Do school firewalls really just block learning?

Noticed this past week that EdWeek’s Teacher Magazine had run a special column aggregating chat room comments about an issue particularly close to our heart: The difficult problem of school firewalls. The list of comments is quite interesting to read, as it pulls from both sides of the issue.
A blue lock for George, flickr: Darwin Bell, cc:by-nc

As software designers for things we hope are used in schools, we tend to fall on a particular side of this question, as you might imagine. The difficulties with deploying software in schools have caused many person-hours of consideration and consternation around our halls. We certainly understand the impulse to keep kids safe, but it’s not at all clear that the reactions to block and channel access bring safety. They certainly limit opportunity. We’ve begun a move toward Web-based applications, in no small part because of this phenomenon. It’s not clear that this will free us from difficulties in disseminating our work, either, but we feel it will get us closer. In any case, this seems like a root problem if we are to have technology used to its best potential in schools; pitting deep protectionist instincts against educational needs has seemed to run against the best interests of students for quite a while. Are there any solutions out there you have seen? Any ways we as a society can get past this problem? Are the concerns valid enough to warrant the degree of blocking that goes on in many places, or is it all truly just FUD? Let us know by chiming in in the comments.

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