It seems that Westlake has tightened down on rules every year since I arrived in 2012. One area of focus seems to be the use of computers and the network, so I decided that I would interview the school tech expert, Mr. Bohne, to try and get an explanation for a lot of the problems that have come up and rules that have been implemented. I asked him about the several issues that students and teachers have had with both the laptops and the filters on the network.
My first few questions were on the network. I asked Mr. Bohne how much he controls compared to the district, whether websites were mainly blocked through filters or a blacklist, and whether he has any problems with how the network is controlled. He explained that he controls websites that need to be specifically changed through our network while the district has an overarching filter for the web. He also said that certain sites could be blocked because the specific URL of a page has a certain word that’s restricted, so even common sites that we would normally have unrestricted access to can have pages that can’t get through the filter. Sites can also be restricted by certain ads that are on the page, which the department has recently tried to solve by blocking certain ads from the sides and bottoms of articles.
When it comes to any changes he would make, he had this to say: “One of the biggest problems we have is kids don’t care about computers . . . . What not every student knows, but I try to get it across, is: everything that you do on a school computer is recorded. Every website you go to, every key that you click, it’s all recorded and we can go back and see what you did. So students try to get around that because they want to go to sites that are blocked . . . so they try to bypass those [filters] and . . . I don’t like getting people in trouble, it’s: you need to learn that there’s a consequence to your actions.”
Next, I asked him about some teacher websites, news sites, and corporate sites that were blocked. He explained that the certain domains such as weebly are blocked for hosting certain inappropriate content, and that teachers are e-mailed at the beginning of the year about requests for a whitelist if they use a blocked domain. He also explained that peripheral content, lack of a certificate, and specific categories for sites can cause them to be blocked.
Finally, I asked him whether he actually believes that censorship is effective. His response wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it got his point across nonetheless. He said, “I think it is effective, I think it could still be locked down more. Technology’s always changing. Every time you fix one thing someone finds a way around it. And so, same thing with our content filter . . . . A good example is: we have YouTube blocked on the network—and most students will know this anyways so I’m not divulging how to get around it— a very common one is going through Google Translate . . . . And so they have found that way [to get around it], and . . . so there’s things like that where it’s: ‘Hey, we need to block Google Translate but the schoolboard says, ‘No you can’t block that,’ even though it provides a way to bypass the filter,’ because they want the students to be able to have access to Google Translate. And so I think there’s ways that we can’t lock it down, but short of turning off the internet it’s always going to be an issue . . . [It’s] a way of leaving the doors open so that students still make the choice, but also limiting those choices.”
Moving on to the problem of the issues that are prevalent in the school’s laptops, I asked Bohne whether the issue was worth fixing and how we could go about doing so. He answered that moving to desktops would help to prevent most of the problems that we have with laptops. They wouldn’t be dropped, they wouldn’t be taken apart, and they could be monitored more easily.
When I asked about some of the frustrations with the issues that have arrived with Sage testing, he answered that a lot of the problems are caused by their servers, not the computers. He also said that most of them are ironed out within the first week, which problems are to be expected anyways considering the fact that everybody in the state is taking the test in the same time period.
Finally, I asked him a few questions for any suggestions or explanations that would help others to understand the problems and to prevent them in order to make his job easier. He answered, “Understand that it’s a computer, and computers will have problems here and there, and sometimes it’s preventable and sometimes it’s not . . . [and] you can’t plan for everything . . . And there are almost 2000 devices in this school, and only one of me, so I can’t just drop what I’m doing and go fix . . . one problem when there’s already five things up front . . . . I think it starts with treating the computers as if they’re your own. If you . . . take care of them, they’re gonna last longer and work better. It’s the mentality of ‘Hey this isn’t mine, I don’t have to worry about taking care of it,’ that causes half the problems . . . [and] there’s a good chunk of teachers that check them out to the students, and make sure . . . they know who used it, if it’s damaged it’s that student’s responsibility, but you still have the teachers who don’t log who’s using what, and then we have to go back and there’s no record of who’s responsible for the damages. And so it’s if everybody—the teachers, the students—take[s] that responsibility of checking them out.”