Eight Surprising Websites That Schools Can’t Access

| April 7, 2011 | 50 Comments
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We know most schools block YouTube, Facebok, and social networking sites because of child protection laws. And we know students are unhappy about this.

But we wondered what other sites that can potentially be rich educational resources were blocked from schools that filter the Web. We asked teachers and here’s what we heard back.

  • SKYPE. “I think this would be wonderful in the classroom,” the reader says. She’s right. Lots of teachers do use Skype to communicate with schools across the globe.
  • NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. The “Kids” section alone provides a huge trove of beautiful presentations about wildlife, children’s literature, and cultures around the world.
  • GLOGSTER. Educators and students can use this collaborative digital media site to create everything from videos about American presidents to interactive economics quiz.
  • DROPBOX AND OTHER FILE-SHARING SITES. An easy way to send files, homework, assignments, and projects back and forth between students and teachers.
  • BLOGSPOT AND OTHER PERSONAL BLOGGING PLATFORMS. One teacher says his site is flagged as “porn,” and another says her students use blocked access as an excuse not to do their homework. Class blogs — most of them free and simple to set up — are another great way for educators and students to communicate, participate in class discussions, and share information.
  • KHAN ACADEMY. By virtue of the fact that the videos are hosted on YouTube, one teacher says none of these highly informative and engaging videos that describe everything from the Pythagorean Theorem to the cause and effect of the credit crisis, are available in her school.
  • FLICKR. Want to show your photography teacher your photo assignment? Or participate in a collaborative project that includes photo-tagging? That’s a rhetorical question in one teacher’s case.
  • FREEDOM TO TINKER. This site is “hosted by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, a research center that studies digital technologies in public life. You’ll find comment and analysis from the digital frontier, written by the Center’s faculty, students, and friends.”

Even the Department of Education realizes that blocked sites impede learning. Here’s Karen Cator, the director of Education Technology at the D.O.E. in a recent MindShift interview:

“The bottom line is that we do need to figure out how kids can be safe and out of harm’s way and not exposed to inappropriate materials online. But the filtering programs we have are fairly rudimentary. We need more intelligent filtering programs, safer search environments, smarter technologies so that people aren’t just shutting down large swaths of the Internet. There’s a lot on YouTube, for example, that could be safe and really instructive, but since it’s just in one bucket, a lot of schools just shut down YouTube.”

Frustrated educators are finding workarounds. Emma Dunbar, a middle school teacher in San Francisco, says she’s lucky enough to have an LCD projector and an ELMO visual presenter.

“I have an iPhone, which has YouTube for video and iTunes for podcasts and doesn’t have any blocked Internet sites,” she says. “So if I want to share something with my class, I do it through my iPhone and don’t even check on my district supplied computer anymore.”

And as another reader points out: “Things are increasingly interconnected and you might end up with blocking all access in the end.”

What surprising sites are blocked in your school?

[Additional reporting by Audrey Watters.]

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  • http://www.enterthegroup.com Sal Pellettieri

    It should be an easy fix to get access to these sites. Of course no one wants to stick their neck out to make changes or want to use some common sense to work ways around the blocks. I have encountered some strange things at schools as I have rolled out my education website http://Enterthegroup.com.

    • Sarah

      Not true! I have requested quite a few sites be “unbanned” and still I sit with them blocked. I have gone to every administrator, written to the technology department and the “board” that is in charge of what we block and do not block. It is very frustrating when I spend my time justifying what I need the sites for, only to have it fall on deaf ears.

      • http://www.enterthegroup.com Sal Pellettieri

        I meant “technically” easy, not bureaucratically easy. I can totally see the obstacles since for the people in charge it’s an easy issue of risk vs reward – they don’t see the reward because it doesn’t impact them, they do see the risk (minute as it may be) that if something happens it’s their fault. It’s totally stupid I agree.

    • Daniel Jacobs

      I can’t access your site at school because it’s uncategorized

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.moran Mark Moran

    Khan Academy also has its own dedicated site, to get around the YouTube block:
    http://www.khanacademy.org/

    There is no reason for filters to be so restrictive, and teachers should absolutely have the right to override them on their own computers.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7SJFPY35DMAAWXN2VY534766LQ Peace Elk

      FB and YouTube are blocked on all SFUSD school computers, and yes that includes teachers. I think it is ludicrous that teachers are not able to bypass these blocks.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7SJFPY35DMAAWXN2VY534766LQ Peace Elk

    Facebook and YouTube are two of the sites that are blocked by the San Francisco Unified School District. There are many innocuous sites that are blocked for no apparent reason.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7SJFPY35DMAAWXN2VY534766LQ Peace Elk

    There was a school district, I think in the Northeast that had a proposal to ban teachers from using social media sites at ALL. Even on their own time! This was related to in part by a story of a student who ended up on a date with someone befriended on FB, who turned out to be a student.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/HaroldmillerforSan-Franciscomayor-Dotorg/100000531985945 HaroldmillerforSan Franciscoma

    What the Hell are we doing to our kids?

  • Reppler

    In my classroom sit 6 unused pcs. Every attempt I have made to build student use of those machines in my lessons has been frustrated by blocked sites and the need for an overworked and under paid tech to make any change to the computers. Here’s a typical example. I am set to do a unit on conic sections. While lesson planning at home I find 3-4 interesting sites and free open source software that my students could use to further develop their understanding of the topics we are discussing. I get to my classroom early to try out the sites and apps on the student pcs. The sites are blocked and the apps can’t be used without administrator privileges. I submit a “site unblocking” request to the district office and then a separate “tech help” request for access to the app. Two the Three months later the tech shows up to load and allow the app. At least the tech eventually shows up, as of today, I have yet to get any response from the district office concerning site blocking. ( I requested the Khan Academy to be unblocked early September 2010).

  • Neil

    Great comments. Has anyone ever heard of a little thing called CIPA? Child Internet Protection Act. Each district ‘interprets’ this differently, and these ‘filters’ are in place for a reason.
    Yes, I understand as an educator, how crazy it can feel when you have a great lesson, and then can’t due to a filter

  • teembee

    If administration can get into these sites, why not allow an educator’s computer to do the same. My white board is linked to my computer and many of these sites are AWESOME for teaching.

  • julie

    Amazon.com was recently blocked because students could look at descriptions for books like the Kama Sutra and erotica. Which makes it difficult for me to look up reviews and descriptions to see if they’ve plagerized something if I’m grading at school. Or look up authors or titles for kids who can’t remember one or the other before we go to the library.

    What I find ridiculous is that we’ve been tasked with using technology in the classroom, but access to it is being taken away.

  • Michelle

    After reading these comments I feel lucky I work where I do. Facebook is blocked but I can use You Tube. If I need a sight unblocked I just send our Tech Dept. an email and it is done in five minutes. This week I was asked by my principal to show my co-workers how I use You Tube in the classroom.

    • Sarah

      You’re lucky that the sites get unblocked so quickly. I am the (volunteer) webmaster for my school, and I use facebook to communicate events, activities, etc with parents, students and the community. It was been a great success… until the district blocked facebook for everyone. Now I spend my evenings updating, answering questions, and monitoring the site. It’s just not the same as the “moment it happens” updates I was able to provide. I sent a request in a month ago to have it unblocked with a detailed description of why I need it and…. nothing…. yet.

  • Amanda

    Countless time I have hooked my iPhone up so that I could share something with my students because YouTube is blocked for us too. It always makes he laugh (and want to cry) when I see some of the sites that are blocked. That said, I seem to always have a few students in the class who can crack the block. They know my rule is very simple…don’t abuse it and I don’t have a problem. And I have never had a problem. I’ve also been able to get onto sites I otherwise wouldn’t able to access. Since September we have been hearing that the school board is going to lift some of the restrictions…it’s April now and it still hasn’t happened. :(
    I would also agree with teembee…admin computers aren’t blocked…at the very least teacher logins should have the same. IMO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1158971774 John R. Wilkins

    My system does allow access to Skype, National Geo Kids, Drop Box, and Glogster. I’m not sure about the other sites on the list as I have never tried to use them. We are encourage to use the sites listed above. Some other sites I would like to use have been blocked but if you have a good educational reason for using them you can request access and usually are granted access at least for a limited time. Youtube and Facebook should remained blocked, in my opinion. We use pbworks wikis which allow for “social networking” on a controlled level as we provide students with user names and passwords and can control who from the “outside world” can access out wiki.

    • Amazinglifee

      same here

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1158971774 John R. Wilkins

    There is a way to use YouTube clips even if your system blocks the site. I’ll have to check my notes at school and share the info. I’ll get back to you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1158971774 John R. Wilkins

      http://ipodclassroom.wikispaces.com/youtube Using http://www.zamzar.com to bring Youtube clips into the classroom.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, but now you’re breaking YouTube’s terms of service. Nothing like becoming a criminal in order to circumvent overzealous safety measures in the name of bringing valuable materials into the classroom.

  • Douglas W. Green, EdD

    Schools that block Facebook and Twitter rather than using them for learning are falling behind those that do.

    • Frankiegarcia39

      yea

  • Tara

    But it is very frustrting to look up something related to the materials we are using in the classroom. Disneyland preschool and other disney sites come up blocked at our district. That is ridiculous.

  • Terresacc

    We recently did a unit on the American Revolution. Any video that contained the word “tea party” or “revolution” was unavailable from my teacher computer. Our district tech guy said it was a glitch in the filter and he was able to individually okay the videos for viewing . However, when I used the same computer to look up materials for our science units on volume and space travel, no problem. I also noticed that when I tried to use some Yahoo news short clips during a study about American government and also about the census, I was not able to run them in class..

  • Glogster EDU

    How can my district/school unblock edu.glogster.com (Glogster EDU) and block glogster.com (Glogster)?
    Glogster.com is a public site intended for general use. Only edu.glogster.com provides a private, secure, and controlled setting for teachers and students.

    Many of our educators are impacted by district or school-wide blocking of both Glogster and Glogster EDU. In order to block Glogster and allow Glogster EDU, please provide the information below to your IT department.

    To use Glogster EDU you must allow these domains:

    edu.glogster.com
    *.edu.glogster.com
    im.glogster.com
    g-cache.appspot.com

    Than you can use edu.glogster.com on your school
    Glogster team

  • Cwells67

    As the person who is responsible for CIPA adherence in my school district, what I have found that most people miss is that if we do not block inappropriate sites “to the extent practicable,” meaning “if you can block inappropriate sites, you are legally bound to block them,” we will lose ALL FEDERAL FUNDING. That’s a more interesting article, I would think. Please do your homework as a resporter and cover BOTH sides of an issue!

    • NK

      Can you please cite specific school districts that have lost E-Rate funding because they didn’t block YouTube? Can you also cite where in CIPA is says adults must be blocked from potentially educational materials? CIPA requires filtering and blocking technology to be in place, not overblocking of responsible adults.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beachgirl78 Mindi Stevens

    Yep. They’re all blocked at my school, and I’m the one who is supposed to help teachers integrate technology. Rather frustrating. Cell phones are also not permitted. I agreed with Dr. Green. We need to teach students to use these sites and tools responsibly rather than blocking them. Infuriating.

  • NK

    What people fail to realize is that CIPA only applies to MINORS. There is nothing in it about blocking adults from content. The only reason districts block teachers is a lack of trust. Teachers should have access and use their best judgement. Unfortunately, it only takes one to screw it up for the rest of the responsible teachers.

  • Ms. Fixit

    CIPA – Child Internet Protection Act. Are you familiar with it?
    http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/cipa.html

    Why are teacher computers blocked too? Because students use those too.
    Many times if you give an educationally sound reason for a site to be unblocked your IT department will consider it.
    For those circumventing district policy and finding “ways around the system” – what ARE we teaching our children?

    from a technology facilitator’s point of view

    • NK

      Most districts have separate logins and domains for students and teachers. If teachers are allowing students on their computers, under the teacher’s login, then that is most likely a violation of your district’s Acceptable Use Policy. As a teacher AND a technology facilitator, I agree. Those not following district policy are the ones making things difficult for those who do.

  • Adrian

    Try http://www.teachersmonthly.com for free teaching resources, articles and news.

  • Arlen Dardar

    I administer the filtering for a school district in Louisiana. Teachers are blocked mostly from central administration saying they want teachers blocked. The biggest reason being teachers allow student on their logins. It takes about three minutes to logoff and login as a different user. Nope to lazy. Everyday I get a teacher telling me students are getting around the web filter then the same teacher tells me that the filter is blocking to much. Filters are not perfect. We stop blocking youtube for teachers this year when google implemented safe search in youtube. I don’t want to hinder anyone from learning. On the other hand until the adult in the classroom starts making their students take responsibility for their online use I will be force to do my job and block.

  • Amazinglifee

    I am in washington county school system and they blocked all social and video sites. including skype

  • Frankiegarcia39

    wassup wassup wassup

  • Michael

    I`m using http://www.sunvpn.com/ to bypass Internet filters in my school. It`s a VPN service.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tchilders.den Tim Childers

    I feel pretty lucky. None of these sites are blocked in my district. Although a few were blocked in my former district.

  • Daniel Jacobs

    My school blocks all uncategorized sites. But it doesn’t block http://templeoflol.weebly.com. It’s ridiculous.

  • Felipe

    My school blocks twitter because it possesses (I’m not making this up): “Prohibited Friendship-Related Content”

  • Girl

    ALA runs the Banned Books Week and Freedom to Read talks about this as well. I’ve suggested before that American Libraries, Library Journal or ALA should start a banned website list or contest for the silliest or most damaging banning. I think that it would make an amazing cover story and be picked up my the mainstream media too. In this day and age is banning a website any more censorship or destructive to democracy or learning than banning a book? I wonder.
    P.S. my website: http://hotlocalwomen.net/

  • fred

    Of course Skype provide the best opportunity to communicate the school colleges all over the country or world..
    Social Marks

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  • Mr. “K”

    Youtube used to be Educational only. But now its Full access.

    Infact , now my school has a less strict filter
    that only blocks Pornography,Proxies and Ads.

    so Youtube,Facebook,Reddit etc are free to use aswell
    is Online radio like iTunes.

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  • Brandon

    While working on a year long history project. (Yes it is the worst assignment ever) I got blocked from a wiki page about the music genre: Post-hardcore. Because the word hardcore is affiliated with porn. Was legitimately told that by the page I was redirected to.

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