Hello Websense… don't BLOCK me!

Theo Kuechel has written about blocking websites in schools, focusing on YouTube in particular entitled: It’s not really about YouTube.

Banned? Surely not!

I work in the private sector and as the Head of In-Curriculum ICT I have a large influence over what websites are blocked or not within out network. Recently I have reluctantly agreed to YouTube being blocked because it was grinding our Internet connection to a halt through casual (non-educational) watching of clips.

I use YouTube in my teaching. I don’t download the videos (NB interesting to know that this process contravenes YouTube’s terms and conditions) I stream them – buffering at the beginning of a lesson so it is ready to run. My pupils use YouTube in a website building unit and are terrifically motivated and pleased by the use of embed code in an HTML generated page to display their favourite clips. In the main it is interesting to note that pupil’s (at least those that I teach) are not familiar with the power of YouTube. They know they can upload stuff but not many of them actually do. In fact, very few of them have actually signed up for an account to subscribe to their favourites or connect to friends. The way they communicate videos with each other (have you seen this? bare funny!) is to say exactly what search words you must enter. Not very sophisticated or efficient. But they like it and use it a lot.

I demanded a solution be found so as not to disrupt this very successful teaching unit. We explored websense and discovered a bundle of excellent functionality that we were not previously aware of. Here’s some of it:

  1. block a site for everyone and then unblock it for a specific user group (or one user in the case of an U6 boy applying for Music at Oxford who uses the classical music content)
  2. block a site and then open it at certain times of the day (maybe lunch time or after school)
  3. logs of sites that use the most bandwidth (we only have 2Mb connection for 1000+ users)
  4. much much more

So, in our school which goes from 4 – 18, websense is now an important tool to vary who is exposed to what on the Internet. (NB there is no commercial interest here. I am sure other companies offer a similar filtering service)

I would like to declare my position on this issue in general. I always side with less filtering of the Internet. I think it is important that we allow our young ones to make mistakes in the well-lit classroom rather than in the darkened bedroom. As stated by Lisa Stevens in Theo’s original post:

We make them, (children), aware rather than blocking. I use YouTube a lot in lessons. I like the fact that it not blocked and I can be spontaneous, but I always check before I show it to the kids.”

I am aware of the need for caution here but in my classroom I am responsible for the behaviour, be it good or bad; I want to be in control of what the classmates can do or not do in line with a wider school policy. I want flexibility, challenge and discussion.

To summarise, it is clearly the time for control of filtering to be reviewed and updated to match the tools that exist on the web and the increased power of filtering services. It is important that teachers’ hands are not tied by bureaucracy when they are breaking new ground in the classroom. Technology is here to stay in all walks of life.

Read these quotes from the press as blogged by Brian Crosby:

Students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend on their slates which are more expensive. What will they do when their slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write!”
Teachers Conference, 1703

Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
Principal’s Association, 1815

Students today depend too much upon ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”
National Association of Teachers, 1907

Students today depend upon store-bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words of ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”
The Rural American Teacher, 1929

Students today depend upon these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib (not to mention sharpening their own quills). We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world, which is not so extravagant.”
PTA Gazette, 1941

Ball point pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American virtues of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”
Federal Teacher, 1950

I sympathise with any attempt to make the Internet a usable school tool. I support anyone trying to protect children from the possible harm that the outside world can bring. Working together we should be able to make the classroom a dynamic place where learning can push boundaries and teaching can hold those same boundaries.

Together means teachers, technicians, Headteachers, parents, local authorities and Government. Yes all of them. It is time to update some of the working contracts between these parties to reflect the demands of the modern school.

Hello Websense… don't BLOCK me!

4 thoughts on “Hello Websense… don't BLOCK me!

  1. Karl Goddard says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    As a technician in a large secondary I feel I’m forced into acting as, to put it bluntly, ‘The ICT Police’ and feel that the remit I have to work with is holding back learning opportunities with ICT.

    With my LA (Bolton) Youtube et al is blocked at LA level – even staff and network admins, myself included, can’t access these sites. They have been blocked unilaterally by central ICT. We (my school)weren’t even consulted.

    Reason for ban: bandwidth considerations.

    If a member of staff needs a clip for a presentation, believe it or not, I have to download and save the clip at home and bring it into school on a pendrive.

    A very dynamic, efficient and effective use of resources, eh?

    Networks in school should be a little more open and rely less on technology (filtering) in resolving a potential cause for concern and rely more on ‘digital citizenship’.

    Staff don’t handcuff pupils or lock them in a room if they misbehave in the classroom. Staff lead, show, and teach pupils how to act appropriately in a classroom environment. Why can’t teachers then be ‘trusted’ to lead the way re: appropriate behaviour with ICT. It must be EXCEPTIONALLY frustrating for you guys!

    It would make my life a whole lot easier if you were given that freedom 🙂 and I for one would be more than willing to work with the teaching staff within my school to construct a workable solution to this particular and tricky issue.

    Good post, Dai.

    Happy New Year

  2. digabites says:

    Thanks Karl. I can’t believe that your authority endorse the idea that you must capture youtube material at home for teachers to use. Such obstructive working practices are not justifiable. Where is the negotiation? The compromise?

    Maybe it is a litmus test revealing how much your authority are in touch with good classroom practice. I am constantly battling ICT decisions that impact upon the classroom, mostly the teacher and what the technology demands of them whilst in front of a class. The balance requires team work so my main aim is to foster teamwork by getting technicians in the classroom. Not an easy thing to do.

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