I received the following comment today on my August 21, 2009 post, “Questioning the potential value of Skype and videoconferencing in the classroom?” from Ricky. He began his comment by quoting a sentence of my post with which he took issue, and then shared his views:
“we need to make sure that networks work FOR THE USERS, not the IT department.”
99% of end-users have no concept of how IT/Networking works. It is the job of the IT department to ensure that the network continues to function first and foremost for legitimate educational purposes. While being a potentially great technology tool, it should not put other online educational applications at risk for failure simply because it’s the new “super cool” technology kid on the block. I’m also certain that taxpayers would be thrilled to know that they pay the salaries for educators to use skype/youtube/facebook/etc. for things that aren’t instruction related throughout the workday!
Enabling access to Skype for all users with clients operating in “SuperNode” mode is network suicide.
Here is my response, which I also left on that original post in the discussion thread.
Interesting I’m able to use Skype on numerous commercial and residential networks and those networks do not seem to have committed “network suicide.”
Skype has numerous “legitimate educational purposes.” I use it all the time for professional work as well as providing professional development. Many in IT are unaware of the educational benefits of Skype and similar desktop videoconferencing programs. One of the largest public school districts in our state decided in the last year not to order any webcams for any laptops that were going to be used by students, because they did not consider webcams to have any valid educational use. This perception is both false and unfortunate. Like any tool, a webcam can be abused. The inappropriate uses of a tool by a small minority of users should not result it the banning of the tool for use by all users. Sadly this is what we see time and time again in educational IT circles.
Of course you are correct that “online educational applications” should not be put “at risk” by other technology tools being used on networks with limited bandwidth. That is why our school / educational networks at the K-12 level need to look more like networks at our colleges and universities: Separate VLANs for public wifi, allocated bandwidth for institutional IT purposes, student/public use, etc.
I have never advocated the use of educational networks to distractedly watch YouTube videos all day long and social network using sites like Facebook. Users should be permitted to make these choices, however, and network use should be monitored and discussed with users. If a teacher is watching YouTube all day long instead of teaching his/her class at school, that’s certainly a problem and would be an ADMINISTRATIVE problem for the principal to address, not the IT department by banning all staff and students from using the website YouTube.
The decision to prohibit these destinations by the IT department is inappropriate censorship which can be more readily understood in a closed society like China, but not in an ostensibly free society like ours in the United States which values both free expression and open access to ideas.
Most of our school districts need far more bandwidth today than they have currently. We need greater involvement by state and federal government to make high speed Internet access more accessible and affordable in many areas, especially our rural communities. The differences in access and pricing for broadband in countries like Korea and Japan is stark when compared to the United States. We didn’t wait for corporations with ROI calculations to provide electrification for our rural communities in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. We formed co-ops which had governmental support to insure these needed services were supplied to all areas. We need to do the same thing with broadband.
Larry Lessig discusses the phenomenon we’re seeing here with IT administrators in his book, “The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World.” Technological tools provide great latitude for censorship in our organizational networks today. The availability and possibility of such censorship does not coincide with its propriety in a free and open society. Certainly we have limits and constraints on openness in our country, I am far from an anarchist and am not saying the IT department doesn’t have an important role to play in monitoring and at times regulating bandwidth utilization on the network. I am saying that blanket prohibition of sites like YouTube, Skype, Facebook, etc, is wrong and inappropriate in our educational institutions because it amounts to censorship above the paygrade of the IT department to mandate.
A few quotations to consider, thanks to the publisher of the Flickr photo above.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” — Benjamin Franklin
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” — Benjamin Franklin
“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” — Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
bandwidth, censor, censorship, danger, facebook, government, it, regulation, skype, youtube, department, supernode
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I think you’ve done an excellent job of addressing this issue, and I think the tone of Ricky’s comment clearly illustrates the ‘fear-based’ ‘teacher as enemy’ thinking that plagues some IT departments.
As a librarian, it comes naturally to me to consider the amount of filtering that is done as censorship. When we remove a book from the library, we’re required to have a committee reconsider the book–a committee involving teachers, parents, administrators, and librarians. Yet when websites are blocked/filtered, it is too often a sole individual or two, often not educators, who are making that decision.
I would like to suggest that districts consider using committees to help seek solutions and make decisions regarding internet use/filtering. And that curriculum directors are the ones making these decision because the curriculum should drive these sort of decisions.
I do not think any of us would advocate random browsing/Facebooking, etc., but if you walk into most teachers classrooms, you might notice that they are swamped with attendance, teaching class, grading papers, and that their work extends far beyond regular work hours. And being professionals, just like lawyers, doctors, etc., I presume that teachers use their time as they see fit, and make good professional decisions. If someone is abusing a tool, it’s not a technology issue. If a teacher was sitting in their classroom reading an inappopriate magazine all day, would we ban magazines from schools entirely, or would we deal with the issue case by case?
There are many ways to use these tools in ways that are safe on the network, by the way. Skype, for one, has an entire manual devoted to how to use their software in an enterprise situation so that it is handled on the network differently. And there are many materials available online with excellent guidelines for how Facebook could be incorporated safely into the curriculum.
These tools have a legitimate place in schools, and can serve as bridges for communicating with other schools across the globe. They are powerful (and inexpensive) tools that allow us to help our students become citizens of the global community that they will soon be working in.
We cannot prepare them for this future by propogating fear nor can we expect our teachers to think of themselves as professionals when they are treated with suspicion.
Excellent observation. I’d love to see more examples of IT attitudes like this one (http://whatisyouritvision.blogspot.com/2009/09/taking-byte-of-wireless.html)
“We have adopted a simple mantra “The world is unfiltered.” Based on that, we want to truly help our students learn ethical use, how to be good digital citizens as well as how to be safe online. We also want to make sure we teach them that this is one way to work and that it is still so very important to make sure we connect face to face. We do block porn and spam.”
Your timing is perfect. My school is struggling with this issue right now. IT says they need to protect the network and protect the bandwith and are blocking skype, youtube, facebook, twitter, etc…
They don’t get it and what’s even sadder is that they don’t want to get it. They just want the last say.
We are meeting again this week to make our case but I’m not holding my breath for change anytime soon.
I applied for a $10,000 technology grant for my classroom 2 years ago. One of the requirements of my proposal was to get the district technology director’s signature on my application. In order to do that, I was forced to remove all references to “Skype” from my proposal. The tech director did not know anything about Skype, and was only listening to what the IT department said about it.
I could not believe this. But I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride, and took Skype out of the proposal. My application was sent in, with the required signatures.
I was one of 10 teachers from my state to receive the grant award. Good thing I did not stick to my guns.
I have not had a Skype conversation in my classroom since I spoke with you, Miguel, Darren, and Ewan nearly 3 years ago. But that was before Skype was “discovered”.
Power wins. Period.
It is so sad this conversation is still happening. Thanks for keeping up the fight – Mark
our it guy can tell me when and what i use to deliver our curriculum when he accepts my orders on how to run our network! his failure to see the irony of an it guy decrying the “super cool tech kid on the block” is laughable.
all jokes aside, we must get the it dept on our side. somehow, we must get the two sides communicating, and i believe this can be done partly by senior management opening the dialogue between the parties. it would help greatly if senior management knew more about technology and how their teachers are using it.
currently, it depts in general (maybe you have a dept; we have a guy) seems to feel that everything would work just fine if no one would touch anything. and perhaps they do have problems we don’t know about. but i fail to see how or why the it guy can unilaterally decide how the curriculum is delivered (what exactly is his qualification to do so?), and more importantly, i think it guys who are used to being sequestered in their offices need to get jobs in other industries. in a school, one is responsible to a host of people, not just “the boss,” and one’s job is to make sure we, the teachers, can do *our* jobs. part of that comes from making sure our network runs, sure, but that’s only part: part comes from making sure we have all the tools we need for our students. it is not their job to make their job easier. and it is NOT their job to block our jobs, and it guys who do should be encouraged to seek employment elsewhere.
i have worked in schools with it guys who are impossible; conversely, i have worked with it guys who are fantastic and do everything to make sure what i want to use actually works. sadly, there are few of them to go around.
i also wonder how much time the respondent spends on his own personal sites, which i see happen in it depts all the time. how much bandwith do his little hobbies eat up, anyway? he who throws the first stone and all that.
I just posted this article which I wrote this summer. It was rejected for publication, so I blogged it
I’d suggest that a school IT network need to serve the learning needs of the school first. At most, IT department leadership should be pedagogically savvy and a partner in helping professional learning communities of teachers create amazing outcomes for students. Barring that, IT leadership should, at a minimum, be beholden to the direction of the school’s instructional leadership.
Education IT Departments in the USA sound similar to the one’s I come across over here in the UK. I know of one teacher who was trying to open a zipped file (It was a teaching resource from Google Earth), but did not have sufficient privileges. She was asked by tech support why she would want to open a zipped file as “it might contain an exe file.” ( i.e “if it is a problem I might have to do some work and sort it out”) There is an element of knowledge=power, but on some of the worst days I think it is “don’t ask me to do anything I am busy playing space invaders online.” The bottom line is that these people are employed to make sure the network is usable. They do have a role to play in prevention but too often they take the view “if people cannot use the network they cannot break it!”
Your post and ensuing comments eloquently assess the issues many face in integrating new media into our existing curriculum and infrastructure. I present to librarians and teachers on the use of Web 2.0 tools to facilitate collaboration among teachers, librarians, and students. A majority of attendees complain that the cannot access new media tools and also have issues getting unblocked those “traditional” informational websites that are victim of the filter.
I am in the early stages of a doctoral program in Information Studies. My central research question, and one of the reasons I am interested in pursuing this degree, is to find out the implications of restrictive internet policies on the information behaviors and social scholarship opportunities of students and employees. There are many questions that support this problem. One (of many) is exploring reasons why school IT staff choose to block and why they have the power to do so without consulting the educational faculty and administration. And, on the other hand, why do many schools choose to not block access to these tools? In my own school, the person in charge of IT installed a filter without consulting even one person. I have worked diligently since this occurrence to get the staff to relax the filter, give me permission to unblock sites, and to improve communication among the faculty and IT staff. I think that there are several factors in play especially if the IT staff are not educators and have no teaching experience: the IT staff wants to protect the network and keep it as fast as possible, they are influenced by the fears instilled by the media, they can easily convince most school administrators of the need to block because the IT staff uses “tech speak” which the administrators do not understand–deferring to the IT staff to know what is best. Also, most administrators understand the affordances of Web 2.0 tools, but still prefer the students to be protected as evidenced in the 2009 MacArthur Foundation and CoSN report “Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise & Reality.”
Concerned teachers and librarians should craft a rationale for their administrators which shows how the particular school will use the tools and how they will ensure that they will monitor their students’ use and adjust privacy settings on the tool to the benefit of the students. The IT staff works for the educators and students, not for themselves. A collaborative approach to setting policies is the best way and can benefit the IT staff by educating them as to the instructional uses. Ricky obviously was ignorant in how teachers and students can use the new media to further educational goals. IT staff should not set restrictions that affect teaching and learning without consulting with those directly affected.
Thank you for your informative post. It is the best rationale I have read so far. (Sorry if this sounds a little rambling–writing it between classes and no time to edit!)
[…] Wesley Fryer has an excellent post on the subject, as do Jeff Utecht, Pat Hensley and Paul Wood. […]
The thing you’re missing is that Skype’s design makes it particularly inappropriate technically for use on a school network. In particular, you *really* don’t want Skype running as a “supernode” on your network.
What we need, as usual, is *better technology*.
Thank you for emphasizing the difference between what is an administrative/behavioral problem and an IT problem.
For those who are not permitted to use Skype, you might like to try TokBox which I’ve found to be a pretty worthy alternative.
Interesting subject Wes. I really can’t imaging a lot of teachers having time to spend on personal Facebook issues during the school day. I also can’t imagine the relatively small number of teachers all being on YouTube at the same time and even given low bandwidth, that such an occurrence would cause the crash of the network. Inappropriate student usage could be a much bigger problem but I would think that wouldn’t be overly difficult to control (even though I have zero expertise in this area).
As an IT Director, I have to take into account ALL aspects of the desired technology, not only its educational use, but its impact on other services that we are required to provide. There is a great educational value with tools such as Skype. I would say that Skype is not necessarily the RIGHT tool because of the technical issues it has when it runs in your network. I would contend that there are OTHER tools that can be and are being used today. We have certain requirements, set forth by Federal Law (read CIPA), that require us to do content filtering. We also have some requirements that require us to monitor, log and report on all network traffic. I have NO way of logging conversations on Skype currently; therefore, I must block it. I have, however, found alternative ways to allow chat and video.
We run our own Jabber service, which is controlled and logged by IT. It is unfair to say that IT wants to have the last word. Rather, they are required to be accountable with what happens on the District networks. Any issues that arise from the use of Skype become an IT issue, as well as a discipline issue.
If we need to communicate with other users, we still have some issues here. We currently have to setup an “external” account and have the other party install a Jabber based client that supports video. As you can see, not a perfect solution.
There may be other alternatives, but we haven’t had the opportunity to research them, as my staff is small We support 9000 students and 1100 staff with my staff of 7. Sometimes these restrictions have to be implemented as a stopgap.
I feel that we are a more progressive district when it comes to allowing certain applications and unblocking websites, but when it comes to network resources, we always err on the side of caution and make sure we understand how an application works and interacts with our computers and networks BEFORE it is used. Security for the computers and students is paramount.
I agree 100% with your philosophy of educational technology. I follow you and other education leaders and teachers on Twitter and Facebook. I am continually building my PLN so that I can grow. I am the lone IT person at my school and I am guilty of making some universal decisions that I would prefer not to make. I would love to turn our teachers and students loose to learn collaboratively and creatively and to take advantage of the technology that is available to them. However, I have some constraints that are simply the reality in my school and others I’ve worked with. First, our bandwidth is inadequate for the usage we currently have. Resources are not available to increase it. Our student information system and many curriculum programs are online and must be accessible. During times of state-mandated online testing, I am forced to block streaming media and internet radio just to have enough bandwidth for tests. I also answer to superiors who demand certain sites or programs be blocked. Let’s not put all the blame on the IT staff. Some of us do not have the power we are being credited with here.
I work in the IT department for our school district, so I am going to speak to this subject from a geek’s perspective.
Our district is very fortunate because when our IT department was being birthed many years ago, it was through the efforts of a teacher who happened to have a computer background. He was very deliberate about instilling a culture of “educational technology”, rather than “technology that might help deliver educational services”. Through the years, as our district’s technology base has grown (we are running a 1:1 program as well, now), the mandate has remained the same: work with teachers to deliver services that will benefit their classrooms. And you know what? It can be done. We allow Skype- we don’t officially support it, but we’ll tell users how to set up the options so it works on our network. Yeah, Skype is a pain because it uses port 80, but there are ways to work with that. Yes, we do block some sites (a lot actually, since our Province uses Websense to provide filtering for every school district provincewide), but anything not blocked by the Ministry we leave open. We provide unfiltered, unrestricted access to certain sites by writing ACLs for our proxy server- this takes a bit of stress off the network resources.
We are also lucky because we have plenty of bandwidth to each of our schools, so there’s no reason for us to block things like Youtube. But the main thing we have going for us is that it’s common knowledge among the teaching faculty that we in IT are there to meet their needs, not those of some bureaucrat. When teachers want a new application or network service, they talk to their principal, and it’s approved, we do the work. Sometimes, we do have to say no, but those times are rare, and we only do that if there’s simply no way for us to meet their request.
As for administrators asking for sites or apps to be blocked, when that happens (and it does), we ask them to justify it. Sure, the Superintendent might be the ultimate boss of us, but we have a mandate from our board of Trustees- and if that is challenged, we are free to ask why. Usually, we’ve been able to win our administrators over by simply having a short chat with them about the ‘disruptive’ service. Fortunately, we have pretty good relationships with all of our administrators, so again, we’re the lucky ones.
I can offer some suggestions for teachers (and principals) who want their techs to ‘get it’: involve your techs in professional development; get them on your side. Take them to conferences like the Building Learning Communities one from November Learning; send them to NECC, invite them to staff meetings where tech issues are being discussed. Arrange for plenty of opportunities for them to experience ‘educational technology’ in the classrooms. Encourage them to read ed-tech blogs such as this one. Most geeks are insular- we don’t tend to know much about fields outside of technology and video games. When I started doing this job 5 years ago, I knew next to nothing about public education- now I have the pleasure of giving workshops to teachers on Web2.0 applications, media production, and ICT integration. And I ask them questions about how the decisions we make in IT will affect their use of technology in the classrooms, with the hope that everything we do will work towards making ICT integration work FOR the students, not stifle their creativity and cut short their opportunities to learn from and connect with the world around them.
In short, my philosophy is that we should start out with everything as open as possible, and only move to limit access when all other solutions have failed. A metaphor I like to use is that of sex-ed: You won’t find an administrator anywhere willing to say “Well, kids shouldn’t be having sex! Therefore, we’re not going to talk about it”; yet they are quite willing to do exactly that with regard to the Internet. We should be helping them in this path, not hindering them.
I have a question. We allow students to have their cell phones on campus as well as teachers. Skype is a free download to the iPhone. Sometimes I think this will soon become a moot issue because people have devices that can bypass the network completely.
I’m wondering what requirements you refer to that require you to log all network traffic? That isn’t a part of CIPA. Perhaps that is a district requirement–I’m just curious? That is not a federal requirement that I am familiar with.
And as regards Skype–are you required to log all uses of Office 07 or Adobe Photoshop, etc? Those are also used on your campuses and I assume documents are being saved to your network servers?
Just tossing out some questions here. I do applaud you for trying to find alternate solutions.
One concern that I don’t find people “get” is that if you are trying to conduct spontaneous global interactions then you need the tool that other users at other locations have easy access and use of. So it’s had to tell people they have to use the tool WE have–or if it’s something they cannot access or use.
I have heard teachers be told to use a Polycom system, but if the people they are communicating with use Skype or AOL chat or whatever the tool is, then what good does that do?
I also have a question for several of you–Skype has an instruction manual for having it work safely on a network like an enterprise network. I see that many schools and universities across the country use it on their networks. I’m not in IT, but I’m curious why some network departments at large districts and large universities have it configured so they are satisfied with its ability to run safely and some are not?
Here’s the information from Skype that I referred to earlier.
I’m curious about Carl’s reasons for saying “We also have some requirements that require us to monitor, log and report on all network traffic.” I believe this is a common interpretation or over-interpretation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) governing archiving electronic communication in case it is needed in a civil law suit. See http://www.wwpi.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2180&Itemid=120 for example.
I’m not a lawyer, so the fact that I don’t *think* this requires you to do anything more or less than log *official* communications within the school is hardly going to convince an IT director (or lawyer or administrator) that they don’t have to try to block or archive *everything*.
Also, another thing about Skype. A lot of IT guys have been around long enough to remember trying to get spyware bundled with KaZaA off their Windows networks six or seven years ago. Well, Skype comes from the same folks as KaZaA, so there is some extra reason not to trust it or its source. Fool me once…
The requirements that we log and record all network traffic come as a directive from our lawyers for the district to be in adherence with board policy and the fact they they interpret the laws (read Sarbanes Oxley–yes we do have to comply with that) to include all official communication to include Instant Messaging, for which our teachers do use with our students. I would certainly like NOT to have to do that, because it really utilizes a lot of our resources to maintain that. Past experiences have led them to have a more restrictive policy on this. To paraphrase Tom … Burn me once…
As far as Word and Adobe files, those are all saved and backed up on our network and are therefore considered to be “logged” and available for retrieval for a period of time as determined by our district.
I get that it is difficult for me to ask someone use something that we use. But it is also difficult to say, hey just because this is free I should use this instead of what I are currently using because it is more difficult for me to communicate with you, even though it is possible for others to install a package that will allow it to work for them and help me remain compliant with the policies that I must adhere to.
The big problem that I see is that many people want to demonize the IT group for simply doing what is required by their district leadership. When leadership changes, so does IT policy, especially when it doesn’t make sense.
I have been advocating for years for us to allow websites such as Facebook, many wikis, etc. My mantra is that if you can justify and show us how you will use it educationally, there is no reason NOT to unblock it. We are many times at the mercy of our content filter providers. I have had several people accuse me of actually purposefully going and blocking the sites they want to use. My reply is, “I simply don’t have time to do something like that. The filter is set to block certain categories and sometimes those sites are incorrectly classified (or even correctly classified).”
It is also not always a simple task to just unblock a site. Many times the images can be hosted on other servers, which may be blocked, links from the website may be blocked, etc. If we are provided with a url and it is deemed safe for school, we unblock that URL. We do not go through every link and picture on the page. We try to educate our teachers that there is a process to unblock sites, but it must be educationally sound and yes, we do need more than 1 hour notice to do the unblock, as we are simply not just sitting at our desks waiting for you to call.
I also get a lot of flack for blocking Youtube. My answer for that is there are ways to see the videos you need without unblocking youtube. You can download them, or better yet, use teacher tube. We are considering and looking to see how we can unblock specific “Channels” on youtube that are of educational value.
Actually, right now I am advocating to have a principal NOT block our chat service. Each of his students has a laptop and are constantly using chat and he sees this as an IT issue. I assured him that we can certainly solve it, but that we should NOT do so, as this is a classroom management issue that should be addressed with the teachers. I believe the teachers haven’t had enough training to understand how to manage a classroom in a 1:1 situation.
One problem is that lawyers and administrators have no incentive to push for liberal interpretations of legal requirements. They might get fired for losing lawsuits. They won’t get fired for blocking Skype.
While we’re dispensing blame, I’ll also point a finger at the librarians. One reason we’ve got unaccountable companies and IT departments blocking and unblocking sites is because librarians as a class don’t want to get their hands dirty, but we’d all be much better off if they’d decided it was part of their profession and really created professional standards for doing it.
I admire your attitude and I think your recognition that sometimes IT staff have not had education training per se is also an important observation–not to negate their technical skills, but perceptions about what is important, perhaps?
I noticed that you commented : “We are many times at the mercy of our content filter providers.” I find it unfortunate that districts put themselves in this situation–the filter providers should work for us, and not the other way around. A filter should be easily by-passable by staff and able to be customized easily. Ones that block by category do tend to be problematic.
Tom, I also think that we all draw on our past experiences (i.e. the “once burned” comment, but that we have to be really careful to make current decisions based on current knowledge. We do a disservice to our districts otherwise. That’s not to say we throw out our experience, but we also can’t assume that things haven’t changed over time. We wouldn’t toss out a student because of something a student in the past did. I think an advantage of doing this by committee is it helps us challenge our own biases and make the best of our experience.
Also, ironically, I am a librarian and am more than welcome to serve in my district to help on this issue, and in fact have participated in the past on a committee considering what to do regarding blogs and wikis and filtering. (funny to think that just 3 years ago we were worrying about that, and now mostly they are unfiltered without question.)
I recently wrote a blog post suggesting that districts have a committee in place to deal with issues like this. It takes the heat off of the IT department if a panel of administrators, teachers, librarians, and IT staff are involved. IT’s a lot more difficult to place a lawsuit when so many people have been involved in the decision making process.
So it is a good safeguard as well as creates better decisions.
I often compare this to libraries–would I pull a book just because I didn’t like it or I personally think it might be dangerous for a student? No–I have to consult a committee and we have a process for doing that.
In any case, check out my post (http://futura.edublogs.org/2009/11/17/how-to-open-the-doors/)because I really do have an interest in helping all of us understand one another better. We do have a common mission, don’t we? Educating kids and empowering them to be part of a global community? And stretching their boundaries?
Oops, the link grabbed part of my text–it’s really http://futura.edublogs.org/2009/11/17/how-to-open-the-doors/
Thanks for the dialogue and to Wes for opening up this channel!
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