Nov 022009
 
I had a meeting today ‘downtown’ at our District’s main offices.  There were about 40 TTLs (Technology Teacher Leaders) from different schools across the city all crammed into a small lab all eager to hear why they were there.



What ensued was an overview of resources and procedures that we, as TTLs, should know.  Links to directions on how to access public folders, links to how to order new hardware, dispose of old hardware, etc….  All stuff I’ve known about for years now.  Siiighhh…I patiently sat through the overview while I set up my email on the new iPod Touch we had all received at the beginning of the meeting (more on that later).

At the part of the agenda when we were talking about filtering, I heard my name float across the room from the main speaker, who happened to be standing in the doorway.  I looked up in surprise.  I had no idea who he was, but he addressed me by my first name….hmm….  He was discussing the district’s new system for attending to requests to unblock sites.  I’ve been, well to put in nicely, hounding the filtering team about unblocking GlogsterEDU and VoiceThread since August to no avail.   Apparently I am (in)famous ‘downtown’ for my persistence and big mouth.  He said something to the effect of, “We were hoping to bribe you, Mary Beth, with the iPod to appease your filtering requests.” I smiled.  I liked the guy already.

What the gentleman (who, it turned out is head of Technology Services for the district) began to explain made my heart go ‘pitter-patter.’  He understood.  He explained how they are changing the system by which sites get reviewed.  “We need to have more input on the instructional side.  Right now we have IT guys reviewing sites, and they don’t always get the educational value of a site.”  He explained that the new committee would be made up of members of the Educational Technology Group (ETG), Information Technology and the highest-ups in the district when it comes to technology.

Starting in a few weeks, rather than sending an email to ‘filtering,’ we will fill out an online form stating what the site is and why we want it blocked or unblocked and then the form must be approved by our principal.  That form is then sent out to all 7 members of the committee for review.  He also explained that they are working closely with the company the district hired to do the filtering to get some sites reclassified.  As of now, sites are blocked by software that classifies websites and blocks them according to classification.  By changing the classification, they will be able to unblock those sites.

After the meeting I discovered that filtering is something that even the heads of departments ‘downtown’ have limited control over.  For all of the complaining we do, it is not the people in IT or the people at ETG’s fault.  It is (surprise, surprise) the lawyers who scare the district into such strict filtering that has little human input.  Hopefully, with this committee reviewing sites monthly, there will be more rhyme and reason into what we see filtered in our network.  I also found that I had friends down at 440 (the main district offices) who knew of my efforts and had my back.

The battle is far from over, and who knows if we will ever win, but I feel that this news today was a tiny victory along the way.  I still can’t help but think of that old saying about the squeaky wheel.  Apparently my voice hasn’t gone unheard (for better or for worse).

Battle photo courtesy of eisenbahner on Flickr
Filter photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  10 Responses to “The War Against Filtering: Is there a real solution?”

  1. Persistence pays off, Mary Beth! I'm extremely happy to hear about your seemingly-uphill battle, as I think we've all "been there, done that".

    Do all seven of the reviewers need to give the site a thumbs-up for it to be unblocked? Or is it a simple majority? Either way I don't think you'll have much trouble whitelisting sites like Wordle, Glogster, or Voicethread… trying to unblock a site that might be more gray-area, though, I'm going to guess that the committee errs on the side of caution.

    Thanks for the post. Every one of these administrative issues that I read about helps me prepare mentally for a job I am applying for…

  2. Thanks for the well wishes, Ryan!

    Apparently it's a majority rules kind of thing, which should be fairly efficient. They will err on the side of caution, but at least it will be people and not some software!

    Are you SURE you want that job? πŸ™‚

  3. I am new math teacher in the Philly School District and have wondered the same thing! Thank you so much for looking into this – I have been wondering for a few weeks now how the process works. I would love to get in touch with you and learn from your knowledge base. Could you contact me at cohen314@gmail.com to discuss some of these issues? Thanks, Brian.

  4. Welcome to Philly, Brian! (and welcome to semi-controlled chaos!)

    I will definitely contact you. You can contact me anytime!

  5. I am a technology teacher teaching at a CTE school in the state of Maine. We are facing the same issues here in Maine with access to many sites on our network either locked or filtered. Many of the staff here feel that the district has the online tools so locked down that we can't use any site worth anything to teach.

    Integrating technology in the classroom is being strongly encouraged in our district, however, it is painstakingly difficult when you can't have access to tools to teach with. It's a double edge sward….Admistration is asking us to "integrate technology, and be creative", but they are also telling us by implementing filteres and what not that we can't have any tools to be creative.

  6. I really like the idea of having a form to hand out to teachers so that they can list the sites that they want to use in the class and turn it in for review and approval. This way, everyone feels as though they are doing their part and being heard. At the same time, the school has be opportunity to protect themselves, and in the end, after the review the teacher gets to have the use of the site, if found to be safe. The "black and white" mentallity of old is being opened up to 21st century ideas.

  7. Marcella,

    It does feel contradictory that we are told to do one thing and are then not given the tools to do the job. Hopefully your school and/or district will embrace the idea of a review system for teachers to get some wonderful resources available to you

  8. You are right, it is contradictory! After reading this blog, I plan to make the suggestion of implementing the "review system" to Admin see if this might help to lift some of the controls and filters from the servers. I'm hoping it proves successfull. Thank you for the inspriation and Idea!

  9. I think they get sick of my requests too. πŸ™‚

  10. At least you're a principal. You can send AND approve your own requests with the new system πŸ™‚

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