Is Filtering Content Blocking Student Learning?
Learning now is different. Students are no longer isolated from one another because of location, beliefs, or even language. Social interaction compliments learning and may even be one of the most, if not the most, influential methods in which learners construct meaning (Pitler, Kuhn, Malenoski, 2007).
Many education environments are not comfortable with opening firewalls, turning off filters, or giving students access to the “live” outside world for fear of what might happen. These are hurdles that are not easy to overcome, and rightfully so. Some arguments for using filtering software are: “it reduces liability, helps cut down on phone calls or visits from distressed parents, and decrease the amount of malware that your patrons inadvertently install on your machines”.¹ Those same proponents also argue that filtering software, when used at the school level, allow schools to “demonstrate that it is taking positive action towards protecting students from objectionable material.”¹ Many schools who receive federal monies are required to have a content filter in place. Schools are able to then justify their actions by siting this requirement, and ultimately limiting access to not only objectionable content but also sites that are deemed “unworthy” for student use during school hours. Many times, these decisions are being made by individuals or small groups of individual who may or may not be teachers. It is often unknown why certain sites are being blocked. Frequently, even the teachers suffer from the same level of content filtering as the students. Are teachers not to be trusted?
Many educators oppose content filtering. Many see it as an infringement upon our freedom of speech. Many feel that it impedes their ability to conduct research and bring new and exciting digital tools into their classrooms. Not only does it restrict valuable learning opportunities and tools, but it creates a sense of distrust between the students and the faculty. Students no longer have to make decisions when searching. Students no longer have to be responsible for what appears on their search results. Students do not have to adjust their queries to make sure the results are appropriate. In fact, I would argue that the opposite occurs. Students become more frivolous with their searching, even to the point of wording their searches to yield results that will result in objectionable material. They no longer have to be accountable because the software does that for them.
We are turning a blind eye to this very important opportunity to teach our students a life skill. Use this as an opportunity to teach and model proper use of the technology and the internet. Convince the decision makers that blocking content does not give students the opportunity to experiment in a somewhat controlled “virtual sandbox” where they can begin to develop the needed skills to use these tools in an acceptable manner. Schools have a wider educational responsibility to expose students to a broader range of ideas, experiences and point of views (Callister, 2004).
Students recognize the fact that there is a desire to filter adult content from them, but none the less, this also is causing significant frustration with students attempting to conduct legitimate school activities and research.
I believe that there is strength and knowledge in networks and being connected. Learning is changing. Schools need to be willing to adopt and model responsible use of social tools. Let’s take a page from our own President’s playbook. In early 2007, Obama hired Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to manage his online campaign. Hughes was the Harvard room-mate of Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook. Months before the election, (July 2008) Obama had well over one million friends on Facebook. His closest opponent had less than 200,000 Facebook friends. Networking is powerful.
How can schools justify blocking a tool from students, which essentially was responsible for helping to elect our latest President?
This brings me to my question: Is Filtering Content Blocking Student Learning?
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Callister Jr. T. A., Burbules, Nicholas C. Phi Delta Kappan, Bloominton, (May 2004), Vol 85.
¹Filtering and Education (B) Su08 – WikEd. (n.d.). . Retrieved December 2, 2010, from http://wik.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/Filtering_and_Education_(B)_Su08#Filtering_in_educational_context
Pitler, H., R., E. H., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). “Chapter 7: Cooperative Learning.” Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007. 119 – 138. Print.