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To Filter or Not To Filter...

One month into our school year, and this year's 1:1 expansion brings us up to 65% of the students, and 100% of our faculty, having iPads. Lines are being drawn in the sand, but not along the issue that you might expect. We have several teachers that are using social media to open up a world of relevancy and authenticity to their students through the iPads and their web connections. We have many teachers that trying to find their way, balancing pedagogy change with the demands of standardization and evaluation. There are several other teachers that would like to lock down the student iPads, along with restricted access to social media, because of the distractions they create around our high school.

To filter, or not to filter, this is the topic currently open for debate.

Before giving my perspective on this, I am asking for your thoughts on this topic. 
How restrictive should web content filters be in schools? 
Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

As you would suspect from my introductory paragraph, I am not in favor of placing restrictions on student 1:1 devices other that what is required by the Federal Communications Commission, and the Children's Internet Protection Act. To summarize this piece of regulation, participating schools must block Internet access to pictures that are (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, and (c) harmful to minors. In addition, participating schools must monitor the online activity of minors, and provide for the educating of minors about appropriate online behavior. "Schools and libraries must certify they are in compliance with CIPA before they can receive E-rate funding."

Here are my four main points for not restricting Internet access on student devices.
  1. Based upon the language of CIPA, restricting, rather than educating, may actually hamper a school's ability to achieve compliance. Just as with adults, there will be some students that act irresponsibly in an "open" learning environment. I consider those to be teachable moments. The majority that make up a group of responsible learners should not be penalized because of the indiscretions of the few. It is up to all of us to model and discuss what is appropriate, and responsible, use of digital resources. Accommodations, or restrictions can, and should, be set for those individuals that cannot handle the responsibility associated with an unrestricted learning environment. If unchecked, they will interfere with the learning of other students.
  2. The basis of learning and education is rapidly shifting towards interactions with web-connected networks. Learning that is restricted to the cinder block walls of a classroom is being described as artificial by several Fortune 500 companies, including Google. Social media provides a relevancy, immediacy, and authenticity that cannot be provided through classroom lectures and outdated texts. Individually responsible learning has its foundation in being able to find, assess, and share meaningful information. Schools that care about lifelong learning, and organizational mindset, must provide an environment where students can practice and enhance their online research and communication skills.
  3. Some schools, like ours, currently employ web filtering criteria that number in the hundreds. This creates bottlenecks in efficiency that impact web access in our classrooms. We ask our teachers to transform student learning, while at the same time, place limitations on the tools that can best make this happen. Streaming video is just one example of an online resource that is impacted by restrictive web filters. Most of today's students carry cell phones with unrestricted access to the web through their provider's 3G/4G network. To think that we are going "block" students from accessing social media or recreational games is fodder for political cartoons.
  4. Students that are engaged in meaningful learning activities are less likely to drift off-task. Technology is an easy target when it comes to ignoring ineffective teaching practices. Teachers should discuss and compare classroom management strategies, along with best practices that promote meaningful learning experiences, and positive behavior, in a web connected environment. In short, off-task behavior is a classroom management issue, not a technology issue.
Yes, there is certainly more that we can be doing to educate our teachers, our students, and our communities about appropriate and responsible online behavior. I want for my children what most parents want for their children attending school, a safe place where children can develop a learner's mindset, while acquiring the skills and dispositions that will provide meaningful economic opportunities in their future. The Internet, along with web-based networks, will be play an essential, and ever-growing role in our daily lives. It is short-sighted to ignore, or not support, this fact in our schools.

Related Reading

When School Web Filtering Comes Home - Mindshift, Audrey Watters


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