I am heavily in favor of not blocking extensions within the Chrome Webstore that support Proxy servers or VPN access. I have made my case for less technological filtering and more use of educators as filters (and digital citizenship supporters) by laying out solutions for Youtube filtering here.
Additionally, I would like to extend this thinking to include proxy extensions as well. Here are the additional reasons for not removing access to these extensions:
- There are currently around 74,300 proxy extensions within the Chrome Webstore. It is incredibly unlikely that these could be removed without removing many other beneficial extensions for the classroom.
- With new proxy extensions being added daily, it is incredibly unlikely that we would be able to actively monitor and police the webstore enough to eliminate every one. This would take a huge amount of time and effort that could much better be applied into supporting teachers and leaders who are worried about access.
- My understanding of CIPA (and many lawsuits that have been made in its name) is such that you only have to insure that the a minimal filter exists, but that you do not have to eliminate all capacity to access an unfiltered network while on school grounds (i.e., banning cell phone networks within schools).
- Even if we go forward with banning these extensions, students will start and continue to use their cellular phones to tether or otherwise access materials that are filtered on our wireless network.
- I have personally seen many legitimate uses of Proxy servers for educational materials that are currently blocked by our filter (including Youtube). This is a minority, but nonetheless widespread practice, that can be used by students to research and utilize tools that our filter currently prohibits. Blocking proxy extensions does not stop this practice, either.
- I have trouble setting policy for an entire district based upon a small number of incidents. Is there data to show that the sites and resources being accessed through proxy servers are being done for non-educational purposes? If not, how many incidents are helping to guide this policy decision?
- There are currently communication channels by which we can alert teachers, leaders, and STR’s to this use (weekly newsletters, the STR boards, etc.) and to monitor the practice prior to making a unilateral decision. Can we pursue one of these options prior to blocking these extensions?
- If there are indeed websites and tools that students would like to have access to at school, we should be learning from that. It is valuable data that we might be able to use to help improve the filter. If our stakeholders are the students and their agency is paramount to their learning, we should be using this use case as a way of understanding their needs and supporting their learning while guiding their practice to be grounded in digital citizenship. Let’s learn from our kids actions rather than trying to change them before we know why they are doing it.
I hope that all makes sense, but please push back however you might see fit.