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Help! – A plea to bring sanity to my attempts to use the Web at school

As I have just ranted about on Tom Barrett’s blog post about using Google Docs for online reporting to parents, I am becoming increasingly frustrated with trying to use the Internet both myself and with pupils at school.  It is to all intents and purposes blocked and Web 2.0 seems to be considered a security risk.

As an example, I arrived in school today to find that Google Docs is blocked for staff.  When pushed the risk  was explained that private pupil data could be copied onto GDocs and shared.  I was offered the opportunity to have the specific url of my spreadsheet unblocked after it had been vetted. This logic seems to wipe out the use of the entire read/write web in my school ( Here is the sheet I am trying to share with my class, I think it’s use is fairly self explanatory: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pi_Ik07yjYQaT9yf5YdsIPQ

I can feel creativity and spontanaiety along with a wealth of learning opportunities being lost at every turn.

The school is investing in a VLE, something I am losing interest in as it will be a walled garden / fortress if everything else is to go by.

I would like to present an informed argument against this to those in power over these matters at school.  The obvious starting places seem to be BECTAs recent encouragement of Web 2.0 use in schools (also see Ewan’s take), and their guidance on safe use of data.  I believe that the former encourages what I am trying to achieve and the latter does not preclude it.

I suppose my plea at the end of this rather self-indulgent rant is for any other resources I could use to help my cause, further guidance, exemplary examples of pupil/staff on-line work etc etc.

Any advice is gratefully received!

EDIT: Just to make clear and reiterate: I don’t want to get into a moan about specific staff on a public blog, I do have a good working relationship with the IT department and senior leadership, I just need to change their ways!

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  1. Frustrating, yet all too familiar. The notion that “someone” is going to vet individual documents I find utterly laughable. Who is that “someone” and what criteria are they using? Yet again unanswerable beauraucrats wreck any attempt at creativity and stimulation in favour of conformity.

  2. I know, I don’t want to get into a moan about the ‘someones’ on a public blog, I do have a good working relationship with the IT department and senior leadership, I just need to change their ways!

  3. Dan,

    As I think you know, as of this year I’m ‘E-Learning Staff Tutor’ at my school. I’ve been running lunchtime training sessions for staff and had planned to do one on Google Docs and (separately) Google Sites.

    In the end, I had to pull these as they were seen to ‘clash’ with the features of our still-to-be-implemented VLE. I found that frustrating, but at least Google Docs is still available!

    As all my lesson planning is either on Google Calendar or Google Docs, I wouldn’t really be able to function if either were blocked. Can you get on GMail?

  4. Surely you can transfer confidential information by email since no filter can possibly scan for every possible piece of personal information.

    It seems such a filtering policy is unreasonable, and the ICT staff should consider educational use of technology versus covering their own backs at the expense of the teaching & learning. I’m guessing the beurocrats who came up with the idea do not teach!

    Let us know how you get on with your struggle!

  5. Doug, I’m going to run into that argument, and I can see the point. How does one explain the benefits of putting stuff onto the whole web, not just inside the VLE? Especially when I haven’t had the opportunity to extend any of my projects to include collaboration with people outside of our school. Principle is not reason enough I fear.

    No gmail access, thank god for iPhone! When I get back from my hols in Feb with a new laptop from NYC I am tempted to jailbreak my iPhone and use the 3G with my personal laptop to bypass all filtering when in school.

    Rob, you can indeed but it is at least seen to be auditable, as would google docs, but thats beside the point!

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Dan, well *quiet*, don’t tell anyone, but connecting via iPhone 3G on my netbook is what I’m doing at the moment. It doesn’t contravene any school policy that I know of (yet!)

  7. Some of the things I have asked to be unblocked have been (animoto, wordle), but other sites have been refused. I had to give reasons for them to be unblocked but there were no reasons given for the refusal – I had a bit of a mini tantrum and eventually the reasons given were that they contained streaming media or were blogs

    In fact I access blogs in school (edublogs and typepad are not blocked) and access other websites with streaming media with no problems. The worst thing is our technician was told that all blogs were blocked and told English staff this when they wanted to start own blog – thankfully between us we were able to sort this out and they have started their blog.

    So no answers, but I feel your frustrations!

  8. Good luck to you… I know this isn’t easy.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that many of the decision-makers do not use Web 2.0 themselves. We recently surveyed all our administration to ask them if they even knew about certain Web 2.0 tools, did they use them, etc. The results were not promising; HOWEVER, I’ve been given the opportunity to provide a short in-service to show the value. I’m optimistic.

    Another part of the problem, and it’s all the way to the federal gov’t, is our CIPA and COPPA legislation. So many adults have an issue with control (or the illusion thereof) regarding anything on the web. They are only aware of the garbage and the dangers — and because they can’t control those things, they feel they cannot allow children to view any of it during the school day. So what are those kids doing outside of school then?

    My opinion is that kids need to be educated about becoming good web citizens. They can’t learn to avoid the “bad stuff” if they never access the web.

    Sorry… my comment is rather long, isn’t it? 🙂

  9. I couldn’t agree more Michelle. It is only a small matter of time until numerous pupils have iphones on their pocket with unlimited data plans. Shortly after that I can see them having netbooks with similar data plans, I’d seriously consider supplying my son/daughter (if I had one!) with one if they had to put up with our network.

  10. Daniel, your frustration is totally understandable and shared by an increasing number of teachers and others. The respondents here have raised several issues including my own pet theme which is that we are witnessing the dying embers of the Victorian Curriculum (born 1870, died 20??). Stephen Heppel calls this generation of children currently in schools the Lost Generation and he fears for them. You are working for them and their futures but you are being blocked by the dinosaurs. All I can say is that you know you are right and you have the backing of the entire thinking educational community. Keep up the good work and good luck with the battle to reopen Google Docs and other sites in your school.

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