I bring to your attention the most recent column by Jamie McKenzie from his online
magazine From
Now On.  The url is .  I've written about McKenzie before, and
I've used his
columns and advice in my workshops on how to best use the internet in classes.  He
is a former
teacher and administrator in public schools (New Jersey) who is now in Bellingham,
Washington, as
a consultant and writer.  A smart guy who knows the how-to's, the what-works, and
the why-to's,
and writes clearly with good common sense.

This month's column is about wasted hardware and internet-filtering software.
Regarding the
hardware, McKenzie says that the wiring of schools is a scandal just waiting to
happen, because
many of the many new computers and networks and T1 lines are subject to the
syndrome," that is, they're just sitting there gathering dust.  That's because the
teachers aren't using
them -- mainly due to lack of training.  His point is more finely drawn than this,
so go read the
article.  I think you'll agree with him.  I do.

His second point is a tougher issue for me.  He discusses censorship and
site-filtering software.  In
the Worcester schools where I teach we have CyberPatrol installed on the network,
and it does
indeed block many sites, often at random times -- usually just when you need them
most, of course,
or so it seems.  I've talked to the people downtown many times, and I still don't
understand how this
thing works, whether it's by keyword, or administrator input, or whatever.  But
sometimes it'll block
www.usatoday, or www.cnn, or other good, clean, valuable sites.  A month or two ago
I spent a big
chunk of time developing a lesson plan on Alexander the Great for one of my
classes; I did it in the
computer lab, creating a nice lesson plan using three good sites on the subject,
including one from
PBS.  A week later I brought the class in to run the lesson plan, and boom! two of
the three sites I
had designated were blocked by Mr. CyberPatrol.  I was not too happy, and brought
the class out
of the computer room back to the classroom.

But that's the exception, fortunately, and not the rule.  Usually the software just
does its job nicely,
blocking and all else of that variety.  Normally it's the teacher's
friend.  To call this
software a form of censorship, as McKenzie does in the current column, seems to me
exaggerating.  I'd be interested to hear some reactions from other teachers, both
to the article and
also regarding the situation on your own school: do you have blocking software?  Is
it overzealous?
Have you had problems with it?  Could you/would you rather not have it?

Here's my opinion (you knew this would be coming): the teacher has to be in
control.  I know: I've
been moving recently in the direction of  relinquishing control in the computer
room, but this is a different story. The teacher has to be firm about not allowing
the students to go where they shouldn't be going.

1.  Have a good Acceptable Use Policy.  Have each student and guardian of student
sign a copy,
keep it on file, then enforce penalties promptly when the AUP is violated.

2. Students should use the same computer each time he/she is in the computer room.
Know who
sits where and when.  That way if you miss something that a student does, and
discover some
mischief (settings changed, files deleted, etc.) after they're gone, you can still
enforce your rules.

3.  Use your History file.  This is also a teacher's friend.  And be sure to
include in your AUP that
students are not allowed to clear the History file.

4.  Have your computer room set up so you can see all the monitors in a second or
two -- all the
computers around the periphery of the room, against the walls.  There is no better
configuration.  If
they're set up otherwise, move 'em.

These rules work for me, as I simultaneously obey the bedrock KISS (Keep It Simple,
Stupid) rule.
Let me know what works for you.  Teachers must share their best practices, in this
as in other
things.  I've learned so much from my colleagues, often little things that I would
never have thought of
on my own.  So let's hear it.