Monday, 5 May 2008

Chooser Charts - do you know what's there?

Reading Ewan's post 'We don't know what we don't know we don't know' reminds me of the last session I had with my students before they embarked upon their final teaching experience of the crowded year called 'PGCE'.

I spoke to them of embedding ICT in curriculum contexts and reminded them that they couldn't hope to do this effectively if they were not aware of the tools that they would have at their command. I urged them to get in there and seek out the tools, both hard and software that the schools had available and then, as they planned their programmes, begin to look for opportunities where ICT was going to enhance the teaching and learning. I commented that it wasn't all 'whiteboards and PowerPoint'!

In a way this, is what Ewan is saying about the 'stopping and blocking'. Teachers can't hope to know what is there if they can't, in the first place, access it to find out. Whitelisting is all well and good but does not take into account the spontaneity of great teachers teaching and wanting immediate access to the things of 'today'. If great teachers planned everything down to the last click then they would not be great teachers and the creativity that makes them great would be lost.

Whitelisting will only provide access to the normal and usual, not the exciting and tenuous. It will have the ability - like the Readers Digest - to dumb everything down almost to a precis level - like watching the cartoon video of Macbeth rather than reading the play. It is like using a vocabulary from a wordlist so that all the writing becomes the same. It is utilitarian, not creative and very, very sterile.

A teacher was heard to say in a history lesson recently ... there are some great videos about the Blitz on YouTube. Go home and watch them! ... Even more recently I came across a group using a Vodophone dongle to access sites on one personal laptop so that they could then copy the bits they needed to a USB key so that they could use the information in a lesson in the afternoon ... this was done on the field, at lunch time.

Teachers, educators, children and students are beginning to develop a 'thing' about doing their learning and preparation 'out of school time'. This surely cannot be sustainable. Soon the 'buyers'(the learners) in this deal will be bypassing (if they don't already) the institutions. There could be a real market here for companies to develop to support independent learners!

There is no quick, simple answer to this in the present climate in schools but as Ewan again notes: Elsewhere, such as in the schools I saw in New Zealand, the politik might be to filter after the fact, and use the Acceptable Use Policy for what it was designed: to pull up those who abuse the freedom the net (should) offer. Around the world there are many, many dedicated teachers doing everything that they can to open up information for education. The institutions must, more clearly, play their part. Learners should not be tethered by their geography nor by decisions made 'protect systems' rather than to facilitate learning.

We are already into the eighth year of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child which states in Article 13:

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.
2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

The key to implementation of this is at the end of the first bullet: 'of the child's choice'.

All of the things we discuss are in the name of the child ... time to make it work for them. It is their lives, their world, their choice. We are privileged to be there to help.

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At 05 May 2008 08:53 , Blogger Ewan McIntosh said...

An excellent post that begins to understand why I referred to 'expediency' in the first post - there is, somewhere deep inside (or not, in your terms, that deep) a moral imperative to encourage responsibility and open up these networks to our children, and provide the education required to make this acceptable.

At 07 May 2008 08:01 , Blogger JohnH said...

In an ideal world of course everyone would prefer that the access to the internet be unfiltered. The same we we would prefer not to have to install anti-virus scanners, span filters, etc. But the reality is that there is a vast quantity of very unsuitable material on the web which is very accessible. You do not have even have to look for it: mistyping a search term can bring it to you.

Do you enforce safe search on Google? If so then you are making some decision on filtering access. Do you want to allow porn sites into the school? I hope not. And so again you are filtering access.

Of course pupils can access this material at home - just as boys have always had blue magazines under the bed - but that does not meant that you should make it available in school: do your Libraries stock the "top-shelf" magazines that are available in the local newsagent?

The argument about filtering is not really about *whether* to filter or not: the issue is at the margins. *Exactly* what do you filter: there are the obvious which is easy and the debatable: this is hard.

Protex ( is a filtering system originally developed by E2BN ( for our schools based on Dansguardian. We address some of the problems outlined in these posts by (a) having multiple filtering profiles (primary through to staff) allowing differential levels of access, (b) multiple subscription URL lists, (c) content based controls (so, for example, porn sites can be blocked even when they are not in the URL lists or accessed via a proxy), (d) allow all users to subit an online form to request (un)blocks, (e) option to bye a local system to give some control over the lists.

This makes Protex a very effective and flexible system.

E2BN do, in general, block and suchlike as there are some very unsuitable ones out there but will unblock particular sites on request.

This filtering system was developed in concert with schools and from the outset was designed to address some of the real issues with "commercial" systems: what is clear, however, (apart from "you cannot please all the people all the time"!) is that unfiltered access is not an option. The trick is to make filtering as efficient, responsive and transparent as possible.

There is more information about Protex on the website and it is available to other Local Authorities outside the E2BN region. Contact us for more information about this.

At 07 May 2008 15:28 , Blogger John Sutton said...

From JohnH above "unblock on request" and therein lies the problem. Much better to use effective monitoring systems rather than filtering systems. It develops accountability anda responsible attitude.


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