Should the IT specialist be the gatekeeper of the school?

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.

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2 thoughts on “Should the IT specialist be the gatekeeper of the school?

  1. As one of the said gatekeepers, it is a hard job to determine what is safe to be unblocked and what is not. The social media sites are terrible about helping maintain a safe environment for their younger patrons. Most districts follow the recommendations of the vendor they have partnered with for their internet filtering. I can only speak from my experiences, but it is hard to monitor this as internet filtering is one of many assignments. My only suggestion is to ask if there is a particular site that you wish to use to be unblocked. We work with our vendor and the sites that are in question to ensure student safety. If I have any questions on what should/should not be blocked. I refer to my director and our superintendent over curriculum, both of them certified educators. Just the other site of the coin…

  2. I would hope that a policy is also required for the web based apps or sites you want to use in a school as well…

    My comment to the above is yes the Functional Requirement aspect may have been covered, but the area that Education practitioners fails to understand are the Non-Functional Requirements…these include security, scalability, reliability, user interface, bandwidth requirements etc…….

    In my role, I use IT Architecture principles to evaluate new tools on offer, and if it cannot tick both the functional and non-functional aspects, then quite often is not a good investment for the school to make….I also work with teachers to understand the need and how to use in practice within the school….we are actually starting a e-learning committee that will do formalise this process…

    One thing to consider is how you manage IDs…for a lot of these systems (edmodo is one), you need an ID….How do you manage this??? I am happy for teachers to manage all this for their classes, but the reality is this does not happen……the more systems. the more IDs and passwords required….I am looking into how we can manage this via single sign-on…but this is a huge undertaking at the moment….

    To the author above…there are at least 5 layers (some would say 7) to IT in general…..Teachers are invariably situated in one layers which deals with school or teaching operations, often themselves not aware of strategic directions set by the school executive, or the issues contained in any of the other layers required to manage or maintain the operational perspective……..the IT Administrator needs to take into account all 5…..But the key is communication to really understand what is required….

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