Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I have been logging in to Twitter at odd moments during this entire school year. Yesterday, though, this message appeared on the screen:

The reason given for blocking the site is "Category: Online Communities." I've contacted both my Administrator and the company to request further information.

On the surface, at least, it appears that our district, and, by extension, our BOCES, considers "online communities" to be undesirable. I consider them a key component of 21st century learning.

What's the view from your corner of the world?


Sarah Stewart said...

Oh, for goodness sake.

I'm lucky, I work for an institution that encourages online work. But I still run into problems with compatibility which is very frustrating at times.

Prof Goerner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Yikes- this could happen to us very easily. Twitter has rapidly become a big part of my Personal Learning Network...a place where I can accurate support quickly and in abundance. If my district locks me out- I would be in a world of hurt @ my library!

TJ Shay said...

Appears to be an all too common knee-jerk reaction to a perceived, but ill-informed, threat. I wonder if people who make these decisions are well-read in the attempt to educate our students in a "flat" world?

There may be some harm in social networks like MySpace. But the risk is in what students do with the technology, not the website itself. My school's current blocking mechanism blocks "MySpace" but, as you are undoubtedly aware, kids have found ways around it. Kids are used to a rich life online when they are not in school. We NEED to educate them to make good choices. It always worries me that the people who are responsible for education sometimes use it as a last resort.

I am wondering if we need to do some educating with leaders who make these decisions. If I didn't know better, I would block Twitter as a waste of time. Now that I am aware of personal learning networks, I would encourage everyone to use it! Education is key.

Should an individual teacher be responsible for educating rule-makers, no. Do we have a choice? Sadly, no.

Anonymous said...

Hey Diane,

I'm right there with you. Twitter was blocked in my district for a long time because it was a "datings/personals" site.

That made me laugh. I figured I needed to brush up on my 140 character romance language.

We're unblocked now, but I actually found a way around the firewall:

Have your Tweets sent to a Gmail instant messaging account.

I actually ended up liking Twitter better that way. My Gmail IM flashes orange in my Systems tray all day long.

When I get a few seconds, I pull it up, check my Tweets, and IM messages back straight from Google.

That's how I found about this post!

Anyway...your broader point---that blocking online communities is a bad idea is well taken.

What is your district going to do when every site has an online component? Think about the forums on CNN or the BBC. What about the Economist debates?

It won't be long until social is a part of every website----does that mean we block the Internet?

Al Gore will be PISSED!

(evil grin)


Unknown said...

I'm very lucky, in many ways, working at the school I'm at, but especially when it comes to technology. We became a Mac school this year, each teacher receiving a beautiful new MacBook. (The boss got a MacBook Pro...but, whatever!) We also installed Activboards in all of our classrooms (except the two reading teachers' rooms, but they'll get theirs over the summer).

Our new tech teacher/coordinator has been awesome about helping us with whatever we needed, including a monthly tech class for teachers! Before we left for summer break she asked me if I'd be willing to give a training session to our teachers on using Twitter!! So not only is Twitter NOT blocked at my school, we're actually going to be encouraged to use it!

I know how lucky I am. And I agree with what TJ said about needing to teach those who find it to be a waste of time or "social networking" that will be the end of our world as we know it. What they need to understand is that the key word in "social networking" is NETWORKING!

All I had to say to another teacher about Twitter was "every day I receive links to great educational websites that OTHER people have already checked out." She was ready to sign up right then and there!

Now, to quote Forrest Gump, "that's all I have to say about that."


Anonymous said...

*shakes head* This happens at my school too. I think it's really poor, because I am like you- I think that online communities like wikis, and twitter (I am not convinced about facebook) are so important to our learning in the 21st century.

Education needs to get with the times, and stop being scared of things just because they don't know anything about it.

Anonymous said...

Oh this is so indicative of public education in New York.
Your network will rally to help keep you sane and connected.

Duez said...

Years from now we will look back on the online universe and laugh. We are cave men when you consider it. This is so early in it's development. Heck, it's only Web 2.0 after all!

I feel the same way about online identities. I will be shocked if it's a big deal in 20 years to be "anonymous" online. I would think any rational human being would understand that it's just an extension of your person or personality. And thus, we should be much more transparent. But, we shall see. Wouldn't it be great if we were - and spoke our mind with our NAME behind it. Then we would have to say what we not only feel, but what we feel can make a difference with the weight of our reputation and position behind it. (Just my 2Cents)

Unknown said...

Oh what a pain. I hope you get a way round it soon Diane.

I used to work behind a firewall which meant we couldn't access anything that was created by a blog so all this interactive, learning, sharing, stretch your mind, test new ideas was totally invisible and inaccessible. It drove me nuts.

One of the many reasons I had to fly away!

Hope you get some help and strategies from others who've been in similar situations - and persuaded the powers that be to think again.


Anonymous said...

Social networking is the key to success in the 21st century school. I dread the day when I too, will come to school and see that access denied screen up on twitter (we get a horrible red screen!!)
I am going to try and get some of my students involved in youthtwitter next semester.
Are you able to get the site unblocked at all? At least our technicians are willing to unblock sites when requested, providing the request is reasonable. Twitter has been the driving force that has allowed me to develop the use of web2.0 tools in the staff and classroom to enable powerful learning outcomes.

cnansen said...

From your screen shot it looks like your new filter is 8e6. If this is the case, it is like our filter.

I give any teacher that wants it a weekly "filter bypass password" that they can enter and it will bypass every filter other than the porn, hate, etc.

We have a committee,including teachers, that reviews the categories each year, and decides which categories in 8e6 we should block.

Then within each category you can selectively remove certain sites from the blocked list.

8e6 is very flexible as long as those managing the system are too.

Carolyn Foote said...


I think this is one of the issues in the gap between Instructional technology and Network Technology -- there is a lack of communication and inclusion for the key players when network decisions are made.

First off, there's often no schedule or rhyme or reason when filters are changed or reapplied. What would it look like if a district had a monthly or bimonthly or biannual schedule for that?

Or a friendly network message like--"There has been an adjustment to the district filter. We want to serve curriculum well, so please let us know if you experience a problem."

Timing is everything, for example--your school is out in a couple of weeks, so it seems like an unusual time to be adjusting the filter?

Also, there should be a process when changes are made, to have some key players (librarians and tech folks and some teachers) who they immediately seek feedback from--like is this change impacting your work. Often, it seems, they don't really know what the end user's experience is or uses are? Or even what some categories block--at least that has been my experience.

It is a learning experience for everyone, constantly, so it just seems building better working relationships and some structure and practice around the filtering would be a good idea. We can't just randomly pull books off of the shelf in the library can we--we have policies.

And the end users aren't always really that good at communicating that back upstream either?

There's a session at NECC(can't remember if it's the edublogger cafe or the NECC unplugged) about this topic, and we should go!

Hope you can get this problem worked out.

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

You get internetaccess at work?!

I can't even access medical journals online. The only websites I can access are NYS Department of Health, the website of our reference laboratory, the hospital's website (of course) and the website where we are required to take continuing education tests, but can't access online any resources needed to take them!

I understand their prudence with the internet, as a virus in our hospital interface computer system would be tragic, but no online medical journals? Come on! I'm just trying to do my job.

diane said...

Thank you everyone for responding. I'm not very happy with the new filter, which is being monitored by our regional BOCES rather than by my own school district.

I'm hoping to get administrative access, but that really doesn't address the core issue: how can we possibly teach students the best way to access, manipulate, share and create information if they can't freely operate online?

I still believe that the best solution for staff members and students alike is to teach cyber safety and good digital citizenship; have in place clearly defined standards; and promptly & consistently deal with those who choose to ignore the rules and guidelines.

All else leads to ignorance, inadequacy and bedlam.