Thursday, June 19, 2014

No Evil Here - A Tale about Blocking Technology

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Billy Rowlinson: http://flickr.com/photos/billyrowlinson/3515157369

I was talking with a coordinator yesterday and I heard a word that I hadn't heard in quite a long time - proxies. A few years ago, around the same time as the introduction of 1:1 devices in the school, there was a spait of incidents involving students using proxies to access websites that would normally be blocked. The answer then was two fold: 
  1. It was explained to students the dangers of using such means in regards to viruses.
  2. Students caught lost their laptops for an extended period of time.

As time passed, it stopped being an such an issue. Less and less people were being caught out. However, what this recent situation highlights is that maybe it stopped being an issue for teachers, while for students the practise simply went underground. 

Whatever the exact state of play maybe, it left me searching for a better solution. For the case in question involved a student naively sharing with a new teacher how to access YouTube at school via proxies. What is interesting is that in some schools YouTube is open to students. However, there is a fair fear amongst staff that allowing students to access YouTube opens up a whole new can of worms. Like email, such applications and websites like YouTube add a level of responsibility that not all teachers are willing to accept. The irony though is that we end up dealing with such incidents online whether we chose to 'accept' them or not. 

For example, if a student was caught by another student watching an inappropriate clip at school and reported to a teacher, surely the answer given I'd not 'that clip is not supposed to be accessed at school.' Instead I would imagine that there would be discussions about why it maybe inappropriate to watch the video at school, whether this be because it may make others feel unsafe and is too often unrelated to what tasks are meant to be completed.

This is no different to when students bring issues associated with inappropriate online activity into the classroom. For although such incidents do not directly occur in the classroom, the fact that they inadvertently impact learning in the classroom means that we do need to deal with them. 

The question then that comes to mind is whether blocking access is the best solution? In an interesting interview that I seem to come back to again and again, +Alec Couros spoke about the importance of bringing social media into the classroom. He suggested that we need to be modelling with students everyday appropriate actions online. Yet, as I have discussed before in regards to taboos, for too many schools it is easier to ignore such issues as if doing so both absolves them of responsibility and means that they don't exist.


I am not sure of the perfect answer, but I would like to say that simply blocking every program is not it. I would love to know your thoughts. Are websites like YouTube, Twitter and Slideshare blocked in your school? If not, what are the consequences, both good and bad, of allowing students open access? Please share below.