I’m at a Canadian School in China. At a staff meeting I shared a thoughtful blog post by a student reporter for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. It’s a great post by a student that went and visited ‘Tent City’, built to house the city’s homeless during the Olympics: Olympic Games Side Effects on Vancouver. My Grade 9 teacher asked for the Students Live website and a link to this post. (I mentioned the Students Live bloggers here.)

The Students Live website provides a number of different ways to connect and interact with the Olympic reporter student bloggers. However, we live in China which filters a lot of social software websites and so these were the options that my Grade 9 teacher was confronted with:

Facebook: BLOCKED

Twitter: BLOCKED


Blogspot Blogs: BLOCKED

Flickr: (recently) BLOCKED (again)

I had to use my VPN to bypass the Chinese filter in order to cut and paste the blog post, mentioned above, into an email so that my teacher could read it in his class. A potential global ‘conversation’ reduced to a reading, confined to a classroom. Frustrating!

Now here is the thing… I chose to move to a country where a lot of sites get blocked. I can’t imagine what it’s like for teachers in the ‘free world’ that have their own school districts do this to them!

If you are in a school where filters filter learning, here is a little poster for you to hang up in your front entrance:

24 comments on “Warning! We Filter Websites at School

  1. Recently prepared ( at home, stupidly) a presentation to teach my fellow English teachers how to help students evaluate online resources for legitimacy for research. Found several that appeared legit, but when traced back and back were not. One is martinlutherking.org. It’s owned by a Ku Klux Klan type organization. When I presented, I couldn’t get to the back site traces because they were all blocked. So…when a student finds that..there’s no way to verify. It’s on the Internet, it must be right, right?
    I did end up taking screen shots to save the presentation, but what a disservice to students!

  2. Sounds like it was a great presentation despite the ‘blocks’ you faced!

    “…what a disservice to students!”

    Yvonne, I could not have said it better!

  3. Love the poster! Fortunately, I am NOT in a district that filters so harshly. Only Facebook is blocked, and that only because some teaching aides would not stay off when they were in the classrooms.

    Your poster, while snarky, does make excellent points that all parents and administrators should consider before “lowering the boom” on online freedoms.
    .-= Keith Schoch´s last blog ..Gary Paulsen: Living Literary Legend =-.

  4. We recently had a presenter visit our district, invited by upper administration, to show teachers how to use a wiki. He was using a site of his own as a model.

    It was blocked!

  5. Keith,
    I must admit to being intentionally snarky because I’m not sure how else I would convey this ‘warning’? But I do believe that ignoring the limitations of filters deserves ‘raising the alarm’.

    I spent 10 minutes in a presentation praising diigo bookmarking and showing it to the participants before one of them mentioned that the only reason I could get it was because they had opened the filters for my group’s presentations. But I then started an email correspondence with one of the district leaders who had a say in what get’s blocked and although I have not followed up recently, I do believe that diigo is no longer blocked… a small battle won, but one that misses the point:

    Filters filter learning!

  6. Nothing is more frustrating then when I am doing my lesson plans at home and I come across a great youtube video about the topic and I get to school the next day only to find out that I cant show it to the students….

  7. Veero,

    I downloaded Miro http://www.getmiro.com/ (for free) and I can search and download movies from many different places using this tool.

    Also, if it is a video on YouTube you can just put the word ‘kick’ in front of ‘youtube’ in the web address and then choose a download format to get most videos.

    So, change an address like this:


    …and then choose the file type and click the green ‘Go’.

    Hope that helps,

  8. I find it incredibly frustrating that the two school districts I have student taught in both have harsh filters. I also find it funny (ironic?) that many teachers and high school students now have smart phones that can not be blocked by school filters and so teachers, teachers aides, and even students can access Facebook and other blocked sites at their leisure!

    I downloaded DownloadHelper to download youtube videos and have recently (today) downloaded something to help with Hulu. I download the videos, convert them as needed and put them on a portable harddrive.

    It is frustrating when I find teachers who actually support website filters. They are, in effect, absolving themselves of any responsibility or duty to effectively teach students how to be 21st century, digital natives and citizens.

    I might add that it is sad when a student can show a teacher a work-around for blocked sites, which I have seen from time to time.
    .-= Eric´s last blog ..Blog Jumpstart – Student Teaching =-.

  9. I agree with this poster. One caveat. I filter certain sites (porn, explosive making, racial hate etc…) and I stand by that – I don’t want my 9 year old daughter typing in ‘HotMale’ by mistake and seeing the wrong results. I have seen this happen so often at schools with no filtering. So many times. Seriously, even with daily training on what to so when confronted with explicit porn, your average 7 year old will see more than they should. It is quite upsetting.
    We also spend the time with all year levels 2-12 teaching them what to do if they come across something inappropriate.
    Facebook, Twitter, Myspace etc… – all available. That said, the kids (14 Y.O.’s with newly acquired laptops) have been telling us that they are being really distracted with Facebook at school. Interesting that even the normally distracted kids have been saying this. 10 000 hits on Facebook in a 12.00pm -12.30pm timeslot on our ISA server.
    One site I will not defend blocking is http://www.formspring.me. In a utopean society this would be gold. In a real world, I can’t believe the negativeness this has opened up.
    Love your work – keep posting.

  10. You’re right! Soooo frustrating when school districts don’t trust even their educators enough to open up the filters to a level sufficient to allow us to have a fighting chance of helping students navigate some of the challenges they face online. Your warning poster is spot on!

  11. I have to agree with Scott. I have been a vocal proponent for no blocking or filtering. We had an incident in one of our K5 schools last year that was very upsetting for students, teachers and parents. The students inadvertently and intentionally accessed very bad content. It got me thinking about my philosophical position on this. I am now thinking we need to provide more care for younger children. I think a content filtering system that can be easily configured for age appropriate protection in our K5 schools makes good sense. I don’t support blocking of services and sites other than perhaps by teachers when they need to teach. I know Dave you will want to dig deeper on this…

  12. Thanks for your comments!
    Sorry to those that I took a long time to respond to.

    Great points, although I disagree with your last statement:
    I might add that it is sad when a student can show a teacher a work-around for blocked sites, which I have seen from time to time.
    I think it’s great when students help teachers out in this way. It is sad that it needs to be around blocked sites specifically, but students will always lead the way with new technology and when students get to show teachers and their peers, they are leading the learning!

    I agree with blocking porn at school and also gambling websites, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have kids skipping class to finish a poker tournament… That said, blocked or not, they can still search and play on their phones! As for racial hate sites, I’d rather keep them in. The reality is that many of them are now masked in politeness and professionalism and what we really need is for students to be able to discern what is information and what is propaganda, or we are doing them a disservice!

    This says it all: “…allow us to have a fighting chance of helping students…”
    I don’t think it is too much to ask!

    You run one of the most open districts in the Western world and for that you are to be commended! As for content filtering at different ages… hmmm… whose responsibility? The teacher? I think limited filtering is a losing battle as you are bound to find exceptions that don’t get blocked and as you try to block those, you inevitably block good sites too. Perhaps guidelines are better than filters.
    For example:
    • It is suggested that until Grade 2 only custom searches should be performed in school: http://www.google.com/educators/p_cse.html
    I just don’t see filters as a workable solution… do you?

  13. I’ve been teaching computers at the elementary level for the past 4 years in Brian’s district, and am proud that we have the policy that we do for internet usage. I’ve had many great discussions with students about the content that’s “out there,” good and bad, and the responsibilities that we (as individuals) have in terms of using the internet and accessing what’s available. Personally, NOT blocking has been a good teaching tool and starting point for conversation.
    That being said, I set up a ‘Student Favourites’ folder on the kids’ desktop in any school I teach in, and put a ton of sites on there that kids know they can access safely when they have some extra time in the lab. In a way, that’s a form of filtering, but I think it’s important at the elementary level when kids are in the lab in a setting that’s not instructional (i.e. at lunch on rainy days).
    I’m starting to digress. Thank you for the post, and for the poster – I’ll be using that when it’s time to discuss computer usage at school (because it inevitably comes up every year). 🙂

  14. David,

    Bang on as usual.

    The question isn’t just about the things noted as “parts” in the poster but also about what they add up to. A making of a “stupid” citizenry and retarding the growth and development of the world which is built upon the free flow of information (and truly, this is what our prosperity is built upon despite what others may say).

    You also might have mentioned how schools/govts block information through copyright and organized proprietary “walling” of content for $$$$ while education withers on the vine. But I guess that’s another post.


  15. Dave,

    I find it interesting to follow the comments because they don’t match my perception of the trend, at least in B.C. It is my impression that more districts are opening up their networks (similar to what Coquitlam does). I have seen that first-hand in West Vancouver, and also understand social media sites have been opend up in Vancouver and Delta. Also, I am assuming, as districts create a presence with social media, they don’t block the same sites they are embracing from a coroporate perspective.

  16. Thanks for the poster 🙂 I only hope I don’t get filtered when I hang it on my office wall.
    We have a department imposed filter on our internet. Every kid in the school and all the tech savvy teachers know how to get around it.The teachers who support the bans and filters and oppose the use of social media and mobile phones at school have no idea just how often kids are posting to facebook from their classes.
    Ironically, no one posts to facebook from inside my classes because they know I’ll see it.

  17. I think what we will see is a maturing of access. School systems have a responsibility to provide a safe, caring, and orderly school (physical is/was the context) for children. It’s an obligation. I don’t think we’ve yet figure out what that exactly means in a digital world. We are actively working on the development of Digital Responsibility Guidelines for teachers, students, principals, and parents and a comprehensive review/update of relevant policy and procedure. But, I think we need to be able to stand in front of parents of 5-10 year olds (K-5) and say we provide a “safe, caring, and orderly” digital school experience… I’m not sure what technical elements that would involve but I would never advocate for something that fundamentally changes our openness in Coquitlam! Openness is what has helped us embrace digital resources so easily relative to other districts.

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