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2006- Overcoming Obstacles

Overcoming Obstacles”Internet Access with Minimal Filtering”

Shawn Nutting
Trussville, Alabama, USA
Blog: http://vwnutt.blogspot.com/

Presentation Title
“Internet Access with Minimal Filtering”

Shawn has been involved with IT for over 16 years. Most of his expericnce comes from emerging software development companies. For almost two years now Shawn has been the Director of Technology for Trussville City Schools. He enjoys applying current technology in his schools. Shawn believes that Web 2.0 tools are essential in todays classroom.

Parental and district concerns for internet safety is something that his school system invests a lot of time in. Internet filtering is an obvious key to this. Their basic level of internet safety was to install a filtering piece that maintains state and federal standards for K-12 internet safety. Their current product is very limiting. It blocks a lot of sites they would like to have open for teachers. They encourage and push teachers to use the 21st Century and Web 2.0 tools. This year they are changing products to allow them to be more customer service oriented. Teachers will have more freedom than ever with internet use in the classroom. A huge concern of their technical department is this freedom. Open internet access in the hands of a non-tech savvy teacher could do catastrophic political damage within their community. They invest a lot of time on professional development for their faculty and staff. They  also spend a lot of time with the Board of Education and City Council. In addition they have open forums with parents and bombard parents with information about their technology use within the classroom. After conversations with them, they walk away understanding the need for Web 2.0 in the classroom. They also have an open communication with teachers. Blocking or unblocking sites should only take a few hours, but no more than 24.



  1. Kurt Paccio

    Wondering if you’re willing to share the commercial product that you have chosen for Internet filtering? From your description and price point I would guess that it is a product from Lightspeed or 8e6 technologies.

    I enjoyed your perspective. There are some in this forum who would find your position very limiting and restrictive. We trust teachers with the education and safety of our children. Should we not trust them with Internet access with minimal safety nets?

    Here’s a situation that I’d like to ponder. A student brings in a pcmcia card with wireless internet access through his cell carrier bypassing your filter. How can we handle that? So your filtering app is loaded and update directly on each laptop? Ok, I vpn to my home computer through the email port and surf the web from my cable modem at home.

    With the read / write web a site that is appropriate and educational today, is inappropriate in a matter of moments. Can filtering really be done effectively in a web 2.0 world?

    For what it’s worth…

    Thank you for taking the time to create your presentation.
    Well done.


  2. Quentin D'Souza

    Wow – we are educators in such different worlds. “customer service” + “work orders” aren’t really in my vocabulary, but I understand your intensions.

    Curious – about the laptop program. What are you using as the basis for your electronic curriculum – with Grade 6 – to meet your state standards and then moving out to Grade 12?

    FYI – this is coming up at our board http://www.i-hacked.com/content/view/238/42/ also with students creating a vpn to surf the web from their home computer. How does Dan’s Gaurdian work with proxy servers and IP/VPN based work arounds?

    Curious also – the discussion boards and “web 2.0”, is that available to the General Public or only parents/Staff/Students?

    One last thing – any chance I can look at some of your Geekly Weekly issues?

  3. Pingback: Higgy’s Blog » The IT Department of Education

  4. Shawn Nutting

    The two commercial products we are considering are Lightspeed and Surfcontrol. Each of these has a client based rule set and works on or off our network.
    We are changing products because we find our current solution limiting.

    I would like to respond to your comment “We trust teachers with the education and safety of our children. Should we not trust them with Internet access with minimal safety nets?” I am considered very liberal in my thinking by our community. I feel the true power of the internet is unrestricted access and many teachers can handle that responsibility in their classrooms. Unfortunately I work in a political world driven by public dollars and opinions. We greatly encourage our teachers to use web 2.0 in their classrooms. Many of our most active teachers can handle the responsibility. The dark side of the equation is a teacher who hears about blogging and wants to try it. They setup a blog and then lose interest. Over time the students start using it for inappropriate content. Our community hears about this. The knee jerk reaction would be to stop and block everything, reduce my budget and back off on encouraging technology. As my teachers grow in their knowledge of the Internet we will be more and more liberal with our filter. I have to prepare our community, board, teachers and staff before we can just allow open access. The first step in this process is to purchase a filter that does allow a different rule set for teachers vs. students.
    I appreciate your comments. In your scenario you are correct. The are many creative ways around a filter and our students find them every day. I do not believe you can truly filter inappropriate content. No more than I believe any network is secure. A creative mind can always hack a network or bypass a filter. We have the filter in place to make it as difficult as we can.

  5. Shawn Nutting

    i-hacked.com is making its way around our filter right now. We have not invested a lot of time into Dansguardian. We really need a client based solution for our laptop initiative.
    I can be reached at (205) 228-3000 and would be happy to share our Geeky Weekly’s with you. I am not going to post my email on here so I can avoid the spam.
    Our discussion boards on SharePoint are only able to be accessed by people on our network. If you have and AD account you can use the discussion board so our board, faculty, staff, and students can all be involved in discussions. If a teacher needs a public forum we encourage them to use a blog site.


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  7. writernate

    Being a student myself, I can tell you little about the costs of licensing out school-wide internet blocks. However I DO know that there are a lot of politics involved. And what parents might think are inappropriate we, the ‘kids’ don’t. So who is right in this situation?

    Although I do agree that pornography in school is a pretty bad idea, (creates too much immediate distraction and it can wreak havoc in the middle of a lesson. That’s why there’s sex-ed).

    My main concern with school based internet filtering is that, while it can ALWAYS be made less of an aggressive electronic censor that blocks anything and everything not affiliated with yahooligans.

    Such practices and sentiments (in my mind) tend to leak out on the minds of the kids, and into homes. Where I personally would rather NOT have parents looking over every place I visit and everything I do.

    After all, one of the greatest boons of the internet is relative (excluding hackers and the NSA and nosy ISP’s) an ability to look things up you couldn’t do so otherwise in the real world.

    And once parents start censoring and filtering based on their own moral desires and beliefs, many of which may be founded in pseudo-science or social hysteria… kids become cut off from free sources. And to me SO WHAT? if they’re trading inappropriate pictures over myspace.com at home?. So long as it’s with people they KNOW and TRUST in real life, and they keep their personal information secret..

    That’s one of the biggest problems with internet censoring software in schools. It leaks out everywhere else… But the matters I just brought up are the sociopolitical ones involved. Internet filtering will NEVER be perfect so long as we’re stuck with non sentient CPU’s and slightly biased.. for bias is universal.. (this statement right now is biased)filter programmers.

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