Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seriously, STOP Blocking & Banning for Educators!

As Connected Educator Month draws to close, I'm appalled by the fact that many of our teachers & students are prevented from participating  due to blocking of ALL social media sites at school for both teachers & students

I am often asked the following question:

"How do we get our <Principal, Superintendent, IT Director, School Board, State Department of Ed> to stop blocking social media at the very least for teachers, if not for students?"

Here is where I would like to jump up on my soapbox and just RANT about trust, freedom of speech, access to information, fear-driven decision making, keeping everyone in from recess because one teacher misbehaved...but, I know how busy you are so let's skip the outrage and go directly to action steps:

Become knowledgeable:
The technology is there to facilitate the work not the other way around. The tech dept should not be making curricular decisions. In order for this to happen you must actually understand CIPA and Erate, so that when someone says to you, "Nope, all forums & social media must be blocked, if we don't comply with CIPA, we'll lose our E-Rate funding" you can refute the complete incorrectness of that statement!  Common Sense Media provides a great resource for you as does Dr. Mark Wagner in this slideshow.

Stop blaming the Technology
Facebook does not cause bullying. If you have a bullying problem in your school, that is a culture problem and all of the blocking in the world isn't going to make it better. Blaming the technology is an excuse for not solving the larger problem. Ignoring the prevalence of student's online lives is much more dangerous than blocking their access during the school day. We should be modeling and teaching digital responsibility in a safe environment where students can see that digital tools are not simply for entertainment but can be used professionally to expand their knowledge and create a digital footprint that will not come back to kick them later.

Accept that you are a BYOT school
Your students AND staff are using their own technology at school, whether they are texting within the  pocket of their hoody or surreptitiously in the bathroom between classes, they are bringing their own devices and they are using them. I have witnessed so many cases of teachers asking children to break the "no cell phone" policy. When a site is blocked on the school computers, teachers simply look the other way so students can access the needed information via their own cell phones.

Social Media IS a part of the "real world"
Educators are very fond of telling kids what the "real world" is like. Pretending that sites like Twitter & Facebook don't exist while students are at school is simply a denial that the real world exists inside your school. Students will be googled by their future (and current) employers.( Every mom I know googles potential babysitters and if they see a Facebook page that looks remotely irresponsible, that sitter will NOT be allowed in the house!) For the most part students don't have any idea that their tweets are being housed in the Library of Congress for all of eternity. We teach students about sex ed, stranger danger, drugs & alcohol, texting & driving why would we not teach them about social media, both the good and the bad?

Great things happen when students & teachers get connected

Take steps to make changes

I'd love to see examples of driving questions in the comments, examples of schools that have had success in making this change happen for their staff and students or resources that have been helpful for you as you continue to have more open access to the Internet at school!


  1. Love this post! We really need to all embrace the fact that social media is a part of everyday life. Instead of blocking sites, we should be teaching our students how to use social media tools effectively and professionally. If everything they post online could affect opportunities (college, employment, etc.) down the road, we should be teaching students how to use this to their advantage instead of to their detriment.

  2. Great post Theresa. One "I wonder" that I have is in reference to your comment "The tech dept should not be making curricular decisions." What would happen if schools realized that the integration of teaching into pedagogy was just as important as the dispersing of technology as a tool? The natural evolution of our education system is leading us to a point where our curriculum is completely intertwined with technology. Should the person who knows the most about technology in the building have a solid understanding of curriculum and instruction?

  3. I agree in premise and I think we are on our way there. But, no matter how adept I was at working with teachers on tech integration, I just didn't belong in the server room! So I think we need both.
    It depends on the structure & number of people in your IT department. For example, at my last school, we had two "tech people" but an educator w/ a tech experience was the director (me). This was a great partnership and led to fantastic collaboration. That being said, there were many times when conversations like this happened"
    IT guy: Why in the world would a teacher request that bullfights be unblocked on youtube, that's ridiculous and it's not getting unblocked.
    Me: Who is the teacher? What is the course, what are they studying? Spanish history & culture for 3rd yr Spanish? unblock
    The IT guys weren't TRYING to make curricular decisions, but it was just easier to say no, then try to understand what the teachers needed.

  4. Love this post. So inspiring! Can't wait to meet you in March :)

  5. Internet filters can help ensure that malware and other inappropriate content is not accessed mistakenly. There are many websites that exist that are only one letter away from a commonly accessed site.

    In addition, there are filters that are specifically built to provide a wide range of options to ensure that the filter is granular enough to provide access to students at various levels. This technology is available to educators so that they can assure that the instructional content students need is available and offensive content is not accessed accidentally.

    Unfortunately many schools buy filters that are not designed for schools. The manufacturers of those filters do not understand the needs of the educator and as a result there filters are not designed to work in a school environment.

    Here is a link to a paper that speaks to this issue.

    Fred McKenna, retired educator and Director of Special Projects, BASCOM

  6. Ultimately the classroom management should be where the "filter" is when it comes to social networks. The teacher has to decide how to use the technology in the classroom for the subject matter that she or he is trying to deliver instruction on. I am in the Tech department, I don't believe we should block the social networks. I do believe we need to have teachers learning new ways to use the technology to engage students. While engaging students in learning maybe we (the schools) can become relevant in students lives again. Trying to prevent students from using technology will drive a wedge between you and them and you will not have a relevant connection.

  7. The argument you use –

    "Stop blaming the Technology
    Facebook does not cause bullying. If you have a bullying problem in your school, that is a culture problem and all of the blocking in the world isn't going to make it better. Blaming the technology is an excuse for not solving the larger problem..."

    - is basically the same one spouted by the N.R.A whenever people try to bring in some form of gun control. The trouble is, that like the N.R.A. you have a vested interest - Your primary interest is IT, not student welfare so you come at the problem from one end of the spectrum, the opposite end from those whose ultimate responsibility is that of the welfare of students - The important thing to remember here is that students are 'ENDS IN THEMSELVES' whereas IT/social media is 'A MEANS TO AN END' The second can never trump the first. No amount of social media in the classroom is worth a few parents coming home to find a child hanging from a banister by their school tie. No doubt there can be a happy medium found somewhere, no sane person would argue against the importance IT/social media can play in our schools turning out pupils fit to compete in the modern world - Perhaps the onus lies in the ability of IT experts to design better faster filtering safeguard software designed specifically for the school environment that can negate the problems of student misuse. The one thing that can never change is the fact that the primary responsibility of any school will always be the safety and wellbeing of each and every child that walks through its gates – something this article seems not to address.