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What’s the purpose of blocking Internet content in schools?

April 22, 2010

The Google Map below is a collection of data points coded green, yellow and red depending on whether Internet content is wide open, filtered, or completely blocked in a school or school district. The map was created at the request of noted 21st century technology and educational writer, speaker and blogger Will Richardson. Richardson is author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other powerful web tools for the classroom.

Have a look at the map. Are there patterns in the choices that Districts and schools have made about Internet services and how they are delivered, or in some cases, NOT delivered them to their staff and students? What’s the policy where you work? There is a growing body of research that suggests this may not be the way to go. Read on below.

A recent report for OFSTED, the UK government’s educational standards office, claims that students in schools that have their Internet locked down are far less able to manage their own safety due to lack of experience in making appropriate decisions. The report, The Safe Use of New Technologies, pointed out that that exemplary schools that had managed, open access to the Internet also had a plan for developing critical literacy and e-safety that were collaboratively developed by the school, administration and the community.

Other writers and bloggers have taken up the issue as well. In Computerworld’s online edition, the point that filtering has now become “soft censorship” is well made. Instead of teaching students what to do when objectionable or questionable material is encountered, it’s easier to just block it out. What invariably happens is that useful material is blocked too, in what amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Recently, a well respected Canadian history magazine had to change its name. It seems as though its title, created almost a hundred years ago by the Hudson’s Bay Company, who published the history review at the time, was increasingly being blocked by school and library internet filters, as well as email spam filters. Teachers were often unable to receive materials from the magazine via email. A change of name was inevitable. By the way, Canada’s History magazine is a wonderful resource for any school library.

More incidences of how Internet filtering has blocked useful material from being accessed are being published around the blogopshere. Doug Johnson, a Minnesota school district Director of Media and Technology who also writes the Blue Skunk Blog, recently conducted a Twitter poll that turned up hundreds of examples of how Internet blocking unintentionally censored good information. The list goes from the silly, to the unimaginable.

So what are teachers to do? Maybe we need to be more proactive about who sets the criteria for blocking in our District, and about requesting copies of the criteria that are used to set the filtering, as well as the process by which it is conducted. Johnson discusses a number of very proactive steps we can take when the powers that be make teaching and learning in the 21st century a difficult challenge.

I suggest we take this bull by the horns. The best way to teach a person how not to drown is to give them swimming lessons. Maybe this is the approach that needs to be taken in the huge ocean of information we call the Internet.

For more reading:
Internet filtering as a form of soft censorship

Filtering for in and of on Education- presentation

A Simple Fix for Internet Censorship in School

How Internet Censorship Harms Schools

Censorship by Omission

May 6, 2010- Update

A great Blog on the ISTE site addresses the Internet Filtering issue in great depth. There are a considerable number of links to research, commentary and opinion about the topic. Read on! Let’s tackle this issue where we are and make the powers that be more familiar with the challenges, benefits, and outcomes of more open Internet resources in schools.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    April 22, 2010 5:44 pm

    It must be the theme of the day because I had a discussion with other teachers today regarding content blocking. Today, the district deciding to block Although I understand how there are many inappropriate videos on YouTube, there are a lot of educational ones as well. I was suppose to show a video about the Preamble of the Constitution but was unable to today. I felt dejected thinking that something like this would be blocked. There definitely needs to be something done about content blocking. Many of the websites that we discuss in this class have come to be blocked once I try them at work. There are so many resources out there that we just aren’t able to use. It is sad and hopefully something will be done in the future. Like you said, we have to teach them to swim!


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