Accessing Learning Resources

In the early days of the internet, there was virtually no restrictions or blocks on any sites.  Of course there were password protected resources and access to normally restricted systems was still limited.   Yet there was certainly no wide scale restrictions based on location or origin of the connections.

Indeed the profiling of internet users has come relatively recently for most of us.  People generally expect to have access to any site in exactly the same way as all other users, however this is definitely not the case.  The most widespread filtering is currently based on your physical location.  This is surprising for a distributed digital platform like the internet but it’s becoming more and more common.

What happens is your IP address will be logged when first accessing the resource, then the location of that address will be checked.  This is relatively easy to do and the vast majority of sites have this capability.  Even those with no interest in filters will use things like Google Analytics in order to see where their visitors are coming from.  Obviously this is useful to  most sites in order to prepare suitable content. enable translations or just to see where potential customers are coming from.  So a plumber based in South London, UK would be rather unhappy to find out that the majority of his web traffic was coming from Mexico for instance.

Yet this is not our issue, the problem comes when website actively restrict access based on location.   It could be for a variety of reasons, yet normally this comes down to profit maximisation.  However many educational sites which previously allowed access to anyone online have started to filter traffic too.  In some cases this is fairly understandable. visitors mean bandwidth which means costs in both hardware and network capabilities.  Most organisations don’t have the resources to provide high availability servers and sites to vast numbers of concurrent connections so they naturally restrict access to specific groups.

For educational resources this doesn’t seem right, and of course can be extremely frustrating for individuals.  The information on academic networks is of course often very unique, and very specialised.   So if you find yourself based on your location rather than skills or background that’s a very non-academic route to take.  Blanket bans of countries will often have this effect, as people trying to access online resources from Nigeria no doubt have often experienced.

There is a way though to bypass these blocks by following the methods used by people who require a level of anonymity online.  Internet marketers for example who by and sell sporting goods online are particularly good at this.  Using specialised servers called sneaker proxies and banks of IP addresses they can buy and sell from e-commerce sites irrespective of their location.  You can read about these sneaker entrepreneurs in this post, and learn about their methods.

These are large scale operations though and if you just want to download a scholarly article or PDF from somewhere then it’s a little bit overkill.  You don’t need a bank of IP addresses with low ping rates in major cities, usually it’s just the ability to route through an address in a specific country.   Obviously if you want to access secure systems then you’ll need permission and/or an account to be able to access it.

What many people do is to use a VPN (virtual private network) to take control of their IP address.    This creates an encrypted tunnel to a third party server before requesting whichever resource you require.  The useful fact is that your actual IP address is hidden and the web server only sees the address of the VPN server.  This means that as well as providing security it also offers a way to hide your location.  Now there are lots of different types of these VPNs which provide for different functions, there are even residential VPN programs like this which can be used for accessing certain home user sites too.

For most people though any simple VPN is a  worthwhile investment as it protects your connection and allows you to pick a country for your IP address.  This is as far as the majority of blocks goes and for instance switching to a UK or US VPN will give you access to many English speaking resources online.