I’ll first describe how things worked at Dingwall Academy, my secondary school. There was a proxy server that all web traffic went through - it ran Websense. The same filtering software ran at Guantanamo Bay. It’s configuration blocked much of the useful internet. This was a constant pain for us students and there was much time spent bribing supply teachers for their logins (the only way we could get round the problem!).
The level of filter must have been set to max for every category. There was no Japan in geography and no pixels in computing. Risqué terms like that never made it through. It wasn’t the keywords that were the problem, it was more the broader category blocks such as: forums, youtube and webmail that were the problem.
Some of these categories could have provided some very useful information for many of my subjects - but such a resource may as well have not existed.
The one that bothered me the most was the “message boards and forums”. Under this category were: Stackoverflow and MSDN - two crucial resources for a 6th year computing student. It would have been useful at times to have access to youtube as well - all were locked down like they were the pages of criminals.
I think this failure of a system came about from a fundamental lack of understanding in two areas: the internet at a resource, the nature of skills taught in some subjects (namely computing in my case).
It was clear to see how blocking tactic that had been employed - it might as well have been a whitelist it was that bad. Someone had thought of everyplace that a pupil could waste time and just blocked it without any consideration as to what good could and would come from the resource. YouTube is the perfect example here, true it’s a top spot for time wasting but the number of educational videos or videos of internet is staggering. In the same way it’s up to the teacher to stop pupils chatting it’s up to them to stop time wasting online. The blanket blocking can take innocent casualties too, like MSDN. Few waste time there and those that do should, perhaps, be encouraged to do so!
The other problem is that to know what not to block it’s important to understand the kinds of materials that are needed for each subject. Forums and discussion boards are key here. Programming basics rarely come from books anymore and tools like stackoverflow offer a much better problem orientated resource for those past the basics. To the untrained eye however it looks like a rather well built nerd chatroom - which in turn get’s it its blocked status. Tragic.
Now I visit stackoverlfow as much as I like. Looking back I should likely have pushed to have had the filtering adjusted…