points but there are many issues not talked about. I battle with video game sites on a daily basis, some kids are too immature or simply do not care enough to stay away from distracting sites. Is the tech departments world going to end if video game sites are blocked? Classroom teachers have enough content to teach, when are we going to be able teach acceptable internet usage lessons if we do not have enough time to teach our content!

  26. Bud, You are so right. Your post reminded me of a situation at our school where a teacher actually wanted us to ban iPods in general because he did not want students listening to them in his class. What he was really asking for was for someone else to control the behavior of students in his classroom, since he was unwilling to or incapable of doing so. The iPod or the phone or the email is not the problem.
    .-= Dawn Hogue´s last blog ..About Jake =-.

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