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Blocking students on school network is wrong

Just because we might have access to some technology to fix a problem, does not necessarily mean that the problem itself is a technical one. Sparked by a forum conversation, the key example is the use of technology to filter out web content in a classroom. Asked for is, perhaps, the technical prevention side of the previous discussion of wireless in classrooms. Dan pointed out the flaw with that plan:

Really it should be the teacher stopping their students from playing youtube videos out loud in class and disturbing other students.

I think this is one of those problems that does not need a technological solution, but a social one.

There are many layers to block network access

There are many layers to block network access

There are a lot of obstacles that could (and often are) put in place between users and their desired network accessible content. Some are legitimate security measures aimed at protecting the network. Others are roadblocks that annoy users more than prevent whatever has prompted the measure.

One of the most ridiculous “security measures” I once saw on some system was that the right-click of the mouse was physically disabled. The sys-admin must have disassembled the mice and popped off the plastic extension that clicks.

While well though out network rules are possible, it seems that more often that not the systems are simply crippled in a blanket policy of “just don’t do anything, ever”. There will be a locked down kiosk mode browser with broken settings; to ensure that everyone uses only this (very inconvenient) browser, the installation of any other browser will be forbidden… the same enforcement will also prevent the use of any other legitimate software, as a side effect. Soon enough the entire system is a crippled fraction of the former self, all because some student was watching YouTube videos. This is excessive. Everybody suffers.

While complicated systems could make it just that much harder for the students to get around them, perhaps the root of the problem is in the fact that those students are aiming to get around all this technology in the first place. In such a case, throwing more technology at the problem only masks its symptoms.

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Uhh... nothing else appears to be relevant enough.


  1. Posted by Ben Hovinga | October 27, 2008, 5:27 pm

    I agree 100%. There is little to no social interaction between student and teacher (or admin). If the admin block a website using technology then the student will just try to get around the block and cause more problems. But if there is no block and the teacher just told the student not to go to youtube then the student can stand up and ask why not. Thus a discussion and the social world continues. But now I am starting to think that the admins are just blocking anything that enters the the log files. I used to be able to use a assignments manager called soshiku, this website that has been helping me through most of the semester is now blocked.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: October 28th, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    I think you’ve hit an excellent point — there’s often a lack of communication. If an admin blocks some resource silently or seemingly randomly, why shouldn’t students look for a way around?

    While there might be reasons to block certain content, it should not be unreasonable to allow the possibility of false-positives, and some accessible way to inquire as to why the block was implemented.

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by Lynn Marentette | October 27, 2008, 8:54 pm

    In my school district, the adults are also blocked from many sites. For example, I am blocked from my blogs. My blogs have quite a few resources useful to teachers. If they want to access my blogs, they must do so from home.

    Reply to comment

    Ben Hovinga replied on: November 5th, 2008 at 10:47 am

    In almost every organization each user is blocked from the same internet resources equally. We go a new blocker program that seems to block first and ask questions later and. I can’t belive that dwite is blocked. I wanted to show my computer science teacher the contest but we were denied.

    Reply to comment

    Lynn Marentette replied on: March 21st, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    TeacherTube is also blocked from my school!

    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Noam Chitayat | October 28, 2008, 1:45 pm

    Students will always find the hole in the network or the proxy you didn’t block. The problem won’t be solved just by throwing software at it. The only viable solution is a social one.

    An interesting situation arises if a student eventually just bypasses the restrictive school network completely as a workaround.

    For example, an admin can stop a student from using a school computer to waste time if they make things needlessly restrictive for every user in the school. So the student tries, fails, shrugs, pulls out his iPhone or BlackBerry, and keeps going on YouTube. Worse, the surfing is now more discrete since the device is smaller and harder for teachers to see. Now what can the admin do?

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: October 28th, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Clearly, the next logical step is to ban all electronic devices, and institute a rigid dress code, aimed at identifying those unwilling to blend into the status quo.

    Reply to comment

    Lynn Marentette replied on: March 21st, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    In my public school district, some of the schools require the students to wear uniforms. Electronic devices are not permitted in many schools.

    Reply to comment

  4. Posted by Myron Tay | November 24, 2008, 11:03 pm

    Block youtube and we go to vimeo, block instant messenger and we hop on over to meebo. Seems rather counterproductive.

    Reply to comment

  5. Posted by Ludo | December 6, 2008, 5:26 am

    I’m agree with you, but some people have technics like SSH tunel or VPN, to thwart filters.

    Reply to comment

  6. Posted by Michael Chang | December 9, 2008, 5:44 pm

    Definitely agreed there. That said, from a board level, it is difficult — if not impossible — to get all of the staff in the board to agree on a way of handling an issue (socially), just as it is hard to get an arbitrary group of (CS) students to agree on how objects/classes should be organized in a particular program.

    The use of technological solutions is, more often than not, seen as the “easy” way out. Think about it — it’s inexpensive (you could use squid and some packet filtering), it requires no “training” of teachers, and it has that “set it and forget it” convenience.

    Reply to comment

  7. Posted by Mike King | January 2, 2009, 11:57 am

    Good point here how technology often dissassociates the real problem from the solutions put into place. I think the social aspects are slowly dissappearing really from not only schools, but society as everyone looks to rely more and more to their devices to replace communication, experiences and even emotion whenever possible. I respect those who can use a device for just a device and not let it take over the social aspect of their life. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply to comment

  8. Posted by Matt Brian | January 3, 2009, 7:50 am

    I agree with you and the commenter’s. Kids are enterprising and would find a way to circumvent the blocks.

    The problem is with modern parenting and attitudes towards children in general. Nobody takes the time to listen or interact, it’s all down to stereotypes and ignorance.

    Respect the children and they will follow suit (most of the time).

    Reply to comment

  9. Posted by Alfred | January 20, 2009, 8:48 pm

    haha talking about right click button being disabled, our office sys admin put instant glue on the mouse so it wouldnt work anymore

    Reply to comment

  10. Posted by Bob | February 26, 2009, 1:02 pm

    Though there are students in schools who possess the knowledge of bypassing the filtering software, most will not know how. If there were no software at all installed on school computers (below university leve) adult content and other content “comical” to these students will be spread on school grounds at a much higher rate which will hold the school liable for far more hurt than they can afford to have. The argument of it being a “social” issue vs a “software issue” is that no group of people can be controlled like that, peers will always do what is necessary to impress each other.

    Reply to comment

  11. Posted by Megaphase.info | April 20, 2009, 4:49 pm

    I always find a way to circumvent the filters. only the intelligent ones that can figure it out deserve to view the restricted content

    Reply to comment

  12. Posted by bitmindframes | May 1, 2009, 5:07 pm

    Here is a simple thought, why do students (in class) need to access sites like youtube? These sites are blocked for a reason and the system admin will plug any hole you may find. Further more by trying to bypass the restrictions the system administrator may just lock the network down even tighter. It boils down to common sense if you want to spend your day on youtube or facebook instead of working then quit,otherwise curb your urges to view that stupid monkey eating a bannana your friend has sent you.

    Reply to comment

    megaphase.info replied on: May 7th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Sometimes sites like youtube contain educational content or content relevant to your work.

    Reply to comment

  13. Posted by J Mitchell | November 26, 2009, 12:44 pm

    I guess I’m older than I think. Blackberry or any other data transfer device in school? If you pulled that in my day you’d have a serious problem on your hands. Why would any student be allowed to have a device of this nature on their person when entering a place of learning. You’re there to do a job, just like any other job, so focus and do your job, period. As for access to the outside world on a school computer, should this not be restricted to staff. If a student needs something off of the internet, it can be downloaded to a network drive by someone authorized to do so. Essentially creating a repository of information that may be required by the student to do classwork, assignments etc. If the student is required to do something like research, live on the fly, then there can be a number of computers set up for that purpose alone, that can be monitored in real time. Maybe I’m missing something here (and I probably am), but this seems like a moot point. YouTube, or any other questionable content? Suspension or expulsion. I know I’m probably being a little over the top here. Maybe one of the current students can point out where my thinking is going wrong. I’m a pretty open minded guy, and I will listen.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: December 4th, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    In a way, this is comparable to how access to the outside world might be given to just your manager, as the rest of the company staff is there “to do a job”.

    And, comes to think of it, even a lot of grownups don’t really… grow up, and require just this kind of herding by their overlords.

    Though the original point is that the underlying social problems are not addressed, and are only masked by the use of questionable technology.

    Reply to comment

  14. Posted by Brandon | September 30, 2020, 7:01 am

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