Firewall Firestorm

I came back from the February break schools get up here in New England to a surprise: they had updated the firewall. I discovered this when I sat down to do my morning routine on the computer: log in to GMail, open up my GoogleCalendar and GoogleDocs, and log in to Twitter. But thanks to our newly robust firewall, Twitter was blocked.

I’ve run into issues with the firewall before. It blocks YahooMail, which is the email address most of our students use, making it impossible for them to transfer their homework to school. Blogger is blocked, which has fouled up the attempts of several teachers to start classroom blogs. And when GoogleBuzz dropped a couple of weeks ago, it played merry havoc with the security certificates, causing a lot of panic for me, since I use GoogleCalendar for all my time organization, and for the teachers who use GMail as their lifeline to the world outside our school.

In library school, I learned so much about the possibilities for technology in a school library setting; reaching students outside the school through blogging, teaching collaborative writing using GoogleDocs, helping non-traditional learners with VoiceThread, and, most importantly for a struggling school like mine, all of them are free free free! What I didn’t realize was how much hinged on the attitute of the technology professionals in a school. And for the ones I work with, all of this is potentially something that could bring down the server, or run us afoul of CIPA (don’t get me started on how panic about a tiny number of online predators ended up keeping students and teachers from educational resources). I understand they’re working with outdated equipment and constantly putting out server fires, that they have often seen how idiotic we teacher end-users can be, but the fear that they operate under means that most of the technology skills I learned in library school are useless. I can’t be the advocate for the responsible use of technology I want to be.

How have firewalls and other technology blocks gotten in the way of your educational plans?

About L. Lee Butler

L. Lee Butler is a school librarian at a prestigious public school in Boston. He is serving on YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults 2013 Selection Committee. When not actively librarianing, he is a single father by choice through open adoption.
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4 Comments

  1. Lee,
    Our students have access to a variety of databases provided by CMRLS. Generally, they are of great use to the students. However, results from the Gale/Infotrac databases are often blocked by our firewall. I assume its because the firewall finds specific words objectionable, but I don’t know how much clearer it could be that the results are purely educational.
    As for blogger, we have several teachers and clubs who have wordpress running on our schools server. If you can get your technology professionals on board with that, you wont have to worry about the firewall.
    -Jonah

  2. When I was a student intern (year before last), at my high school practicum I was doing a unit on banned books with a 12th grade English class and a supportive, creative English teacher. She had them having class discussions on GoodReads. I wanted to kick off our project by showing John Green’s response to the challenge of his book “Looking for Alaska” in a New York school. This video, titled “I Am Not A Pornographer” : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHMPtYvZ8tM

    It would have been the perfect thing to spark conversation, but the school’s filters blocked YouTube, and thus, everything the Vlog Brothers have ever made, so I couldn’t use it. We did go through with the project, the end product of which were video booktalks on banned books, but I still regret not being able to share that video and have the conversation that would have followed. I wonder how it would have changed the discussion.

  3. Rochelle Garfinkel

    Dealing with tech issues is by far one of the things I like the least about being a public high school librarian. The main problem, I have come to believe, is that the IT folks are (in most cases) not educators and never have been. Therefore, their perspective is often completely at odds with the educational goals of the school. But those same educational goals cannot be achieved without the support and understanding of the IT folks.

    I deal with this constantly and, as far as I can tell, I actually have it “good” compared to many others in similar schools. Although I don’t have any real authority, I work hard at having a good relationship with the IT guys, and they do quite a bit when I ask. I show them that I understand their perspective, but I try to explain that unblocking YouTube (or Voicethread, or Piclits, or the BBC of all things!) is not going to cause major chaos. I fully attribute this to really understanding as much as I can about the network and the hardware they are dealing with – thanks to some hardcore tech classes during my library school days.

    And Erin, you’ll be glad to know that YouTube is now UNblocked for teachers, and that I actually used that video this year, when we started the Banned Books Unit!

    My current push is working on a way to get the administration to create a more sensible structure and process for how tech decisions are made – so that hopefully in the near future they will actually be based on teaching and learning, rather than fear and mistrust.

  4. Hi
    I just want to commend Rochelle for actually trying to work with the IT staff to make the network a better place for both educators and IT professionals. I believe that these sorts of filters are necessary (aside from the purely legal aspects), and that the way to make them work is to have a constant back and forth discussion, and cooperation between IT and Teachers.
    I am currently in Library School, so this issue comes up alot, and it is nice to know that there are reasonable, flexible people in the real world.

    Regards!

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