The well-respected Mrs. Durff asked in Skype:
Know any middle school classrooms that would like to be in a global project that would only take one or two weeks out of their lives ?
Yes, maybe I do. Working in a K-12 environment, I know a few middle school teachers. Many of them are open to new ideas and new projects. She was talking about the Flat Classroom Project, which is currently looking for sounding board classrooms for their currently running 2008 project. Flat Classroom is a collaborative, year-long project involving students from 15 schools worldwide. The sounding boards are ways for the project teams to get feedback on their work. The sounding board classrooms look at the project wikis and provide input to the flat classroom teams. Do some of my teachers want to participate? I hope so.
I drafted an email and sent it out to my middle school staff. On Monday, the emails started coming in. “Umm, that link you sent is blocked by the Internet filter.” I actually sent two links: one to the Wikispaces project, and the other to the Flat Classroom Ning. I had sent the email from home, and hadn’t checked the filter, mostly because it’s a pain to do that from home. Plus, I knew the Wikispaces link wasn’t blocked, because we unblocked Wikispaces last year.
I went through the proper channels. I submitted a request for site review for the Ning. The Internet Filter Review Panel reviewed it, and approved unblocking it. Twenty minutes later, I whitelisted the site, and replied to the emails. It’s all fixed now.
No, it wasn’t. It turns out that Wikispaces uses a secure connection to a session server on a different domain, and that server was blocked. I didn’t think we were filtering secure connections, but apparently our ITC’s web filter is. Fine. I added another override. And I sent another email.
Half an hour later, I get another reply from the teacher. “I tried to sign up but to do so I believe I need to join Wikispaces– which is blocked when I go to sign up as a new user.” Back to the drawing board. The next step is to dig through the signup process, figure out what’s being blocked, and fix it. Then, I can email the teacher, and tell him (again) that he should be able to access it. If he’s still interested after all this, I’m sure to get yet another email explaining that the next resource is blocked.
If I were a teacher, I would have given up after the initial email with the links that don’t work. How can we use these tools if we’re constantly fighting to get access to them? Even in a district like mine, where (I like to think) the tech staff is generally agreeable to helping provide access to these kinds of resources, it’s nearly impossible to use these tools in any practical sense.
We’re required, both by policy and by law, to have filtered Internet access. I can accept that. But at some point, the filtering does more harm than good. In this case, the only practical solution is to unblock the entire category, so I don’t have to do it a link at a time. But the category is “social networking.” Unblocking that would open up Myspace and Facebook and all of the other applications that our school community has labeled as evil. While my personal feelings differ a bit from current policy, I’m pretty sure I can’t get the district to agree that allowing access to those sites is a good idea.
So we keep plugging away at the stumbling blocks. And if a teacher is really committed to doing this, we might be able to make the access bearable so he can do it. But I’m guessing that most teachers aren’t going to go to the trouble.