07 September 2009

To Block or Not to Block?

I work in a district where internet filters block access to sites determined to be inappropriate. When I try to access these sites I get a message telling me under which category the block falls. Most frequently I get messages claiming the sites are for 'social networking/dating' or 'adult content.' Sites blocked include:
In the past eight years, I've had one request to unblock a site granted. That was for Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index.

So, what is the point of this post? Two great posts bring this issue to the forefront for me yet again. First, at It's All About IT, Lisa writes about the ethics surrounding the use of proxies to allow students access to blocked sites. One of the things she does is suggest how useful these sites could be for teaching students about ethics and digital citizenship:
I talk to my students about topics like Identity Theft, protecting digital privacy, and CyberBullying. It would make so much sense to pull up a site (like FaceBook) and go over things like the TOU and EULA. For example, I had a number of grade 7’s last year who had FaceBook accounts. Even ones who were younger than 13 (FaceBook’s minimum age). A valuable discussion to have….not possible with the site blocked.
This practice could be very useful. I believe that it is important to teach students about responsible behavior online. I made the conscious decision not to allow the use of proxies in my room after an unfortunate series of events that led to our newspaper program being shut down for several weeks while hard drives were reformatted. The ultimate problem did not result from using proxies, but the attitudes rising from proxy use in direct violation of district policy probably helped.

Then I read Alex Couros' post on 'Freedom Sticks.' In it he describes his frustration in working with teachers to develop their tech skills only to be stymied by filters. His solution was to give each teacher a 'freedom stick' of portable apps that ultimately bypassed the filters.

The comments on both posts are instructive as well. It seems to me that those of us trying to integrate technology are trending more toward Dr. Couros' so-called guerilla tactics to give students (and teachers) access to information and resources that would otherwise be blocked.

I'm not sure where I am on this spectrum. While I don't allow the use of proxies, I am extremely frustrated by my inability to use certain Web 2.0 tools. My restrictions are not due to respect for the filters or authority, but because I don't want to risk losing data similar to last years' incident. I certainly don't have the solution, though I can see myself becoming more and more frustrated as time goes by.