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