Learner’s block

On my day off, just before the start of the Easter holiday, I spent part of the day virtually attending the BectaX conference, and making the occasional contribution via twitter. There have been plenty of excellent blog posts reflecting on the event from delegates who were there in person, or online, and I don’t think I  have anything significant to add in relation to the event itself. However, the dominant theme of BectaX was rammed firmly home on my return to school after Easter.

Most of my classes are homing in fast on A-level exams, and I want to ensure that they have easy access to good revsion materials and  support both in school and outside of lesson time. There are several excellent blogs that I regularly point students towards (for example englishlangsfx.blogspot.com, and david-crystal.blogspot.com), and I have successfully used wordpress blogs in the past (eg. mcauleyenglish.wordpress.com, which I abandoned, intending to use our new school VLE, but that has not yet lived up to its promise and I find it awkward to use). So, I set up a couple of new wordpress blogs with the intention of populating them with resources and blog posts, intending them to be immediately useful for my current students, but also with an eye on making them valuable for students and teachers elsewhere doing the same courses, rather like this one for the English Language (A) specification; I do Spec B and hoped to build something similar.

The key, recurrant theme of BectaX that I alluded to earlier was the importance of opening up the use of technology for learners (and by learners I include teachers, of course). I don’t think anybody could have put it better than Nicola Mcnee, a school librarian (how inadequate that by now rather quaint term seems for what she is doing) , whose presentation can be seen here.

You can imagine my dismay then, when I returned to school after Easter to find that without warning or any announcement, the filtering system used for our students’ internet access has been changed so that, in addition to previously blocked content such as twitter and youtube, all blogspot blogs (including ones I had previously requested to be unblocked), and previously unblocked content including all wordpress, posterous and typepad blogs are now inaccessible to our students within school.

The simplest and most practical response to BectaX that I saw came from Tom Barrett. Point 4 of his plan for a quiet revolution is “Write a blog post about your ideas. (Or even start a blog for your ideas!) Share your experiences, frustrations, successes and hopes for your work.” So here is my blog post about my frustration.

But it strikes me that what we could do with to carry the argument forward positively is some kind of ‘arms cache’ of references to research, policies, polemic and good practice in effective management of more open access to the web and learning technologies. I have already pointed out the Ofsted report from earlier this year that students are safest using the internet when trusted to manage their own risk. What else could I use to make the case against indiscriminate blocking?

(Perhaps you could share anything you’ve found useful or persuasive on this matter in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Learner’s block

  1. I do agree with your comments. Most filtering is belt and braces to a point of hard core bondage. Legitimate concerns about e-safety have exacerbated this to a point where excellent material is routinely blocked because of the lack of sophistication of mainstream filtering used by schools. Setting aside the retail price tag which would not apply to schools / LAs Tibboh offers an interesting alternative approach to filtering http://tinyurl.com/2ef5el9 which includes access to FB and Twitter, also blogs on an age-related basis, and offers flexibility to tailor to school / class requirements. Early days yet but as web 2.0 is increasintgly important in the education space, this is a welcome move away from the bludgeoning filters of today


  2. My sympathies Ant. The Ofsted report is compelling and very exciting. As you know I’ve been conducting an experiment using the devil itself -Facebook-which I intend to write up on my blog as soon as its finished. I created a Facebook page for our schools mock election and 8 days in it now has 117 fans including 2 other members of staff. 20% of the over 13’s in school are now involved yet they have no access during the school day! I think we need to set up a bank of good practice that teachers who find themselves the victims of ridiculous filtering systems can access to help them conduct “persuasion” campaigns in their school. Here’s hoping Becta can help us with this


  3. I have to agree that the vast majority of filtering is curently used rather like erecting a six foot fence along the sides of all roads to prevent children crossing rather than teaching them how to cross safely and use their judgement. We are at the beginning of a project using Tibboh in Birmingham with the intention of improving learner engagement by the target group through the use of age related filtering rather than uniform filtering across the wide age group of young people involved. http://tinyurl.com/3a4k5kz


  4. Hi Ant, it is indeed frustrating. I have mixed views on filtering, (which Nicola and I have had some debate on here http://bit.ly/a2Su7N ). Both my daughters are of primary school age and I think primary schools must have some degree of filtering system whether you like it or not. In my 20 years or so in the IT industry I am acutely aware of some of the more unsavoury parts of the internet and young children need to be protected from this. This is a view that I know virtually all parents would support. Indeed at home both of my children’s laptops have internet and MSN contacts filtered. My 8 year old cannot access anything until it has been checked and added to a “whitelist”, while restrictions on my 11 year old are starting to be more relaxed but still with a fair degree of restriction.

    This has never impeded their use of the web for both fun and learning. However I do appreciate that it’s a difficult balance between safe use and too much restriction, so we have educated our children in safe browsing and use of the web, and it seems to be paying off. I think that education of safe use of these technologies along with guidance and support from organisations like Becta is the way forward.

    I don’t see a time when we will ever have an unrestricted experience for our children as there will always be some need for it and not just in education, but business also. The company I work for filters content for various reasons, (although I am still struggling to understand why Flickr is blocked!).

    I think the fact that people in the right areas are starting to discuss the subject is a big step in the right direction and hopefully this will lead to a more fulfilling, less frustrating but still safe use of today’s technologies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s