The challenge of unblocking websites at K-12 schools has been on my mind a lot lately. It has come up in conversation again and again over the years, but I really started thinking about it more deeply while attending the NWP Web Presence Retreat this weekend.
I'm aware that this is a nationwide problem. In South Dakota, the state provides a filter for those schools who choose to use it, that blocks certain sites while accepting others in order to meet the requirements of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). If a school does not use the state's filter, often, the school develops its own filter for what is to be blocked or not blocked. At the state level, according to Mitchell, SD teacher Anne Moege, Glogster.com is blocked while Glogster.edu is not. Even though TappedIn.org is a carefully monitored, non-profit site for educators and their students, that website is sometimes blocked because of the chat feature. Blogger.com may be blocked while other blogging websites identified as education-friendly are not.
My local site, the Dakota Writing Project, hosts the Digital Writing Marathon, a year-long class offered 100% online, that explores and writes in a variety of technology environments, followed by discussion of how to use those environments in the classroom and then, finally, actual classroom implementation. We explore and write in a variety of technology environments, including such environments as Tapped In, VoiceThread, Diigo, Glogster, Google.Docs, and Prezi. Inevitably, teachers will experience frustration because one or more of these sites will be blocked for them at their schools.
I've observed that teachers have started developing strategies for dealing with this problem. In the NWP Web Presence retreat that I attended last weekend, one of the teachers talked about a strategy that she knows of that one teacher uses--tying what she plans to do with a particular technology to state standards for learning and then making a rational argument to her IT person and administrators as to why she should be able to use that technology--this has proven to be a successful strategy for her. Other teachers, depending on their situation, are simply able to put in a request to get the site unblocked, and that is all that is needed.
Ironically, I work at the University of South Dakota, where sites are not blocked. Still, because I work with K-12 teachers and hear about this issue frequently, I recognize the challenge that blocked sites represent for digital learning and teaching in the K-12 classroom. I found this very interesting MindShift article, "Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites," that suggests that states and schools are being more restrictive than necessary.
I was thinking that it would be great if we could start having a conversation here on the NWPConnect site about this issue and also sharing solutions that teachers are coming up with to get sites unblocked.