I was presenting web 2.0 tools at a regional technology conference last year, and while showing all of the tools and sites, one tech administrator piped up “I have most of these blocked at my school.”
I was a bit shocked that she would offer that so willingly. I myself would be embarrassed if I were to have been the one who had blocked solid educational tools like Edmodo.com and SpellingCity.com. I had to ask why.
She said that she blocked anything related to social media, and anything she felt was a large burden to the bandwidth. So I was curious. I prodded:
“So how is it determined what is open and what is blocked?” Is there a policy?
“No,” she said. It’s her. I asked if others in the room were the sole gatekeeper of the whitelist in their districts. Almost every IT admin raised their hand.
How did it get this way? How can the early-adopters and innovators pilot and share great digital tools if the gatekeeper is only interested in classification and bandwidth? Even with acceptable use policies (AUP), if the gatekeeper is digitally conservative, how can the free flow of ideas and exploration happen?
Before a district blocks ANYTHING, it should be held accountable for a specific reason to be blocked. Too many schools operate in the reverse. The burden of choosing the rationale to block a site should be on the administration in response to a specific problem or concern. The default setting for all mainstream sites (excluding XXX) should be ON.
What troubles me the most is that what is present on the whitelist in a district relies so heavily on the whims of one or two people, that it is almost oppressive to teachers and students doing legitimate work.
Yes, bandwidth is an issue. So instead of blocking any live site from using the feeble bandwidth, just let it all open, and let the administrators see the need for more bandwidth investment. Bandwidth is not an add-on, it is a necessity. Just like an open web.
If you have a sole gatekeeper at your school, pester them. I mean nicely pester them about sites you want unblocked, and make them accountable for their decision. If they can show there was some process and policy behind the decision, find out if it has been revised lately. Pester them, and pester their bosses. Most IT admins are not specialists in education technology per se. They may be less qualified to see the benefit of an online tool than the teacher. They often need education. Do the homework, find out how many districts near you or nationwide have blocked something, and why.
Whatever the case, a single gatekeeper on the school internet access limits the creativity and innovation most schools claim to pursue.