Showing posts with label Web Filters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Web Filters. Show all posts

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Quick Way to Check if a Website is Working Correctly or Not

On Thursday afternoon I was having trouble loading a couple of websites that I planned to use in a presentation. To make check if the problem was on my end or with the website I turned to a handy site called Down For Everyone Or Just Me? The site will tell you if a website that you're trying to visit is down or not. To use the site just enter the name of a site into the search tool on Down For Everyone Or Just Me? and you will quickly get a yes or no answer. Watch my short video overview below.


Applications for Education
The next time you try a site in your classroom and the kids say to you, "it's not working" put the site's address into Down For Everyone Or Just Me? to see if the problem lies with the site or with your school's filters.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tips for Accessing Sites Blocked by Your School

I originally published this a few years ago. I'm bringing it back up because I was recently asked about this issue again.

For those hoping that this post might teach you how to bypass filters, I'm sorry there is nothing in this post about bypassing filters. That's not a strategy that I endorse. 

I can't tell you how many times I've presented a website or tool at a workshop and a teacher has said, "that's great, but my school blocks everything." Having useful sites blocked is frustrating for everyone. I've been there. In the fall of 2009 I returned to school after the summer break to find that all of the sites (VoiceThread, Wikispaces, Blogger, Animoto, and others) that I had planned to use were blocked by the new filter that had been in place. Fortunately, my principal was willing to listen to me and some of my colleagues and he overruled the network administrator. If you find yourself in a similar situation, try these things before throwing up your hands in frustration.

Tactics for getting access to the websites that you want to use.
1. Attitude: don't sit back and complain quietly, don't sit back and complain loudly. Rather you should go to the top with research and a plan. Straight Talk from the DOE is a good place to start that research.

2. Relationships: if I didn't have a good working relationship with my principal I wouldn't be able to walk into his and have him seriously consider what I ask for.

3. Persistence: changing a school's or a district's policy isn't going to happen overnight.

4. Recruit supporters: if it's just you leading the fight you might be looked at as "that crazy teacher," if there is two of you you might be looked at as "those crazy teachers," but if you can get a third supporter then you've started a grassroots movement. This is an idea that I borrowed from this Ted Talk by Derek Sivers and from Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant.

Update: Shortly after this post went live Doug Johnson emailed me with a link to something he wrote on the same topic a couple of years ago. Doug outlines ten steps in his post. But what I like best about his post is the chart that he uses to show the correlation between "knowledge of educational uses" and "permissiveness of internet use." Take a look at Doug's chart here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Strategies for Getting Access to Websites Blocked By Your School

For those hoping that this post might teach you how to bypass filters, I'm sorry there is nothing in this post about bypassing filters. That's not a strategy that I endorse. 

I can't tell you how many times I've presented a website or tool at a workshop and a teacher has said, "that's great, but my school blocks everything." Having useful sites blocked is frustrating for everyone. I've been there. In the fall of 2009 I returned to school after the summer break to find that all of the sites (VoiceThread, Wikispaces, Blogger, Animoto, and others) that I had planned to use were blocked by the new filter that had been in place. Fortunately, my principal was willing to listen to me and some of my colleagues and he overruled the network administrator. If you find yourself in a similar situation, try these things before throwing up your hands in frustration.

Tactics for getting access to the websites that you want to use.
1. Attitude: don't sit back and complain quietly, don't sit back and complain loudly. Rather you should go to the top with research and a plan. Straight Talk from the DOE is a good place to start that research.

2. Relationships: if I didn't have a good working relationship with my principal I wouldn't be able to walk into his and have him seriously consider what I ask for.

3. Persistence: changing a school's or a district's policy isn't going to happen overnight.

4. Recruit supporters: if it's just you leading the fight you might be looked at as "that crazy teacher," if there is two of you you might be looked at as "those crazy teachers," but if you can get a third supporter then you've started a grassroots movement. This is an idea that I borrowed from this Ted Talk by Derek Sivers and from Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant.

Update: Shortly after this post went live Doug Johnson emailed me with a link to something he wrote on the same topic a couple of years ago. Doug outlines ten steps in his post. But what I like best about his post is the chart that he uses to show the correlation between "knowledge of educational uses" and "permissiveness of internet use." Take a look at Doug's chart here.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dispelling Myths About Web Filtering Requirements

There are very few things as frustrating as excessive Internet filtering when you're trying to integrate technology into classroom. Some filtering can be good and is actually required, but I have visited a lot of schools in which the filtering goes way beyond what is actually needed. Sometimes the reason for the excessive filtering is based on misunderstanding of requirements. In this KQED interview in 2011 Karen Cantor dispelled some of the myths about Internet filtering requirements. If you're working in a school that is blocking a lot more than you think it should be, read the article and interview transcript then pass it along.

Friday, June 22, 2012

OpenDNS Family Shield

Family Shield, powered by OpenDNS, is a service that can be used to filter the content accessed by anyone on your home network. Family Shield is designed to filter adult websites, proxy and anonymizer websites, and phishing websites. Step-by-step directions are provided for setting-up Family Shield on your home computer(s) and router(s).

Applications for Education
While I generally prefer to emphasize education about the Internet over blocking access to the Internet  I also understand that a lot of parents would still prefer to have a way to restrict the content their children can access from home. If you're asked by a parent for advice on Internet filtering at home, consider referring that person to Family Shield.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ProCon Content Filter for Firefox

ProCon Latte Content Filter is a Firefox add-on designed to prevent users of your computers from accessing sites containing objectionable content. It can filter any type of content you specify by keyword. Password protection means that only you can change the filter settings. This could be an add-on that parents might want to add to the browser on their home computers. Of course, educating students about what they should or shouldn't access is the best policy, but the ProCon Latte Content Filter is a nice back-up plan. The Tekzilla video below offers a little more information about this Firefox add-on.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

10 Common Challenges We'll Face This Fall - Challenge #1: Access

One of my most popular presentations, the one that I'm most frequently asked to give, is 10 Common Challenges Facing Educators. When giving this presentation I outline challenges that classroom teachers often face and present some resources and strategies for addressing those challenges. In preparation for the new school year I've created a series of blog posts based on my presentation. Today's blog post addresses the challenge of not having access to the websites that you want your students to use.

I have the good fortune to work in a school that has a progressive policy toward Internet filtering. In my school there is rarely a site that I want my students to use that is blocked. And in the few cases when I do encounter a block, I can have it quickly unblocked by emailing one of the network administrators (generally a response time of less than five minutes). But it wasn't always this way at my school.

A few years ago I returned to school after the summer break to find that all of the sites (VoiceThread, Wikispaces, Blogger, Animoto, and others) that I had planned to use were blocked by our the new filter in place. Frustrated, I emailed the tech department asking for these sites to be unblocked. They replied by saying they'd "look into it" and get back to me. I waited. Then I waited again. Finally, I was told that if I could explain to them how and why I was going to use these sites they might unblock them if they didn't violate CIPA regulations. Up to the tech office I went and sat down with two of the network administrator's assistants to explain to them what VoiceThread did, what Wikispaces was, and how I was going to use them. As I was explaining what VoiceThread did one of the assistants said, "I think unblocking this would violate CIPA." I lost it. Here I was explaining myself to two people who not only had never taught in a classroom, had no background in education, and who clearly did not understand CIPA.

Down to my principal's office I went, bypassing his secretary and anyone else who might have slowed me down, I steamed in and sat down right in front of his desk. I was fuming and he could see it. Here's the truncated version of happened next. "Ted," I said, "we've just made a huge investment in netbooks for every student, but now the tech department is blocking everything that will make 1:1 a success. Furthermore, it's bullshit that I have to explain everything I want to do in my classroom to people who have never taught or even taken education classes." (Yes, for better or worse, Ted actually does let me swear in his office). To my delight, he agreed with me, but he still wanted more information before making a formal decision one way or another. But in the meantime the sites that I wanted unblocked were unblocked.

Fast forward a few months and my principal and superintendent are developing a formal policy regarding Internet access. As is the case with many decisions in my school, my principal solicited feedback from the staff. As you might expect, I flooded the main office with information about Internet filtering. Some of the sources that I used include Wes Fryer's Unmasking the Digital Truth, the Digital Youth Research project at Berkeley, the MacArthur Foundation's Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning, and from MIT Press Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out (at the time it was available as a free download, it's now available for purchase or you can read some parts of it for free online). A number of other teachers besides myself presented examples of the work we and our students were doing with web tools that we wouldn't have access to if a restrictive filtering policy was put in place. When a formal policy was put in place, we were all happy to learn that we would continue to be able to access all of the sites that we wanted to use in our classrooms.

Tactics for getting access to the websites that you want to use.
1. Attitude: don't sit back and complain quietly, don't sit back and complain loudly. Rather you should go to the top with research and a plan.

2. Relationships: if I didn't have a good working relationship with my principal I wouldn't be able to walk into his and have him seriously consider what I ask for.

3. Persistence: changing a school's or a district's policy isn't going to happen overnight.

4. Recruit supporters: if it's just you leading the fight you might be looked at as "that crazy teacher," if there is two of you you might be looked at as "those crazy teachers," but if you can get a third supporter then you've started a grassroots movement. This is an idea that I borrowed from this Ted Talk by Derek Sivers and from Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant.



Come back tomorrow for challenge #2, selecting appropriate tech tools for your classroom.


update: here's another good source of information about filtering. Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites. Thanks to Wesley Fryer for this one too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Internet Filtering - Does It Work?

Today, while looking for an image of an Internet filtering company's logo (for a presentation I'm giving in about a month) I came across the image you see below. I was going to just post the picture with the caption, "that just about says it all" but then I changed my mind. I changed my mind because I know that there are many schools that do believe that strict filtering of the Internet is the best course of action. Fortunately for me, I work in a school that doesn't use strict Internet filters. So my question for those of you who work in schools that strictly filter the Internet, does it work? Or will it result in more scenarios such as this one that Scott McLeod shared today.
Image Credit: Flickr User Sally06


Monday, August 2, 2010

Family Shield - Filtering for Your Home Network

Family Shield, powered by OpenDNS, is a service that can be used to filter the content accessed by anyone on your home network. Family Shield is designed to filter adult websites, proxy and anonymizer websites, and phishing websites. Step-by-step directions are provided for setting-up Family Shield on your home computer(s) and router(s).

Applications for Education
I generally prefer to emphasize education about the Internet over blocking access to the Internet, but I also understand that a lot of parents would still prefer to have a way to restrict the content their children can access from home. If you're asked by a parent for advice on Internet filtering at home, consider referring that person to Family Shield.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Phishing Detection Education
A Thin Line - Digital Safety Education for Teens
Safe Computing Tools for Kids - Windows Based

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Edition: Least Restrictive Environment for Educators

Believe it or not, I'm actually taking a couple of days off from going online. I know that not everyone celebrates the same holidays that I do so I am reposting some of the most popular posts of the last two years. This is one of them.

I usually don't write much about the philosophy and politics of school leadership because it doesn't really fit with the purpose of this blog. But Dr. Scott McLeod put out a call for all edubloggers to post their thoughts about school leadership today. This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2009.

In my work with special education students over the last six years, I have consistently heard from special education teachers and administrators the refrain of "creating a least restrictive environment for students." The idea being that in a least restrictive environment students have the most opportunities to experience new things, explore their creativity, and grow personally and academically. I completely agree with these ideas.

The irony I see in school leadership with regards to technology in the classroom is that often, by imposing strict internet filters, school leaders don't create a least restrictive environment for their faculty. Some of the most restrictive environments that I've heard of include the blocking of wiki services, gmail, and Google image search (which recently added Creative Commons search). By restricting access to the internet, including such innocuous things as Yahoo mail, schools limit the ability of teachers to use their creativity in lesson planning.

I understand that schools are worried about lawsuits arising from student access to the internet. At the same time if school leaders are filtering the internet out of fear or misunderstanding of the law they are not helping their teachers prepare students for life after high school. (Please note that I did not say "prepare students for the 21st century." We're a decade into the 21st century we should stop saying "21st century skills" and just say "skills" or "skills for academic and professional success.") To address these fears and misunderstandings, Wes Fryer and others created Unmasking the Digital Truth. If you're a school administrator or a teacher who works in a district that doesn't create a least restrictive internet environment, please visit Unmasking the Digital Truth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Password Protect Your Google Safe Search Settings

Today, Google announced a new search setting that all parents and educators should be aware of. Google now allows you to lock-in your safe search settings with password protection. If you choose "Lock Safe Search" in your search preferences you will be locking in strict filtering for all of Google's search products including web search, image search, and video search. Watch the video below to learn more about Locking Safe Search.


Applications for Education (and Parenting)
When the safe search setting is locked large red, blue, yellow, and green balls appear at the top of the search page. This provides a large visual reference you can use from across the room to make sure that kids are locked into strict filtering while searching.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Only 5 Minutes to Influence - What Do You Say?

Earlier today I posted on Twitter, the question "If you had only 5 minutes to convince a school administrator to ease Internet filtering, what would you say?" I got a bunch of good replies and as someone on Twitter requested, I've included those replies a little later in this post. But first, I'll explain my motivation for the question. Most teachers are back in school now or will be in school next week. Once school starts everyone involved in schools becomes busy and we have less time to discuss ideas and even less time to discuss ideas that involve systemic change. Therefore, if you're working in a school environment that doesn't offer a least restrictive Internet environment and you want to get that changed, chances are you'll have to make your case succinct and influential at the same time.

Last year when my school district was considering enacting a filtering policy that would ban all websites containing a social networking component, I did not have much time to make the case against the policy. To get my district's administrators to reconsider, I simply pointed out that this blog and many like it would be inaccessible to teachers because they include the Google Friend Connect widget. In my case I had some leverage because of the 2008 Edublog Award and, at that time, 6000+ subscribers. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to talk with my district's superintendent and my district's technology administrator who were both quite willing to listen although those conversations were only a few minutes in length.

If you're in a position where you're trying to change your district's filtering policy, but you only have a few minutes to influence people, consider some of the advice offered by these great folks on Twitter. You should also read Jeff Utecht's latest post which offers great evidence against using the "walled garden" approach to filtering.












Thursday, August 13, 2009

Firefox Plugin for Filtering Profanity

Once again Tekzilla has a great tip for educators and parents. In the video below will learn about the ProCon Profanity Filter plug-in for Firefox.

If you're reading this in RSS you may need to click through to view the video.


Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
How to Block Scripts in Firefox
Least Restrictive Environment for Educators
Kido'z - A Kid-Safe Browser

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Least Restrictive Environment for Educators

I usually don't write much about the philosophy and politics of school leadership because it doesn't really fit with the purpose of this blog. But Dr. Scott McLeod put out a call for all edubloggers to post their thoughts about school leadership today. This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2009.

In my work with special education students over the last six years, I have consistently heard from special education teachers and administrators the refrain of "creating a least restrictive environment for students." The idea being that in a least restrictive environment students have the most opportunities to experience new things, explore their creativity, and grow personally and academically. I completely agree with these ideas.

The irony I see in school leadership with regards to technology in the classroom is that often, by imposing strict internet filters, school leaders don't create a least restrictive environment for their faculty. Some of the most restrictive environments that I've heard of include the blocking of wiki services, gmail, and Google image search (which recently added Creative Commons search). By restricting access to the internet, including such innocuous things as Yahoo mail, schools limit the ability of teachers to use their creativity in lesson planning.

I understand that schools are worried about lawsuits arising from student access to the internet. At the same time if school leaders are filtering the internet out of fear or misunderstanding of the law they are not helping their teachers prepare students for life after high school. (Please note that I did not say "prepare students for the 21st century." We're a decade into the 21st century we should stop saying "21st century skills" and just say "skills" or "skills for academic and professional success.") To address these fears and misunderstandings, Wes Fryer and others created Unmasking the Digital Truth. If you're a school administrator or a teacher who works in a district that doesn't create a least restrictive internet environment, please visit Unmasking the Digital Truth.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Unmasking Digital Truth

In an article published today for ISTE Connects, Wes Fryer talks about some of the common reasons given by administrators for blocking websites. At the end of the article Mr. Fryer shares a link to project he started called Unmasking the Digital Truth. Unmasking the Digital Truth is a wiki built to share information and dispel common misconceptions about CIPA, FERPA, and e-Discovery, and other reasons commonly used for justifying web censorship. The wiki is clear in all of its explanations.

Applications for Education
The more I talk with teachers around the world the more I hear horror stories of teachers not being able to access basic web tools like wikis and blogs. It seems that sometimes schools are blocking websites out of fear and sometimes out of misunderstandings. Whatever the reason for blocking is, teachers shouldn't sit idly by and be denied access to the tools they need to prepare their students to participate in the global community. To that end, a site like Unmasking the Digital Truth is a great resource for teachers who would like to gather information that they can use in discussions with their administrators about unblocking websites.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thank You - Social Networking Proven Valuable Again

Those of you that follow me on Twitter or Facebook probably know that my school district recently proposed new Internet use policies that would have effectively decreased by 50% the number of websites that teachers and students can use. When I first read the proposed policies I put out some pleas for help on Twitter. Many of you responded with links to articles and studies that defend the value of open access to the Internet. Since that time I organized an ad-hoc committee of teachers and administrators in my school district to look at those examples. Although the committee was able to make suggestions, the final decision making power rested with administration. This afternoon I was notified that the district has reversed course and is going to allow access to social networking sites (including Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter), wikis, and blogs!

Thank you to everyone that sent me links, suggestions, and encouragement over the last four weeks. Without your help, I'm not sure my district administrators would have changed course. For those of you engaged in similar fights, keep at it. Here are a handful of the links that were sent to me when I needed help.

A Second Life for Educators
New Study Shows Time Spent Online Important for Teen Development
Understanding Content Filtering
Content Filtering in Schools: Best Practices for K-12
ALA Statement on Library Use of Filtering Software

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

KidZui - "V-Chip" for the Internet

I'm going to make a one time only exception to my policy of only sharing free resources because this resource is so important that I have to make an exception. KidZui is a safe search engine and web browser for kids that has been reviewed by over two hundred teachers and parents. KidZui works in the opposite manner of typical safe search engines. Rather than blocking inappropriate content from search results KidZui only searches and shows links from approved websites. The idea is similar to Mahalo's human powered search engine that physically reviews every website. KidZui has a pool of 500,000 approved websites that their search engine returns. KidZui gives parents the option of easily blocking additional websites or allowing additional websites. In this manner it is similar to channel locks on a television. KidZui appears to be great, but the service is not free its monthly cost is $9.95. For many parents this is a small price to pay for peace of mind while their children are online.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Free Technology For Teachers: It's Not Just Schools Incorporating Technology Into Education

On the Museum Two blog there is a thought provoking article about the struggle of children's museums to integrate current technology into their presentations. Read the full article here.

The author of the blog, Nina Simon, summarizes some of her conversations with Bob Whicker, an Education Development Executive at Apple. One of the great statements from the conversation regarding wired classrooms was "teachers still steer the boat, but students have much more freedom and opportunity with the controls."

This week I have been reading about Internet filters for schools and talking to a lot of teachers about filters. The general consensus seems to be that everyone is concerned about what students access on the Internet, but at the same time teachers are worried that too much filtration done on an administrative level restricts their ability to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. (One teacher I spoke with said that his students are not allowed to access Google Documents).

How does your school balance letting teachers "steer the boat" while providing more freedom and opportunity with the controls? Where should the "steering" come from, the classroom teacher using discretion or administrators? I would argue that the steering should come from the teachers not administration because the majority of administrators (not network admin) are not up to date on current web applications.