learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

About Learning.Now

Learning.now is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom.
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Welcome to learning.now -
Enjoy It While You Can

Hi everyone! Welcome to my new PBS blog, learning.now. I hope you enjoy reading it, because this may be the one and only time you’ll ever have access to it.

The subtitle of this blog is “At the crossroads of Internet culture and education.” I chose this phrase because crossroads really captures the essence of where we are in terms of Internet use in the classroom. The Internet isn’t exactly new to schools, of course - many schools have now had access for 15 years or more at this point. But something has changed in the last couple of years that’s captured the imagination of many teachers - while causing others to run to the hills….

For most of the Internet’s history, all you could do was read stuff. You needed to possess a wide range of skills to produce online content, so relatively few people did it. (Full disclosure: I was one of these geeks.) Apart from a small number of groundbreaking online education projects like Global Schoolhouse, IEARN and KIDLINK, students and teachers weren’t in a position to publish their own online content without a lot of hard work.

All of this began to change in the late 1990s when software developers started designing tools that would let you publish online journals as easily as you would send an email. These fill-out-a-form journals, or “Web logs,” soon became known as blogs - and they’ve revolutionized the Internet. Because of blogging software, anyone with Internet access was now in a position to mobilize their own printing press and stand on their own virtual soapbox. (Feel free to come up with your own metaphor - there are lots of good ones out there.)

Suddenly, people all over the world - particularly young people - started to publish their own blogs. There are no less than 35 million blogs online today - and that number is probably conservative. The creator of LiveJournal, one of the most popular blogging tools on the Internet, notes in this week’s issue of The Economist that around 60% of LiveJournal’s users are under 21 and female. Meanwhile, a 2005 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that 48% of bloggers are under the age of 30. (Alas, I am no longer among them.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the blogosphere (yes, that’s the word for it) isn’t devoid of mature adults. In fact, a growing number of blogs are written by educators. If you meet a teacher who happens to read blogs, chances are he or she will be familiar with names like Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer or David Warlick. Similarly, if you get together with a bunch of Internet-savvy librarians, don’t be surprised to hear about blogs like Librarian.net, The Free Range Librarian or The Shifted Librarian. I’ve even had my own blog for a while now.

To many people, blogs may seem like exercises in egotism or navel gazing. On the contrary - countless blogs are making a positive impact in the world. Harvard’s Berkman Center coordinates the amazing Global Voices blog, which captures the thoughts of international bloggers covering local issues often ignored by mainstream media. During Hurricane Katrina and the Boxing Day tsunami, thousands of bloggers used their sites to mobilize fundraising, donations and volunteer efforts. And every day, educational bloggers talk about the professional challenges they face inside the classroom, serving as online communities where educators can interact with their peers and improve their teaching practices.

By now, you must be scratching your head and wondering why I said at the top of this post that this may be the one and only time you’ll be able to access this blog. The reason for this is simple: school districts around the country are using Internet filters to protect children from inappropriate content, and in some cases, these filters are being used to block educators from accessing relevant professional websites.

Internet filters aren’t a new phenomenon; the vast majority of schools use them because of a government mandate that requires them if a school wishes to receive federal technology tax dollars. Filters are a very touchy subject on many levels, raising important questions about free speech, access to knowledge and privacy. Generally, though, the argument is made that a minimal level of filtering is required to protect students from accessing content they shouldn’t be seeing in the classroom.

The problem here is that it’s often more complicated than that. Many filtering systems are managed by district technologists rather than educators, making it very common for perfectly relevant educational content to be overblocked. The filtering bureaucracy can make it difficult, if not impossible, for many educators to get sites unblocked in a timely fashion. Filtering is also often a political decision, and right now there is a lot of political pressure to block access to certain sites that have garnered a lot of controversy, including a site I’ll refer to as moc.ecapSyM.

Don’t recognize it? That’s because I’m writing it backwards. Or if you prefer another way of looking at it, I’ll write it like this:

M/y/S/p/a/c/e/ . /c/o/m/

Why am I taking such extraordinary measures to write this website name so oddly? Trust me - it’s for your safety and mine. Because If I happened to write it correctly, not only would you probably not be able to access the website in question, you might no longer be able to read this very blog. That’s because certain school districts in different parts of the US have taken an extreme approach to blocking access to moc.ecapSyM - an approach that bans any website that mentions it. This type of overblocking causes an absurd number of useful sites - including professional educational blogs and news sites - to be banned by filters. Highly regarded bloggers like Miguel Guhlin and Wes Fryer have found themselves cut off from the teaching public because of this problem. My other blog, Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth, has also gotten blocked for mentioning the M-word. In other districts, these blogs and others are blocked simply for being a “personal website,” as if all sites created by real people rather than institutions or corporate monoliths must be inherently dangerous.

Andy's site blocked message

And it’s not just Web filters restricting educational access - email filters routinely block messages on discussion lists discussing important, though sometimes controversial educational topics. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had a message bounce because a school email filter rejected it, citing it as being “inappropriate.” The only truly inappropriate thing going on here is the inability for educators to engage in professional discourse.

Public perceptions about the Internet ebb and flow over time, and right now we’re in a cycle where there’s lots of news about sites like moc.ecapSyM and others being a threat to our children. Whether or not this is the case will be discussed in greater detail in future blog posts, because this isn’t a subject that can be encompassed in a single essay. In the meantime, we’re seeing schools turning to filters to protect students from these potential threats, despite the fact that they’re easily circumvented by kids, leaving teachers scratching their heads and wondering why they can’t access websites important to their own professional development.

As I wrote on my other blog recently, the rush to overblock websites reminds me of the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village:

The parents of the village were so paranoid about their children coming to harm’s way that they wouldn’t even say the name of the creatures that were supposedly lurking in the local forest. We seem to have reached that point in education - where politicians and administrators are so paranoid that educators can’t even speak the names of things that may lurk in the virtual forest, lest their students be corrupted by mere mention of them.

We’re indeed at a crossroads - a crossroads where we need to strike a balance between the countervailing forces of fear, safety, media literacy, personal responsibility, free speech and learning. No one ever said it would be easy.

As for myself, this post will be the one and only time I will censor myself from using certain words URLs in order to game the filters and prevent myself from being blocked. As long as it’s a relevant issue for the modern educator, I should have every right to be able to discuss it and seek comments from others. Miguel Guhlin has even organized an online protest in which he encourages educational bloggers to mention the M-Word just to demonstrate the folly of overblocking. So if filters end up blocking learning.now, that’s more of a reflection on the foolishness of hypersensitive filtering than it is on the ideas any educator should be able to discuss professionally.

Welcome to learning.now - enjoy it at school while it lasts. At least you can always access it at home. :-) -andy

Filed under : Blogging, Safety


I hate blogs—all kinds! They take up space in my computer and in my mind. That’s why I was so reluctant to start bloggin myself. Now, a year into a blog for geneforum, I realize that blogs are great ways to communicate and share information.

Without your blog today, it would have taken me
some more time to “trip over” the Our Genes/Our Choices series on PBS. I’ve been trying to find details on it off and on for a while.

So, am I now telling the truth when I say I hate blogs—NO! And,, really like your addition. I had read about the “fatal” word through DDN and was wondering as a parent what I would be doing if my children were still in school. Actually, they both are—as adults—and I would definitely object to blocking information coming into schools. To me, that’s only the latest way to censor things that should not be censored.

In biology, many words lead to censoring; and it’s hard to discuss genetics without the s-word. I’m a geneticist, so my stuff could get blocked in some schools.

Anyway, I welcome your new blog and have already subscribed.
P.S. cool! when I preview and edit my text, the preview updates!

Congrats on getting the site up Andy! As someone who works with kids on blogging in a public school system, your words about over-restricting internet access from our schools resonates withm me.

While kids can often circumvent filters to watch what they want, I often am not able to do so to show them items that I want to show them—-like Wikipedia.org was blocked today.

I agree to all the above and hope to keep things clean.

Hi Andy,
Phil Shapiro gave me a heads up about your new blog, and I wish you good luck with it. Of course, blocking software has gotten ridiculous. The solution would be to offer teachers an override, but the fact of the matter is that School Districts are afraid of losing federal funding if they start to trust their teachers.

Most school filters block out important historical content about people like Proudhon, Bakunin, Sacco and Vanzetti, and even Noam Chomsky because they have a blanket ban on “anarchy.”

Often you can access the Nazi Party’s web page easier than the IWW’s (yes, they still exist).

Naturally, it is often impossible to look up people in search engines like Dick Cheney, Dick Nixon, or even Philip K Dick, for obvious reasons.

Your idea of creating a Samizdat network seems to be appropriate, especially when the banning of certain content may not just be in schools. What’s going on in America’s educational community may just be a rehearsal for whaat is to come all over.

Anyway, all the best to you.
=-Ron Evry=-

I like the idea of your new blog… “At the crossroads of Internet culture and education.” Hopefully we can have some lively and enlightening conversations.

I knew there was a reason to clean up my aggregator this weekend…Now I have room for a new feed. Great start on a touchy topic.

Andy, how wonderful! I’m looking forward to following your new posts, and will add you—like Glenn—to the RSS Aggregator. Remember, we are Powerful Beyond Measure….

Best wishes,
Miguel Guhlin
Around the Corner


I’m pleased to see this new blog at PBS. Great first post. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with this space.

I and my students use a blog for podcasting: my weekly “news review” story written and produced by students. Because Podcasting is impossible to filter by content, I fear that schools will begin to prevent downloads of audio files and start blocking blogs which often are used as podcast RSS feeds…

Congratulations Andy, and continued thanks for the great work you do on the behalf of educators. The more we continue to create valuable, thought-provoking content, the more legitimacy we bring to the medium and the better our chances for change. Keep plugging…

Looks like this will be an exciting discussion! It may also help to promote the URL for the RSS feed so people can subscribe directly without having to worry about a blocked site. Actually, that would be a nice website to help in this cause. Some place that has direct links to the RSS feeds or ways to subscribe to RSS via e-mail for different educational blogs…

This is an important move directly in the path of large speeding vehicles. Culture, the Internet and education are all heading together at top speed, and as educators in classrooms it is vital to see the voice that this blog will develop.


Hi everyone,

Thanks for the warm welcome. It’s great to turn on the computer on the morning of the blog’s official launch and finding so many comments already.

A couple of quick responses to what some of you have said so far:

To Ron Evry: I hadn’t heard about anarchist-related sites being blocked. Does that mean students and teachers wouldn’t be able to access coverage of the anarchist protests at the WTO in Seattle? Or the Democratic National Convention? Yet another reason why my personal blog may be blocked in a lot of places, as I covered the protests at the DNC here in Boston two years ago.

To Chris Champion: content-based blocking of podcasts can indeed be done, though I don’t know of anyone who is doing it. There are now several search engines that will index blogs based on audio content. My guess is that they’re using closed-captioning software (or something similar) to get a transcript of the podcast. All you’d have to do is connect those search tools with a filter, and bingo - blocked podcasts. I’m leary to say more, though - would hate to be the one who instigates such blocking.

To Chris Harris: the reason why I didn’t publicize the RSS in the launch was because the Feedburner feed wasn’t set up yet. It should be online today. Granted, I suppose I could have shared the current feed, since it’ll still work, but I was worried about promoting two different feeds in the same week. I’ll also be adding other feeds to the site, including del.icio.us links, a talkr feed (which creates a podcast of the text for people with visual impairments), and maybe some others as well….

Andy: This is a fascinating discussion already. A great idea subtitle, too. Thank you to you and those at PBS that made this happen.

I have always been an educator that supported teaching students respect for themselves, others, and the environment rather than filtering content. But… get ready… and I am surprised that I am about to admit this, now that I have a child about to enter Kindergarten, I am questioning my filtering stance. My husband and I spent much of this past Fall at elementary schools in our area of the city to find the best fit for our little girl - within the confinements of our system. While strolling the various hallways, we saw very little technology, sadly, but when there, it was on its own collecting dust. In the cases where it was used with young kids, it was primarily in the library. There could be a number of reasons for this, one of which I am sure is lack of prof dev for teachers in tech integration. We spoke with one librarian who was adamant about filtering sites for her kids, which led to a discussion between my husband and I about filtering in schools. Again, I have always been against filtering - as an educator, but now that I have a beautiful, carefree, innocent, loving child entering a public school system that generally has 24 kids to 1 teacher, I am reconsidering my stance. As my husband and I discussed possible sites my daughter could come across, I thought about her and her abilities. She doesn’t have the speed to get away from a site quickly; nor the understanding of some of the things she could come accross(no, I am not keeping her in a bubble world); and her brain is like that of many her age - it contains a sort-of brain block that little kids can get when they are lost, forlorn, frustrated, or upset which stops them from moving forward. This has made me reconsider filtering for the very young.
(I must add that being a parent adds a whole new dimension to being an educator.) Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks …Bri

Hi Andy, congratulations on a great start to another fabulous resource for teachers and students. I subscribed immediately and will recommend my students do also tomorrow. Here in Bangladesh we are not subject to censorship of blogs and Internet sites (as far as we know and have witnessed). I look forward to more lively commentary about Web 2.0 and a source of great discussion material for my IT students….I live in hope that the other teachers at school will eventually realise the benefits of the read/write web and integrate it with their classes or their own professional objectives.

Hi Andy,

May I add my best wishes for this blog. Hope you still plan to maintain your Waste of Bandwidth as well.


Hi Bri,

I actually have a child on the way as well - my first - and I’ve been meaning to write about how having a baby might indeed change my views on some of these issues. I can totally understand how one’s opinion of filtering would change when you have kids entering school. I personally wouldn’t argue against parents who choose to use filters at home, though I would hope they would understand that their kids probably know how to get around them or would soon figure it out. My biggest concern is that filters are preventing teachers from teaching and learners from learning. Of course, if a teacher had the authority to suspend the filter when it’s appropriate, that would make life easier. But like I said in the blog, too many schools allow their filters to be run by technocrats rather than educators. Meanwhile, Nancy Willard has been writing a lot about the relationship between some filtering software companies and specific religious groups, which raises all sorts of hot-button issues, to say the least…. -andy

I try to limit my participation in blogs and similar activities, since I just don’t have the time. However, this looks like one discussion group that will be quite valuable.

Norton Gusky

Hi, Thanks for starting this blog. I am an Instructional Technology Specialist for a high school district. I was interested in what you and others had to say about blogs. This year I was able to convince a variety of teachers to try an educational blog with their students and students in other places. While many were hesitant due to the problems others here have mentioned, they all gave it a go. Both the teachers and students were thrilled with the outcome and how this avenue opened up students to dialog where they might not have face-to-face in a classroom. Very beneficial!

This is a great idea. I would love to know how other folks around the country are dealing with issues involving blogs and web pages that get vandalized (student-on-student) or ones that trash the reputation of students and teachers. It seems that our legal system has not kept pace with the possibilities of using technology to defame character. Let me hear from you about this issue.

Hi Andy
you are my first blog! I am the computer teacher for our elementary school in florence sc and Im hoping to be able to take stuff i learn here back to our teachers.

As much as I dislike filtering or any other kind of censorship in principal, I work in a new technology based secondary school with several hundred computers and find that some degree of filtering is necessary. I have sixty-five computers in my library (being used today to research STDs, and an alcohol,drugs and tobacco research unit), and I would hate to be without some basic layer of filtering protection. And, I cannot recount the number of times parents, who have created their own “that space” accounts, have called in to resquest we find the computer in our building where their child is logged onto m-s—— during class sessions. Brave new world indeed. I am not a blogger, but your site looks promising. Good Luck!

I am applying for a job as technology coordinator of an elementary district in New Jersey. This blog should help me keep up with the latest in technology thinking on blogs.

I just wanted to add my two cents as an elementary media specialist. I love using technology with students especially with primary grades (this may be because I used to teach 1st grade). I have an instuctional blog and have found it a very useful instrucional tool. I have taught other teachers how to use blogs only to get frustrated emails from them when they get back to their buildings and the blog they started with me has been blocked by their filters.
As an educator there have been times when I have been very frustrated by filters blocking sites that I knew would be beneficial for me and my students. There have also been times when despite filters students accessed very inappropriate content, and I am the one who had to call and tell the parents what their child saw. That is not a fun phone call.

As educators we are going to have to live with at least some filtering. Federal guidelines and funding as they are make filters part of our lives. It is crucial for the classroom and building teachers to keep in close contact and try to build a good relationship with the school districts technology department. Many times if you plan ahead and ask them to unblock the site they will gladly do that for you.
I know as a teacher it is insulting to have to ask permission to unblock the filter for a site you know is beneficial. However I have also known teachers who have left a lab full of second graders on the internet to go the lounge and refill a coffee cup.

As you can tell I am very conflicted on the issue. But I know that technology integration is crucial for preparing students for life and we have to figure out the best way we can to use technology while keeping out kids safe. Thanks for starting this blog.

This is a great forum. I began using the Internet in my classroom in the early 90’s. Since then I’ve changed jobs and locations.

I’m in a large district that has very tight security measures. Only three years ago were all teachers allowed to have e-mail on the district server. PErsonal e-mail sites are blocked.We have great technology integration workshops, offered by the department of technolgy, but there is a total lack of alignment between the mandated literacy inservices and the technology inservices. Technology is still an add on.

I’m a literacy coach now, and sadly report that very few teachers are using technology creatively in their classrooms. We have a lot of accelerated reader and math, i.e. CAI, but the fear of not passing the FCAT and getting a low school grade tied to funding, keeps teachers hanging onto the district pacing guides, which do not include much technology integration.

Podcasts? RSS feed? Not an issue…not even a thought. Kids are doing fine at getting graphic pictures on desktops to keep teachers hopping, however. Unfortunately this reinforces the rationale that “kids are not responsible enough to use the computers.”

As an early user, I am sad to see the lack of adoption, much less integration. What is the “tipping point” for educators? Our school is on a T-1 line with four computers to every classroom, every teacher has a laptop, and there is a projection device for every four teachers. Maybe four of our sixty-four teachers use the network for something other than personal e-mail and checking the stock market. Technology is not a district focus for literacy. The FCAT and NCLB rule to the extent that creativity and innovation create a fear of failure for the majority of educators.

Yet, we wonder why we have 16-year old 6th graders. The curriculum is not relevant, just legislated.

I’m looking forward to learning what other educators are doing. We are planning an alternative program for our overage sixth graders next year. The reading coach and I are working together to pick the teachers and coordinate the curriculum. I want their learning to be relevant and this seems a great place to network and learn what works.


I read your blog after just teaching a class to teachers where we devoted much time and discussion to these topics: blogs, filtering, and engaging today’s 21st century learners with 21st century tools.

I concede that web filtering is frustrating for teachers but as the principal of an elementary school, I appreciate the safety net they provide. When I asked several hundred students in grades 4-6 at an assembly who had a moc.ecapSyM account, about 85% raised their hands. When I asked how many of them had shared personal or private information with someone other than parents (e.g. passwords, user ids), most said they had. This raises many concerns, not the least of which are concerns for student safety and parent education.

I have long believed that the Internet is like the Wild West - an exciting and dangerous frontier with almost no restrictions for users. We don’t let children (especially pre-adolescent children) come and go with no accountability in the real world because we worry about safety. I’m not sure parents have a sense of the real dangers that exist in the Internet universe. They may also lack the technology skills or information to know what measures to take to provide appropriate but to too restrictive supervision.

Filtering software is a reality and decisions about what to filter will continue to be made by someone other than teachers or even school administrators. In my district, there are two levels of access: one for teachers and one for students. Our district has been relatively responsive to opening sites on teacher or school request.

I think the focus on filtering software as a barrier to teaching and learning is a little misguided. My experience has been that teachers who know how to use technology in meaningful ways, plan carefully, and communicate with grade level cohorts and parents about how technology is being used, get a lot of bang for their technology buck - whether doing Internet-based projects or using computers for project-based learning, skill-building, and media literacy.

The discussion needs to look at how much time, energy and resources are being allocated for technology professional development. Do schools have clearly articulated technology plans and is there clear agreement about what skill sets students at various grade levels should master? My experience says that schools and districts are failing in these areas.

Finally - I think two innovations would move education forward in a big way with respect to technology use. First, I think Internet 2 should have dedicated band-width for K-12 educational purposes/sites, accessible to all K-12 institutions. This would require some legislative support, monitoring and oversight, standards, etc. Perhaps this is already being discussed somewhere out of my earshot. Second, I think educators need to have more opportunities to sit down with technology developers (hardware and software) to discuss technology applications that have the greatest potential to move teaching and learning forward in meaningful and measurable ways.

In this age of school accountability where teachers and schools are under the gun to raise student achievement (nation-wide) - we have to support research-based and data supported decision making.

Technology continues to change faster than ever, yet most schools, despite having lots of computers and fast internet access, remain mired in instructional approaches of the past…this is a major challenge for us. Bringing most our digital immigrant teachers into the world of our digital native students is beyond difficult. It’s about more than lack of time - it’s about visionary leadership and understanding what we now know about how kids learn.

Filtering has always given educators a false sense of security. I’m not 100% opposed to it, just the way filtering technology steamrolled its way into our lives. When teachers believe that internet content filters take care of their needs to supervise kids, that’s a problem.

I just saw Hall Davisdon, the director of the Discovery Educator Network, speak at the Tech Forum in Chicago. I loved how he used his cell phone to add to an audio blog! Now that podcasts and blogs and wikis are becoming more mainstream and easy to create and manage, I think there’s hope that more enlightened educators will figure out how to use these technologies to engage kids!

Your comments are timely. I have witnessed many of the practices outlinedYour comments are timely. I have witnessed many of the practices described above. Often decisions regarding blocking and filtering are not informed decisions and are made in an autocratic fashion.

The discussion regarding filtering practices of public educational institutions is as you described, “touchy.” I had the “privilege” to implement CIPA for my district. Not only was I responsible for establishing and developing the policy, I organized and facilitated the “Public Notice and Hearing” meetings. Though I agreed with many of the reservations voiced by staff, parents and community members, by law, my hands were tied. At stake for the district were literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in E-Rate subsidies that provided connectivity. Without these subsidies, no connectivity.

There is a need to balance the “forces of fear, safety, media literacy, personal responsibility, free speech and learning” in educational institutions. The use of emerging technologies is all about professional development, acceptable use, and training. Educators need professional development opportunities so they can learn to utilize emerging technologies and integrate their use in learning environments. Professional development provides a foundation for skills and strategies to evolve. As educators explore and develop their skills, they can integrate the use of emerging technologies in their instructional practices. This will provide students opportunities to learn acceptable use of emerging technologies.

Jeff wrote:
I just saw Hall Davisdon, the director of the Discovery Educator Network, speak at the Tech Forum in Chicago. I loved how he used his cell phone to add to an audio blog! Now that podcasts and blogs and wikis are becoming more mainstream and easy to create and manage, I think there’s hope that more enlightened educators will figure out how to use these technologies to engage kids!

Hall’s amazing, isn’t he? I’m definitely going to address mobile phone podcasting in later blog entries. I’ve been doing “mobcasting” for a couple of years now with a variety of tools. It’s a great way to create podcasts on-the-fly from anywhere in the world. Just yesterday I recorded this podcast while observing immigrant rights protesters march to Boston. I even did it last year while stranded in rural Ghana trying to figure out how to get back to the capital. And at last year’s NECC conference, David Warlick and I created dueling podcast with mobile and handheld devices. (And don’t even get me started about mobile video blogging!)

If it’s not clear already, I’m very excited about exploring ways of using podcasting and video blogging in the classroom. So stay tuned and we’ll tackle these things soon, I promise! -andy

I don’t quite understand this us-vs-them mindset between the educators and the “technocrats.” Perhaps I don’t understand because I am lucky to have IT support who constantly asks for my feedback and I know he’s not purposefully blocking education-related sites. As mentioned in your blog, teachers and technocrats need a new way of interacting and working together, starting by getting rid of any misconceptions they may have of each other.

We are currently piloting filter software at our site, and there’s no way we can implement it as is. However, as the technology teacher here, I strongly feel that filtering software is needed, even at the initial expense of our teachers’ convenience. The important thing is to create an optimal system that balances “the countervailing forces of fear, safety, media literacy, personal responsibility, free speech and learning.” And the only way to do is together, teachers, technologists, and students.

A timely post, Andy. I’m so glad to see this up on TeacherSource! We experience frustration at our organization almost daily when we go out to teach teachers ways to use new, exciting, collaborative resources….only to find them blocked.

Looking forward to reading future posts!

Having read many of the respondents’ comments about filtering software, I readily agree with you all: It’s often ineffective or too effective; blocks too much or not enough; is unnecessary if adults do their jobs, but some of us don’t, let’s admit it; frustrates users (adults and students alike) but does provide a measure of safety for the young; puts too much power in the hands of—what are we calling tech adminstrators now?—technocrats?, but working in a school without a full-time or qualified tech administrator is, let me assure you, no picnic; and, last, gives some assurance to school administrators and parents but sometimes at the expense of free and open inquiry.

Without a doubt, all of these contradictions are true. So what are we to make of them? Just this: both filtering software and its attendant problems are here to stay. Neither is going away. There is no solution, only discussions like these. What comes of them—the discussions—I don’t know. It’s difficult sometimes to know whether we’re contributing to the resolution of problems or merely adding to the noise. I hope, however, that mine isn’t the last word.

I’m very interested in learning more about blogging and have already learned a lot just from reading yesterday and today’s blogs, but my question is how do you read them all, every day? How do you keep up…do I need a supersonic speed reading class?!!
On with more important things, podcasting…the implication for use as a teaching tool are vast, but I don’t believe we have very many students in our rural part of the midwest that have them. How fast is the availability growing in other locations? In other words, how out of it are we?!

How do you feel about students/children viewing pornographic sites, pictures, articles, on the internet at school?

I am an educator and have a room full of computers. As much as I monitor, there is absolutely no way we can keep students from viewing this type of material 8 hours a day without these blocks. What would you suggest we do instead?

I am definitely 100% for technology advancement in our educational settings. It is a must for our students to succeed in the “real world” after graduation. However, as a parent myself, I do not want my child exposed to the “filth” that some sites put out there for everyone to view. I do agree that many times educators and students aren’t able to view sites that are educational. Why isn’t the internet governed by the same laws as television or radio? This would seem to resolve some of these issues.

As for moc.ecapSyM, have you read what 11-16 year olds and older are posting on this site. I realize not all are using this type of language, but a huge majority are spouting off the F-word and using language not even adults should hear.

I have subscribed and look forward to your views.


This is great - I will be sure to post your Blog as a resource on our website Go-Reporter.com. We are attempting to build a business model that provides resources (and products) for Journalists, Writers, and Bloggers who use the Internet almost exclusively.

I would invite you to submit articles written by you, or even some students who might be reading this, to our website. We are looking for any articles relating to Journalism, Writing, or Blogging tips. This would provide you/them with bragging rights - and would provide me with valuable content. Content, as you may already know, is the name of the game when it comes to websites and blogging.

Good Luck with your Blog - it looks like it has some great features not normally available on other Blogs.


LaDonna wrote:

How do you feel about students/children viewing pornographic sites, pictures, articles, on the internet at school?

I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that kids be allowed to view porn in the classroom. No matter your stance on filters, schools should vigorously enforce their acceptable use policies. And even with the strongest filters in place, I guarantee you that kids will get around them if you let them. Meanwhile, literally thousands of valuable websites get blocked. If more teachers had authority to unblock relevant sites, that would be a major step forward.

Why isn’t the internet governed by the same laws as television or radio? This would seem to resolve some of these issues.

Because the US Supreme Court has ruled that this is unconstitutional. The Internet is fundamentally a person-to-person medium, albeit at a massive scale. This puts it in a very different position than traditional mass media, like broadcast TV and radio. On several occasions, Congress has tried to restrict the Internet to protect kids but the court has rejected it, sometimes unanimously. This is a whole new world we’re dealing with.

As for moc.ecapSyM, have you read what 11-16 year olds and older are posting on this site. I realize not all are using this type of language, but a huge majority are spouting off the F-word and using language not even adults should hear.

Absolutely. M Space, for most of its history, was not unlike a house where the parents went on vacation and left the teens in charge. So it’s no surprise it’s full of stuff that adults are appalled by, because until recently, kids had the idea that no one was watching them. Now it’s slowly changing, and the website’s managers are finally taking some responsibility in improving user safety and enforcing appropriate behavior. It’s just hard to do that when the community numbers in the millions.

Again, this isn’t about fighting for the right of every kid to access M Space at school. I’m glad more educators are getting accounts on the site so they can figure out how to turn it to their advantage, but in the meantime, the cats’ away and the mice are playing. That’s not acceptable in-school behavior. But does this reality also mean that schools should implement sloppy, knee-jerk filtering policies that don’t succeed in blocking the bad content yet end up blocking enormous amounts of good content? I don’t think so. Put more power in the hands of the educators so they can decide what can be accessed in the classroom and what can’t. -andy

Angie asked about how to manage reading all these blogs. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about that in the coming weeks. In a nutshell, there are tools called “news readers” that allow you to subscribe to blogs and manage the inflow like email. No one should expect you to visit dozens of blogs a day, so news readers bring the content to you instead. More soon…. :-) -andy

Hi Andy,
I saw your note on the GlobalVoices list. This looks like it will be a very useful site. I’m wondering what format or software you consider most engaging and clear for ongoing discussions- forums, blogs, wikis, listserves? I haven’t seen something like an on-going normal conversation yet. Mostly there are short announcements of views and maybe three related comments in a row, then off to another topic. I guess that is like many conversations, but what would keep it more focussed and at the same time encourage people to join in?

Hi Andy,
I am a lower school (k-3) technology coordinator in a k-12 school. Our school does not have a filter, but I believe the little kids should be filter. Just as you would never send a child in this age group for a walk alone outside your own home, children should not be sent wandering the internet without hand holding and guidance. There is just too much accessable information that a child is not able to make sense of. Because we don’t have a filter I enforce a rule that a student is never to google on their own. Each class has a web page of links and this is were the students go when they use the internet. It does require time and effort on the teachers part to set up the web pages, but with training and constant support from me as the tech integrator, we’ve been able to make it work quite successfully. If a student needs to search she brings the laptop to the teacher and the teacher does the search.

Technology is moving in leaps and bounds and you’re right about the ground finally starting to level in the education relm. Look at where we’ve come in the past 10 years. 10 years from now students will be video chatting, podcasting, and blogging as part of their normal classroom day. The littlest children need the guidance now so they can be prepared, be responsible, and be safe in their new world.

I teach at a computerized school in Georgia called a Performance Learning Center. Technology lies at the heart of everything we do, and I couldn’t agree more with the over-blocking of websites. A great deal of our student research is done on-line, and after receiving “site blocked” messages for about the 8000th time, and facing a student revolt, we were finally able to force an adjustment in our county’s policy.

The amount of fear concerning technology is amazing, and largely unfounded. Yes, some precautions need to be taken, but the zeal with which some school systems block sites leads me to wonder if I’m living in China or the United States!

Tom Griffin wrote:
I’m wondering what format or software you consider most engaging and clear for ongoing discussions- forums, blogs, wikis, listserves? I haven’t seen something like an on-going normal conversation yet. Mostly there are short announcements of views and maybe three related comments in a row, then off to another topic. I guess that is like many conversations, but what would keep it more focussed and at the same time encourage people to join in?

Hi Tom,

I think the problem may be that you just haven’t found the right community yet. :-) Lots of email lists are non-conversational announcement lists, or focused on simple Q&A. In my experience, lists that are moderated by someone who encourages dialogue will eventually have that dialogue once the membership reaches a critical mass of interested people. My WWWEDU list, for example, is going strong for almost 12 years now, and it’s all because of the people who participate. They’re there because they want to talk about Web and education issues - and some conversations last for weeks, if not months.

Bulletin boards/Web forums vary, of course. Some are very conversational, like Omidyar.net, founded by Pierre Omidyar of eBay fame. Others are little better than arguments and rhetorical cockfights. It all depends on how the site is managed, and what the community goals are.

Many successful blogs have discussion threads that are very conversational. If a blog has a large enough participating community, individual blog entries may have hundreds of posts associated with them. But that doesn’t happen for your average Joe or Jane Q. Blogger. Lastly, you mentioned wikis. In most cases, wikis are workspaces rather than places of conversation. Conversations due occur, of course - go to Wikipedia and look at the talk page of any controversial subject and you’ll see a conversation taking place, to put it mildly. But for my money, e-lists, bulletin boards and blogs are the way to go, in that particular order. But it all depends on what you’re looking for, of course… -andy

This is my first blog with adults. I have one set up for my 5th graders to talk with me so I am fairly new to this. It does get very long to read everyone’s comments. I loook forward to learning from others.

An interesting twist on blocking Internet access in the classroom comes from an article entitled “Professors Want Their Classes ‘Unwired’” in the Christian Science Monitor (May 4, 2006). Several graduate schools, the article notes, have reversed their policies allowing wireless access to the Internet in their classrooms.

In this forum, we’ve been discussing the use of filtering software “to protect,” in Andy’s words, “students from accessing content they shouldn’t be seeing in the classroom.” The problem, as he notes, is that filtering software as administered by technologists often overblocks “perfectly relevant educational content.” The twist as noted in the Monitor article is that some professors now want wireless access to the Internet turned off in their classes? Why? As one University of Michigan law professor noted,

At any given moment in a law school class, literally 85 to 90 percent of the students were online. And what were they doing online? They were reading The New York Times; they were shopping for clothes at Eddie Bauer; they were looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco when their new job started…. And I was just stunned.
Egads! And I’m concerned about my middle-schoolers accessing sites they shouldn’t view, i.e., porno sites? Or the attentdant frustrations caused by our filter’s blocking of sites that contain “perfectly relevant educational content”? Maybe down the road, as wireless access becomes more prevalent in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, what I’ll really have to worry about is not ecapSyM.moc but “continuous partial attention” caused by my students’ surfing the net as I’m trying to read with them “Anabelle Lee.” Of course, if they’re reading The New York Times as we’re rendering poor Miss Lee, maybe I should be so lucky. Come to think of it, I already battle “continuous partial attention” without their having wireless or wired access. O brave new world, that hath such distractions in it.

Sorry, all. My link in the preceding post to the Monitor article doesn’t work. I’ll try it again. Here goes: “Professors Want Their Classes ‘Unwired’”. Hope that did the trick. If not, here’s the actual link for you to copy and paste http://csmonitor.com/2006/0504/p16s01-legn.html .

Love your site. It actually took a few extra seconds to pop up, and I was afraid that it might be blocked, which was ironic when I read about the whole “My ——-” problem. It came up on the second try, though, and was well worth reading. I will be coming back for more, that’s for sure. I am a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, whose students all have handheld computers. I blog, and will be teaching my students to blog next year. We will also be doing podcasts next year with a 5th grade class. (My students will be teaching them how to do it.) I have grown to love technology in the classroom, even though I was thrown into it head-first. I was afraid my students would know more than me, but I have surprisingly kept up, and quite often surpassed, their knowledge. I do have issues, of course, with sites being blocked. One teacher tried to get on NPR the other day, and it was blocked from his use. What’s up with that? The following day, I caught one of my students pulling up inappropriate pictures on google that were NOT blocked. It just goes to show that the blocks don’t always work the way they should.

Mr. Carvin - you raise some valid points without doubt. I am a Dir. of Technology for a small rural school district in South Carolina. We rely heavily on E-rate funding, thus we filter our web content. When I detected that we had several students accessing myspace profiles at school, I purposely blocked that site. Two female high school students in SC became the victims of a sexual predator who found them on this type of social profile website, then kidnapped and assaulted them. I can’t block every site, but I have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure the safety of our students. Of course this means lots of proactive education, too. It is possible to have a safe profile on that type of website, but it takes lots of education efforts to be sure students know how to remain safe.

Recently, another site emerged in our filter logs - “bebo”. Same thing, but worse - students had listed full names on the site profiles. So, bebo got blocked too. Will I be successful in blocking all of these sites? Never. I don’t intend to be able to keep up with all of them. But, knowledge is power, and once I know that a site poses a threat to our students -I am compelled to act.

We also use a “bad-word” filter in our e-mail system. I have had the inconvenience of having some of my own messages blocked due to mistakes that the “bad-word” filter made. It’s certainly not perfect.

And - that points to a larger question: Why must a student’s, or teacher’s, or anyone’s experience using the web be perfect? I can adjust the web filter, when needed. I can do manual overrides, when needed. I can adjust the words on the “bad-word” filter, when needed. Don’t get me wrong - when I get into my car, I want it to start and go without any problems. But it’s not perfect, and it could fail. When we look at art in a museum, we look for the beauty in it. But even the masters have painted slight flaws and imperfections into the work.

This seems to be the human element. The antiseptic, pure, digitized goal of perfection doesn’t really have a place in a digital world inhabited by humans. We bring these small flaws and potential for errors with us to the digital world we have created. If we celebrate this concept in other aspects of our lives, why can’t we tolerate them in the world of technology. Raise your hand if you use windows, now raise your hand if your PC ever crashed. Everyone wants to blame someone for this. But, think about it, isn’t it a small miracle that it works 99.9% of the time?

I’ll tolerate having to do manual overrides on the filter to allow educators and students to access material that is mistakenly blocked. I’ll se-send an email message that was blocked by the “bad-word” filter. These are only small inconveniences to me.

I’m a parent of a wonderful daughter. I can’t keep her safe all the time. But, I can exercise my best judgment and do the best I can - while empowering her to become self-sufficient at keeping herself safe as she becomes a young adult.

I look forward to more thought provoking content on your new blog. Thank you for providing this resource to all of us K-12 folks out there. If your readers enjoy edtech blogs, they might also enjoy the Discovery Educator Network, available for free at: http://www.discoveryeducatornetwork.com

I was under the impression that ‘Google’ is a proper noun and, as such, should be capitalized even when used as a verb as in “I told my students to Google the term”. Am I being too old-fashioned? Will Google, as a company, be glad to turn into a non-descript word as happened to Kleenx and Xerox?

I don’t know if any style guides have weighed in on this yet, but to me at least, Google is only capitalized as a noun; as a verb it’s not. Like when the British say they are hoovering (vacuuming) - even though it came from a proper noun (Hoover vacuums), making it a verb genericizes it. Just my opinion, though….

Contrary to Andy’s fears, it was my school system that introduced me to this blog. I’m curious to see if I can access it tomorrow!

I’m relieved to hear that, Don! :-)

As stated by Loren in an earlier post, I too am a technology director for a small district in Iowa. While my reason is not so much for the e-rate money, although we do receive some, thereby requiring the district to use filtering, it is more that I feel responsible for student safety when they are in the building. I too have blocked that site. At the beginning of the year, I did not. But after seeing 7th and 8th graders accessing nude photos on the site and printing them, etc. I decided they needed to be blocked.

My guiding principle has always been, that if a parent, community member, tax payer comes into our district and looks over the shoulder of me, a teacher or a student, are they going to be OK with what the equipment is being used for? Are they satisfied that their hard earned money is being put to good use in their district’s buildings? I cannot believe that parents looking over the shoulder of any student, let alone their own, would be OK with viewing nudity and posting personal info on this site…names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. Not to mention if their child was one of the girls (or boys) who is trying to start a porn career by posing in nude photos. And the discussions of parties, alcohol abuse, drug use, etc. cannot be acceptable to the MAJORITY of parents. It would take only one case of school access, hardware and software being used to allow a predator to hurt a student to cause an unknown list of problems for the district. I work for the district and I represent the community that pays my salary.

It would be a great thing and a better world if we could remove all filters, barriers, rules, etc and enjoy a community of learning and free expression. But that is not the world we live in. I am a parent to 2 high school boys. They are members of that site. But I also know their passwords, I look over their shoulder, I ask them what they are doing and I have punished them when they go outside the rules I have set. But I also feel I have done a good job of explaining the dangers and making my expectations clear. Too many parents abandon their childen to the computer and let the Internet be a baby sitter or a companion.

So I appreciate the intent of the message and the goal, but I don’t think it is possible in this society and culture in which we live.

Wow, love the info. Took me, a fast reader, quite a while to get through it all. HOpefully no one will be in the library again tomorrow so I can catch up again! As a new library media spec. I am looking forward to learning all there is to know in addition to reading as many books as I can. :) Blogs will only add to my list.

congrats! I look forward to some good articles. I’m not into education info but I’ll be sure I’ll drop by when I can. And the info on mySpace was very funny. Good one

Thanks for a great new resource for educators. Having been involved in education and various learning technologies over the years, I’m very excited about the new e-learning technologies.

Rodney Murray, Ph.D.

I can’t wait to read your future posts. I started blogging in January and it has opened up a whole new world for me. My posts do not just feed my need to write about topics I love but I can share with other educators all across the world. I want to use a blog in my classroom for student writing but alas our filters are getting in the way. I hope to talk our IT guy into allowing me access to a classroom blog.

Wow, Andy, one post in and you’re already overwhelmed with comments. I’m a web developer for several local public television stations, and I’m looking forward to implementing the new PBS module to make this blog available to the station websites that I serve. It’s a great addition to the educators section of those sites.

You serve it out on the national level, and we’ll feed it in on the local level. One way or another, we’re going to get this info into the hands of the overworked educators and administrators in the schools.

While I like the idea of blogging about issues or to create community dialogue, I hate the solipsistic aspect of this form of communication. The other concern I have is the idea that ANYONE can be an expert - no matter how ignorant or uninformed - in the eyes of more and more of our young people. What happens to critical thinking in this arenas?

Hi Sally,

The idea of anyone becoming an experts has its pros and cons. On the good side, there’s a wealth of knowledge existing among people who’ve never had a chance to share that knowledge. Blogging and projects like Wikipedia tap into that knowledge. On the other hand, people often have agendas, or pass along incorrect information labeled as fact, and it gets perpetuated. This has been the main criticism of wikipedia, and I promise I’ll be talking about it in future blog posts.

But the basic rule of thumb still applies - never rely on a single source. Any blogger can appear to be a true expert on a particular subject, but students should learn to exhibit a healthy amount of skepticism, questioning what they find and researching other sources and viewpoints.

>>>To Ron Evry: I hadn’t heard about anarchist-related sites being blocked. Does that mean students and teachers wouldn’t be able to access coverage of the anarchist protests at the WTO in Seattle? Or the Democratic National Convention? Yet another reason why my personal blog may be blocked in a lot of places, as I covered the protests at the DNC here in Boston two years ago.
Actually, I just checked, and Arlington County Schools, which used to block off any page that mentioned anarchy, has started to allow it. However, when I look up Dick Cheney, Dick Nixon, Philip K Dick, and Dick’s Sporting Goods in Google, a big black screen with the word “PORNOGRAPHY” pops up.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said…

Although Internet filters are extremely important in our schools since we encourage student use of the Internet, it is difficult when I am researching a topic I need information to teach on and I get blocked. At our school we’ve had issues arise when things got through the filter that shouldn’t have, so we cannot trust the filter completely. With my fourth graders I need to be near the computers with them if they are using the Internet. It is just frustrating when the filter is not sensitive enough AND too sensitive — not allowing me (or my students) to go to useful sites.

I completely agree with you. As a high school student I experience this unneccessary blockage of beneficial sites all the time. My AP English teacher is constantly trying to use technology in her teaching by assigning us blogs. We are required to do at least one post a week on any subject. Unfortunatly, the school administrators and technologists don’t realize this (although we’ve told them numerous times) and continually block us from our site. I’ve also heard that history teachers could not show videos and even students in multimedia could not look on photobucket or Yahoo images. A terrible problem in this technology age.

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