While consulting on the RiverVenture project, I expressed my concerns that some school districts wouldn’t be able to participate because of their blocking policies. Specifically, I was thinking of my colleague who had asked me if we blocked blogs in general. The original plan was to use freely available resources – Google’s Blogspot and YouTube – to publish Richard Bernabe’s journey. I was asked to poll my counterparts from around the state and see what we were really up against. The results were a bit distressing.
Of the folks that responded to my inquiry, all but one of the districts block blogs as a category. This includes not only MySpace and Facebook, but LiveJournal, Blogspot, and WordPress. One district went so far as to say that they blocked any site with the word "blog" in the title. Some said that they unblocked sites if they had some educational benefit. Another district indicated that ANY site is blocked until it is initially visited and approved. My, my, my. I feel much safer knowing that these gatekeepers are protecting our students from wayward opinions that are deemed to not have educational benefit.
The same districts also block YouTube, but gave different reasons. Most indicated that it was a matter of high bandwidth usage rather than content. I can understand that to some extent. After all, my district blocks digital music sites for that reason. I have limited Internet bandwidth, and if I left this on, all the high school kids crank up the computers and no one can get anywhere on the Internet. I know because this has happened before. Unfortunately, this video ban is also applied to TeacherTube for the same reason. Many of my colleagues argued that they already provide United Streaming for their districts, so why should they further clog their pipes?
I wonder how many of these districts have a formal procedure in place for deciding what sites or categories to block. I’m afraid it that in many districts it boils down to the defaults set on whatever filtering service is used, or to the preferences of the individual tech coordinator. Many sites are blocked simply because they don’t want to deal with it. I think that’s a shame. The floodgates are already open, with broadband on mobile devices and more ways to bypass filters than we can patch, and these folks are fighting a losing battle. I think the better policy is to focus on media literacy, personal responsibility, and teacher supervision.