Monday, June 30, 2003

Pop-up Ad Blockers and Teaching

I do a lot of workshops and presentations of WWW tools, sites, strategies, resources and so on for teachers these days, and one of the most annoying things to have happen while moving about the Web is for a pop-ad or window to appear unbidden. When I work from my own laptop, pop-ups are never a problem because I have pop-up blocking software. But often, I work from a classroom or campus computer that is not my own, and the pop-ups come.

Most recently I was doing a workshop on teaching writing with computers at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. When we hit a stretch of pop-up's many of the teachers in the room looked on in sympathy and we collectively rolled our eyes in silent and shared consternation at the intrusion.

Pop-up ads in an instructional setting are particularly nettlesome when they aren't the object of instruction. Having an ad for printer cartridges pop-up while navigating to an online article as part of a class discussion or demonstration is the online equivalent of having a face-to-face class discussion interrupted by a sales person who opens the door to the room, sticks his or head in, and shouts, "anyone want to buy some toner?"

So what's a teacher to do? Why get ad blockers of course.

Here are two good places to start.

  1. If you work on a Windows machine and browse primarily in Internet Explorer, then a good tool to consider is the latest Google Tool Bar at In addition to putting Google's very cool search engine in an easy to find place, it also offers an adblocker that works by stopping pop-up windows from opening. If you're on a site that you trust, or a site that uses pop-up windows to offer some of its information, you can turn the ad blocker off with a mouse click from an easily visible icon.

    Google's tool does send back information on which URLs a user types into their location bar, but this feature can be turned off under the toolbar's option menu. Unfortunately, Google's toolbar with ad blocker only works for IE in Windows for now.

  2. PanicWare is a company that offers excellent adblocker software, for both Mac and Windows OS's. PanicWare offers a suite of software for all kinds of security, including pop-up ad blocking, but also cookie management and blocking, and detecting whether any spyware --software that tracks where you go and what you do-- has been installed on your computer from a given site. If you go to, you'll find links to free versions of PanicWare's pop-up ad blocker software for Mac's and Window's machines.

  3. Two browsers come with ad blocking functions built right in. They are Mozilla ( and Opera ( Mozilla is a free open source browser; Netscape is based on the Mozilla code. Opera offers a free version, which you can download and trial and use as long as you want. It comes with a running banner ad at the top of the browser, which can removed by paying $39.00 for the software. I've been running the free version and really like it; pages load faster in Opera than any other browser I've used.

I've tried all of the above, approaches and they do make a difference. Sometimes when I'm browsing for personal use, I turn the ad blocking features off because I'm curious about which sites use ads and when and to what extent. But when going on the WWW with students or instructors, it's important, in my view, to be able to control the learning space I try to create and/or present through the pages and resources we view via the browser. I don't want pop-ups interrupting my class or workshop.

The ad blocking software isn't a one stop solution, and if you're not careful and don't remember that an ad blocker is turned on, a site can be confusing sometimes. Very often, WWW site authors use pop-up windows to offer side bars, annotations, and other bits of information integral to the main text or functions of a given site. For example, if you clink a link to get a reading or PDF file, and nothing happens, turn the ad blocker off to see if it is preventing the selected content from appearing.

But with that one caveat in mind, and a little visiting of sites before the class or workshop you'll be teaching, you can figure out if after getting to the site you will need to turn the ad blocker software off that particularly site.

Also, if you use ad blocker software and point it out to people in your workshop or class, don't be surprised if they stop to ask you were you found these tools.