Into the Fray

One of my colleagues gave me a newspaper clipping a few years ago which I have pinned up in my cubicle. It’s a photograph of a woman attempting to hold back a rather large group of military types; my guess is that seconds after the photo was taken she was trampled by this angry mob. He cut out the picture and gave it to me because he said it reminded him of what my job must be like.

The biggest battle on this job is, without a doubt, the whole issue of content filtering which is required by law for a school district. You can almost hear the screams about censorship from there, can’t you? I get angry emails daily from teachers who insist that I am hampering their freedom and inhibiting learning. The irony in all of this is that my only criteria for whether or not I “whitelist” a website is how much impact it will have on the network.

About 18 months ago I had to turn off the streaming audio and video category on our filter. We were plagued by phone calls from people whining about how slow the internet was, so I contacted the wide area guys at BOCES who provided me with a nifty little breakdown of where my bandwidth was going. I was astounded to see how much of the pipe was being used by “junk” traffic like streaming radio, so I made the decision to turn it off. My reasoning was that adding sites to an allow list is way easier than tracking down the offending user, and trying to explain the concept of finite bandwidth to a teacher is like nailing jello to a tree.

The internet slowdowns stopped, but I got a lot of hate mail from teachers who claim I destroyed their “teachable moments” (for those of you who do not work in education, a “teachable moment” is French for “I’m too lazy to do a lesson plan”). My rebuttal is that I am happy to add a site to the allow list…all they need to do is provide me with a URL. Most of them send along a link and I accommodate them by giving them same day service. Interestingly enough, the ones who scream the loudest don’t bother sending me anything.

Like most technology issues it is still a work in progress. We have kicked around the idea of using a packet shaper, but I hate throwing hardware at a people problem and at this point I have a sizable white list in place. Packet shapers tend to cause their own little set of issues, and lowering the priority of streaming is still going to dent people who are using it for instructional purposes…which is contrary to what I wanted to accomplish in the first place.

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1 Comment

  1. Conductor J.Mark said,

    May 19, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Im slowly realizing that any change you make which effects the “perfect little world” of users triggers a panicked, irrational response. It makes me wonder how some of these people survived before the days of broadband in every portapotty. I’m happy that I’m not in your position, as my response to these users would be one word: Tough.


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