• To Block or Not to Block, that isn’t the question! (but is a point for discussion)

    With kind permission I am reposting Scott McLeod‘s ‘Dangerously Irrelevant Blog Post about 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

    I will follow this up by looking at each point (one a day perhaps) to strip it down and look at both sides of the point.
    Please remember that these are talking points and will bring forward a variety of views, depending on personal experience.


    For Leadership Day 2012, I thought I would gather in one place many of the talking points that I use with principals and superintendents about Internet safety…

    1. Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.
    2. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
    3. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.
    4. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.
    5. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
    6. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
    7. The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement, and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.
    8. Federal laws do not require your draconian filtering. You can’t point the finger somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
    9. Students and teachers rise to the level of the expectations that you have for them. If you expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.
    10. Schools that ‘loosen up’ with students and teachers find that they have no more problems than they did before. And, often, they have fewer problems because folks aren’t trying to get around the restrictions.
    11. There’s a difference between a teachable moment and a punishable moment. Lean toward the former as much as possible.
    12. If your community is pressuring you to be more restrictive, that’s when it’s time to educate, not capitulate. Overzealous blocking and filtering has real and significant negative impacts on information access, student learning, pedagogy, ability to address required curricular standards, and educators’ willingness to integrate technology. It also makes it awfully tough to prepare students for a digital era.
    13. ‘Walled garden’ online environments prevent the occurrence of serendipitous learning connections with the outside world.
    14. If you’re prohibiting teachers from being ‘friends’ with students online, are you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’ with students in neighborhoods, at church, in volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other non-school settings?
    15. Schools with mindsets of enabling powerful student learning usually block much less than those that don’t. Their first reaction is ‘how can we make this work?’ rather than ‘we need to keep this out.’
    16. As the lead learner, it’s your responsibility to actively monitor what’s being filtered and blocked and to always reconsider that in light of learning and teaching needs.
    17. If you trust your teachers with the children, you should trust them with the Internet. Addendum: Mistrust of teachers drives away good educators.
    18. If you make it too hard to get permission to unblock something, you might as well not have the option in the first place.
    19. Unless you like losing lawsuits, remember that students and staff have speech and privacy rights, particularly off-campus. Remember that any dumb decision you make is Internet fodder and has a good chance of going viral online. Do you really want to be the next stupid administrator story on The Huffington Post?
    20. When you violate the Constitution and punish kids just because you don’t like what they legally said or did and think you can get away with it, you not only run the risk of incurring financial liability for your school system in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars but also abuse your position of trust and send messages to students about the corruption of power and disregard for the rule of law.
    21. Never make a policy you can’t enforce.
    22. Don’t abdicate your teaching responsibility. Students do not magically gain the ability at the end of the school day or after graduation to navigate complex, challenging, unfiltered digital information spaces. If you don’t teach them how to navigate the unfiltered Internet appropriately and safely while you have them, who’s going to?
    23. Acceptable use and other policies send messages to students, staff, and parents. Is the predominant message that you want to send really that ‘the technologies that are transforming everything around us should first and foremost be feared?’
    24. Imagine a scale with two balancing pans. On one side are all of the anxieties, fears, barriers, challenges, and perceived problems that your staff, parents, and community members put forth. If you want effective technology integration and implementation to occur in your school system, it is your job as the leader to tip the scale the other way. Addendum: It is difficult to understand the learning power of digital technologies – and easy to dismiss their pedagogical usefulness – if you are not familiar enough with them to understand their positive affordances.
    25. In a hyperconnected, technology-suffused, digital, global world, you do your children a disservice – and highlight your irrelevance – by blocking out our present and their future.
    26. Educating is always, always more powerful than blocking.

    BONUS 1. Elsewhere in your state – perhaps even near you – are school districts that have figured this out. They operate under the same laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that you do. If they can be less restrictive, why can’t you?

    A huge thanks to everyone who has influenced my thinking and my writing in this area, including folks like Doug Johnson, Sylvia Martinez, danah boyd, Will Richardson, and Tina Barseghian. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few talking points that I’ll just add later. Which one is your favorite (or least favorite)? What would you add to or change on this list?


    Many thanks to Scott for permission to republish this post. I will add more posts about each item shortly.

    (Originally published on To Block or Not to Block, that isn’t the question! | Grumbledook Thinks )
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. SYNACK's Avatar
      SYNACK -
      Many good points but as always there are two sides to every story:
      Off the top of my head:
      2) That's fine as long as you do not still try to blame your tech staff when little Jonny finds dodgey stuff because of something your tech staff warned you about. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
      5) But they do
      22) yay, teach, pleeeeessssseeeee!!!!

      There are lots of great points there, it's ashame that 'common' sense must be codified and indexed but there it is. The other big takeaway that was magically not included is that you can't take responsibility off the tech staff and still blame them if stuff goes wrong. The cake is a LIE!
    1. synaesthesia's Avatar
      synaesthesia -
      I started by typing a huge reply to this, realising I was going off on rather a large tangent.
      I think it would require such a change of the way we do things - there are plenty of schools already using education, teaching responsibility, rather than blocking everything in sight. We, as a country probably feel that's how we work as opposed to China being quite a good example but even now, day by day the average internet user might feel slightly more walled in. Those walls, we're told, are there for our own protection.
      But can you define the best protection? Putting a bigger bumper on the front of your car, or being taught to drive responsibly? Or a mixture of both?
      The key thing is "just in case". I suspect the majority of schools would rather be safe than sorry for good reason, and most are acting on a "What If". Policies used throughout will no doubt mirror that.
      "Don't add students, ex or current, to your social media contacts/friends lists" because "what if you get accused of something". That accusation can have a hell of a lot of bad consequences for the individuals and the school.
      It's also worth noting the above post is American so it would probably be worth wondering if some of the points would translate. Especially ones like point 19 (very American) and point 7, particularly "The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero".
      I did originally go on about how the media is so corrupted, and how official and governmental organisations are also so (apparently) corrupted, how could anyone actually know what is actually going on? Try being judge and jury on that
      I sit quite firmly in the camp of making sure people do not have access to things that would not be in the best interests of school work. There's damn obvious reasons why. Plus, it's pretty much what we're used to, and used to being told that's how we should operate. Despite that, there's a lot of truth above about the evilisation of things like Facebook and Twitter. Again there's a lot of what ifs you could apply to it all.
      I could probably summarise most of it very easily in single words.
      What If.
    1. Voodoo's Avatar
      Voodoo -
      We used to have a network in the early 2000's that was pretty much open and unrestricted. Everyone (staff and pupils) was told and expected to behave responsibly and professionally. It didn't work and led to a culture of misuse.

      Restrictions eventually had to be introduced, and although we used Becta and accepted good business practice as a guide, we are now seen as being oppressive...despite the fact that the misuse was brought under control, and we don't have anything particularly draconian in place.

      We are now being pushed from all angles to return to the "free for all" days.

      Having seen both sides of the coin, I would say that most of the points being made above are falsehoods, and I the use of our computer systems to degenerate back to the "culture of misuse" days.

      How can Senior Management and organisations achieve the most basic of IT Compliancy if they don't have good control over what's going on their network or on the internet? I think they need tools like filtering to help them achieve that...or some extraordinary policing method that I think we'd all be keen to hear of...I'm definitely all ears for that!
    1. mthomas08's Avatar
      mthomas08 -
      Like others I question a lot here and like others we too had limited filtering back in the day. This was at a time when no one knew what the internet was, let alone all what you could access. Now everyone knows what the internet is and what you can get online.
      5. Sadly its not 5% who abuse it, it is much higher. When proxy sites are detected they spread quicker than virus's and within a day its spread to 30 kids.
      6. No you can never promise 100% safety but you have to do your best to protect children, like it or not you can educate them all you want but even adults can do "silly" things on the likes of Facebook. There is a reason why kids require parent permission, because they are simply not old enough to understand no matter how educated they are.
      7. The online predators in todays world is a real and serious threat, having dealt with sensitive cases it is actually happening.
      9. You have to expect the worst, which is why there is legal requirements on fire exits and alarms. You can't simply believe all the students will be safe regardless.
      10. Having been there before with "loosening up" the abuse that was occurring was paramount.
      13. Walled Garden is actually a good idea, it allows students to use the internet for what they need to: An Education resource, not sitting on facebook chatting to their friends about the weekend.
      14. Again we have had incidents involving staff and facebook and outside people witnessed something they shouldnt have. We strongly advise staff not to be friends with students, some of what you mentioned are on a personal level.
      17. It is easy to supervise a group of kids in a lesson environment compared to watching what each student has on the screen. If they use a book its easy to tell when they are page turning but on the internet its easy to hide several pages and go off topic.

      Students should be educated in why the filtering systems exist. Would you give students administrator access to your whole network?

      They should be educated in the dangers of the internet, they still will not listen or care about such things. They are being given more sex education especially in protection, yet underage unprotected sex is on the rise. Even with all this education, as much as you can educate them the dangers of e.g Facebook - they will still have an account. They will still post a picture they shouldnt, they will still add other kids as their friends even though it will cause problems. Maturity is a big part of life and under 16s still have much to learn.
    1. Ephelyon's Avatar
      Ephelyon -
      I agree with @GrumbleDook that a lot of this does sound like a shout-out for senior leaders to take more responsibility, but I do think it's also shot through with the type of libertarian ethos that works well in the right environment, but without those "controlled conditions" as it were, you can still run into problems. The other issue that I take with a lot of publications of this nature is the potential progression from what's written to, in some leaders' minds, the view that when a technologist "blocks" or advises against something, they need to be put in their place as they couldn't possibly have a full picture of the situation. I believe that's just as negative as saying a technologist should have the final say-so on all IT-related matters with no moderation whatsoever.

      But my responses to each point would be:

      1) Absolutely. The Head and the Governors should have oversight of every "domain" of knowledge/activity within the school, and they must always retain the power of veto. Just as long as we're not confusing "oversight" with "taking the credit for other people's work".
      2) Sorry, no. This technology always brings with it its own concerns (and laws), which don't outweigh the overall core purpose of the school - to educate children - but they may outweigh individual avenues of pedagogical practice. I also tend to find that the person with the "bigger picture" view of any IT-related issue in a school is more often than not the most senior IT person, rather than the most senior teacher. This would be different if we had leadership teams that didn't consist almost entirely of teachers (unlike in every other sector), but we don't. Balance is necessary in all things - my response to an Answers.com question here explains more of my view on this one. Ultimately, "educational technology" is just that: a fusion of technology and pedagogy. Likewise, the senior technologists and senior educators should ideally make decisions about it in partnership. There's no need to be so divisive; the technologist needs to remember that they're not the overall boss, while the Head needs to remember that they appointed an expert for a reason (right?).
      3) Quite right - the issue is always with how the technology could be used. Just be sure you've thought of everything in that regard; oh look, you did actually appoint a technological expert within your ranks, didn't you? (You did, right?) Maybe what you call scare-mongering is the same thing your parents were doing when they advised you not to engage in X illegal/dangerous activity - and they were right, weren't they? (Trying not to stray into the realms of Transactional Analysis here...)
      4) I'd have to disagree with this as it's the same kind of attitude that's led to there being no specific guidance available on e.g. how to assess risk arising through the use of technology. Sometimes the gadgets bring with them nothing fundamentally new; sometimes the possibilities are entirely new; or (most of the time) it's just a much faster and more private way of doing the same thing - which DOES warrant a rethink if you ask me.
      5) Because of what the 5% might do; quite often this technology can bring with it consequences that are significant, immediate and permanent - to the extent that we really do need to think "safety first" a lot of the time I'm afraid. In fact, various laws will often oblige us to do just that. Also, I agree with @mthomas08 that, statistically speaking, YMMV. Finally, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of ethos here; we are not "penalising" the 95% in respect of the 5%, we are "protecting" the 95% from the 5%. This is based on a core principle that we often see in life: It Only Takes One™. One child, one time. Having actually BEEN that One on occasion in my youth (as quite a lot of younger technologists have), I'm very aware of this fact. Then, once you grow up, your approach to security tends to end up as "not on my watch". Is that evil?
      6) In spite of the above, this is a very good point and we must be sure not to get overzealous with our safety - just so long as we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. My problem with Scott's points is that they seem to be veering dangerously close to advocating precisely that.
      7) The key word here is "reported". Also, on the subject of technology, grooming can occur in other ways; myself, I was one of the teenagers who was effectively "groomed" online by older hackers to misuse the school IT facilities, encouraged to find ways around restrictions, imbued with a rather sinister culture of "for the challenge" and "only playing for sport" that stands upon the edge of a knife. It took me a long time to get over that, and I certainly didn't report it.
      8) I'm afraid in England we do have plenty of legal principles and precedents that demand the approach of seeking to eliminate the risk first, mitigate second. If you disagree with that ethos, then you need to look at "improving" the legal landscape FIRST, BEFORE you implement a new ideology. Trying to do it the other way around will end in tears (looking at you, Ofsted).
      9) That's true, but you'll always get the ones who will do what they want anyway, regardless of what you expect of them. And I'm really not interested in all these arguments suggesting that that's a myth - it's not. Some people - perhaps even most - you can save. Others, you just have to contain. The restrictions we put into place are precisely for this purpose: containing those who will not be guided. Again, having been one of those myself and having seen a fair few others (the 5%), I'm not blind to their existence and I'm sure as heck not letting them compromise the system that provides such a benefit to the remaining 95%. Doesn't sound so silly now, does it?
      10) Very often not true - it's just that the problems are hidden. Some Americans tried this approach with the geodesic dome communes decades ago; what they found was that the control element was still going on unseen (because, for the last time, it's human nature), but the damage was far less visible, often because (in the interest of "not expecting people to be bad") no-one was looking for it.
      11) Agreed 100%.
      12) Agreed again, as long as this term "overzealous" is defined properly.
      13) Assuming this is in reference to taking a "whitelist" rather than a "blacklist" approach to the Internet, agreed again.
      14) I think the interpretation here is too literal - "friendship" on Facebook is not the same as "friendship" in real life and this should be acknowledged. I don't believe it's appropriate for teachers and pupils to be "friends" while the pupils are still in school, but after that I don't see a problem.
      15) Agreed that the first response should be "How can we make this work?", just so long as it's accepted from the outset that there might not be a realistic answer. Scott recognises the potential to be overzealous with the "blocking first" principle; I would ask him to recognise that it's also possible to be overzealous with the "educating first" principle. Again - balance.
      16) Absolutely - but do also remember that there ARE other needs in any modern organisation too, and - oh look - you employ people to think about those, don't you? So stop ignoring them every time their answer (based on their measured professional opinion) isn't quite what you wanted for your latest pedagogical idea. They are probably just thinking more broadly than you; one key component of broader thinking in technology management is to put "what you want to achieve" in a box and add it to all the other factors, not place it on some high altar and have all the other factors worshipping it. If your technologist perceives that you're doing the latter, they will probably move to block it (assuming you can't be dissuaded) as they know where this is going. Arrogance? Experience.
      17) Agreed in principle, but I'm afraid we do see some instances where staff actually aren't acting responsibly. Some of these were highlighted at an e-safety conference I attended last November.
      18) Absolutely true. Ideally procedures should always be simple to navigate.
      19) Again, that's a worry and a good point.
      20) Agreed again.
      21) Absolutely agreed, but then, if you want to use mobile phones in lessons while telling the children they shouldn't cyberbully - doesn't that sound like the kind of policy you can't enforce? Especially when you consider that mitigation after the fact may be less effective here than you think. If you truly believe in this principle, try analysing all your current technological principles and practices to see whether they would fit it.
      22) Quite a lot of people actually. School's good too, but please stop seeing yourselves as the "last bastion" in this cause; the rest of us are laughing at you.
      23) To be honest, the negative reaction Scott is implying here is the same one I feel when I watch those "hate piracy" adverts in cinemas - but I'd still admit that, were it not for the legal implications, I'd probably download music every now and then from artists who I know (or believe?) get enough sales. "Apprehension of consequences" is not in principle an ugly way of keeping society working - it's just how it gets used in practice that can be a problem (sound familiar?).
      24) As long as you do so without ignoring those other arguments/concerns; without disrespecting them and their supporters; without believing your own goal or concern must always be "better"; without the arrogance to believe that there will always be a way to get what you want; and without forgetting that you might just learn something along the way. Just as Scott says it's difficult to understand the positive sides of technology without being familiar with it, it's difficult to understand its negative sides without being familiar with it too. But again, oh look, you did appoint somebody for that, didn't you?
      25) Oh, come on - they've plenty of time, you know! There are many, many aspects of adult life that we "block out" for children (including teenagers up to 18) because they're not ready for it yet. Amazing how they don't all flounder the instant they're exposed to it - this is where the practice of introducing little bits of it gradually comes in.
      26) No, it's not. It always, always SHOULD be, but that doesn't mean it is. Ultimately you may remove a risk by educating about risks, but what about the trail of devastation you might be leaving behind you - are you even thinking about that? Finally, we've seen throughout history what happens when it's left to one person to make the decision on things like this. A leader must lead, yes, but a leader who leads without proper regard for ALL their stakeholders is called a dictator. And as far as technology leadership is concerned, the only thing worse than a dictator is an uninformed dictator.

      As for the Bonus Point, my response is: it might look as if it's working for now, but Gorbachev had the same thought back in the 80s.
    1. Watty08's Avatar
      Watty08 -
      Sorry for joining this late on but I was just having a quick search to see how everyone adapted their filtering to match their school.
      One point not really mention on with filtering is although at a fundamental level your putting policies in place to protect the network and learning time. You are also put these in pace to safeguard both STAFF and students. When questions are raised about safe guarding you know you have done your part by stopping staff access to sites such as Facebook in school.
      I know I can safely say if member of time was questioned on their usage in work, they were not on such sites during work time.
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