Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Darn Bess, the Blocking Webpage

One of the big focuses of the Teaching Shakespeare Institute was using technology in the English classroom. I was hesitant, but ended up learning a lot, and was inspired to purchase an LCD Projector for my classroom for that reason. I also spent some time building a website for my classes, as well as setting up a wikispaces page for materials, online discussions, and resources.

Today, I was finally able to get online at school for the first time. I plugged in my laptop, checked my email, then immediately went to my googlespaces page I set up for school.


Then, I went to to see my class setup there.


Wow, was I ever mad. I really want to incorporate technology and prepare my students for college and the 21st century, but it's the question of whether my school system will allow it.

After telling my story to a colleague, he told me he heard that the system will soon block free email sites as well, like gmail and yahoo. If this happens, I have no idea how I will be able to ask my students for typed papers anymore. The common thing to do is for students to email the document to themselves and print it out. In fact, that's how I print out every single handout I've ever made for school... without a printer at home, I rely on my printer at school.

I'm going to brainstorm ideas. There's a long complicated process of trying to get a webpage approved through the central offices, but no one I know of has been successful.

Ideas welcome.


Jessica said...

BESS is a thorn in everyone's side! As for the blocking of free webmail services, at this stage the decision is a while off and even then it won't be done until there is an alternative in place (a student email solution). You can request that the urls you need access to be unblocked, I think the person to contact is Sheila Grap in library services - or call the Command Center and open a ticket. There's no guarantee, but it's worth a try after all your efforts.

A BCPSS Parent said...

Thumb drives are cheap and pretty big these days. That would let you have static web pages, if not wiki. If nothing else that would let you get files from home to school for printing.

Anonymous said...

You can use the Site Review form to get a page unblocked. Awhile back, Riverside Publishing, which prints the Woodcock Johnson educational assessment (the one that BCPSS is so fond of), had its site blocked from BCPSS servers. Who knows why, but my guess is that it's because their web address is, and someone thought it was a bar. At any rate, I got that one unblocked, and the one for the Algebra Project unblocked (it was listed as pornography!).

Just click the link on the Bess page to print out a review form and fax it in, or as Jessica said, call ITD and open a ticket. They'll probably tell you to fax in the form anyway, since you have to demonstrate how it's educationally relevant.

Anonymous said...

I work for the IT department of a system of Charter schools. If your school receives any monies from Erate, then a web blocker is necessary or you're in violation of CIPA. Work through the process to get sites unblocked. You might get email sites opened for teachers/staff, but you won't get it unblocked for students. The only way to guarantee that you're CIPA-compliant for student email is to use a subscription service that scans the content of each email for inappropriate material.

Anonymous said...

Meant to mention -- is a good (and reasonably priced) email for students. Erate is paying for 90% of it for our 10 schools this year. It provides both email and web hosting for students. Hard to teach kids technology when so many things are blocked.

jessica said...

BCPSS does receive e-rate funds (which we apply for as a district) and anonymous is correct, we must keep a filtering solution in place in order to be compliant with CIPA. However, we are able to unblock sites that pose no threat to students and still be considered compliant. is one of the solutions we will be reviewing as part of the decision to provide student email addresses. A subscription-based service for student email addresses is not the only option we have to remain CIPA compliant (that's a marketing ploy!), the key is simply to have a filtering component in place to monitor whichever solution we decide to go with.

Teach Baltimore said...

I've decided I'm going to submit my class website and wikispace page for review; hopefully the process will go quickly and I can get it on my syllabus as a resource. I'm excited about using them. Jessica, are you part of that office?

As for an email service, I'll just say that, as a teacher, I'll be very disappointed if I can't get to my gmail account at school. I use it every day to email myself documents to print out at school, and its huge amount of storage space and ease of use makes it much more useful than the junkmail filled email accounts the system gives us.

jessica said...

I'm part of ITD, but we don't make the final decision on websites being unblocked - we just do the unblocking once it's been approved. I'm not too familiar with the criteria, but I imagine they would have a hard time saying no if your justification is sound and it clearly demonstrates the educational value (which I think will be easy to do!)

I'm also gutted about the prospect of losing gmail. However, one of the solutions we'll be looking at is gmail's solution for student email so I live in hope!

Anonymous said...

I would encourage you to check out the TSS ( ) the TSS group has recently done an upgrade to the system and have included cool tools like blogs, wikkies and podcast within the TSS (blackboard) site. All of your students and yourself have accounts set up and you can use the electronic drop box feature in your course already set up a populated with your students for them to send you papers. It's a great resource check it out.

Eric said...

Or you could use a proxy server and bypass BESS altogether ... google it, it's not too hard to set up.


jessica said...

I strongly advise against eric's suggestion to set up a bypass proxy. Not only is all proxy traffic very closely monitored, the act itself violates the acceptable use policy.