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?

Please use the link below to add your thoughts to the VoiceThread. Your insight and opinions are valued and appreciated.

http://voicethread.com/share/1554321/

Sources:

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.

Advertisements

~ by Dean Phillips on December 2, 2010.

8 Responses to “Is Filtering Content Blocking Student Learning?”

  1. I’m sure you recall the student that searched on “poller” instead of “polar” and the results that came from that. I know that I recall the incident where a student wanted to go to the game site coffeebreakarcade and ended up on coffeebrakearcade instead – after 100’s of porno popups, the student panicked and left the PC – the screen saver kicked in and a teacher’s 7 year old got quite the eye full when she moved the mouse after school.

    So, I guess a question might be, is a child permanently harmed when accidentally viewing pornography? Is it the schools duty and responsibility to monitor and prevent the student from accessing “harmful” material – I;;l let you and the courts decide what is harmful and at what age.

    A simple search on google for the word “dogs” leads one to this:http://www.gobollywood.com/wallpapers/actress/koena-mitra/0003.jpg.html How many 2nd grade parents would approve of their child viewing this?

    The “nanny” software that the local schools use has the ability to be suspended to allow viewing of anything and it can also be set to allow any website to always be available. It does tend to err on the side of caution – is that a bad thing?

    One of my early experiences with it was at a clients home – he was trying to access a yahoo chat room and the nanny program would not let him. Why? The disclaimer had the words “you must be 18” even though there was nothing “adult” happening in the chat room.

    So, to answer your question, no, I do not think that filtering software is blocking student learning – they can always get a local over ride of it if needed and they can always access whatever they want from home.

    Should the whole classroom in an elementary school be exposed to full frontal nudity because a student cannot spell correctly on a search? No.

  2. Hi Mike…I appreciate your discussion. No doubt, at some level, I too think that mature content should be kept from younger children. Completely open searching raises questions and definitely provides opportunities for unwanted content, however, does this occurrence provide for a unique opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability, or should we just ban and punish? I know it is probably not that cut and dry, and even with filtering software, “mistakes” happen.
    How about the older students? Should their content also be required to be filtered by governmental regulations? Is this a way in which government is beginning to filter content that is viewed by the public? After all, the filtering is required if federal e-rate monies are received. What about public libraries where people of all ages congregate? Should content on their computers also be filtered because of the “what if”?

  3. does this occurrence provide for a unique opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability, or should we just ban and punish?

    Teaching personal responsibility is always a top priority. I fail to see how punishing for an “accident” is effective. Let it be a learning experience.

    How about the older students? Should their content also be required to be filtered by governmental regulations?

    The newer “nanny” software does have the ability to filter based on login ID. So you could have one level for Sabrina and one level for Sydney. But I think your issue is, should the government have any say on this issue or should it be local control. I’d vote for local control. When you have a single login for all students, it is difficult to filter based on age.

    I really hope I a not messing up this blockquote thing 🙂 Seems to work differently on a lot of sites.

    After all, the filtering is required if federal e-rate monies are received. What about public libraries where people of all ages congregate? Should content on their computers also be filtered because of the “what if”?

    So here we have the government “carrot” dangling out there. You either comply with our wishes or lose funds. No, filtering SW on public library computers should not restrict adults – but should restrict children. One possible solution – have different PCs designated by age group. Or different logins for children and adults.

    It is a tough subject and pleasing everyone on the issue of censorship will never happen.

  4. I think your blog post and voice thread really do bring up an interesting point that surprisingly my staff was discussing just this past week. So much of what we do in school is unaccessable for both teachers as well as students. There is no question that adult content and some social networking should be blocked, but a lot of useful information is blocked that could enrich student learning. I was personally upset when my own blog that was once viewable to my students at school is now blocked, preventing any use in school in our computer lab for my kids to work on. It is an issue that has become very frustrating.

  5. Is technology the way to teach? Are the kids overloaded with information that they rapidly forget because they know they can find it again if needed? Is that forgotten knowledge a forgotten part of their overall life and philosophy? Are we “dumbing down America” as some say and not teaching our kids to actually think?

    The US seems to be spending more and more on education (and technology in the classroom) and the kids are scoring worse.

    It didn’t seem to be a problem in the 50’s/60’s with class sizes in the 30’s with no aides. Discipline was easily handled with a ruler or a paddle or maybe even a suspension. And students scored much better than they do now.

    Has our education system actually improved since then – the proof being in students scoring higher and being more prepared to enter Society. Personally, I have my doubts.

    Understand, I am not placing blame on the teachers. A major part of the blame lies with the parents and with the government.

  6. Education should be about preparing students to be successful in today’s society. Technology will play a major role in their future lives. I am not sure how important memorizing dates and names will be to them when all they have to do is do a quick google search via the computer or their phone.

    As far as kids scoring worse…that is a comparison…scoring worse according to whom? Education, ie. society and government, has had the bar raised and students in this day and age are required to know more than ever before. However, the time students spend in schools and the funding that schools receive has remained constant. (constant in comparison to the cost of living increases) So with that being said, we are expecting a tremendous amount more in regards to knowledge and the age at which this knowledge is expected to be mastered than our counter parts in the 50’s/60’s. I guarantee the third grade curriculum today is much different than it was then, as with all grade levels. We are asking students( and parents) to do more at a quicker pace all while keeping the same model and strategies that we have had for decades…in my opinion, that is where the problem lies.

    As we all know, testing is a buzz word in education today. We constantly test our students to see the amount of knowledge a student possesses. The very nature of testing and its accuracy is debatable. There are just too many factors that are not controllable for test results to be valid. And then there is the comparison…to whom are we being compared? We have a public education system that teaches all…in all languages, addressing all customs, and accepting and adjusting to all needs…these students are also tested and their scores are added to the mix. If we compare that to almost any other country who seems to score higher, we don’t look so good. Who are they testing? They are not testing 100% of their student population, as many of those are not able to attend schools for many reasons. If we would compare our top 30% with the rest of the world, American public education wouldn’t look so badly. I say 30% because I am guessing that other countries only educate the top students, the rest are left behind or put to work…

    Test results are not an accurate measure of knowledge. If we compare results, we need to compare apples to apples…not apples to oranges.

    Technology by no means is the end all be all. However, if we are not using and teaching technology in our classrooms, we are doing our students a disservice as this will be a large part of their future. When was the last time you went to the library to find a resource? In comparison, when was the last time you used technology to find an answer?

  7. I am not sure how important memorizing dates and names will be to them when all they have to do is do a quick google search via the computer or their phone.

    My point precisely. They don’t need to know anything – they just need to know how to find a specific answer. Anyone can google and learn that the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. But, do they understand what the Magna Carta was/is and how it applies to and affects today’s society?

    However, the time students spend in schools and the funding that schools receive has remained constant. (constant in comparison to the cost of living increases)

    Per student costs rising from $3700 per year to $10000 per year in 10 years is far above the cost of living increase. And yet, the number of computers in that school has gone from about 1 per 10 students to about 1 per student.

    We constantly test our students to see the amount of knowledge a student possesses./blockquote>

    Why test at all to see what is retained when all they have to do is know how to google something? Why not let them use google during a test?

    When was the last time you went to the library to find a resource? In comparison, when was the last time you used technology to find an answer?

    I had the “technology” of a set of encyclopedias at home. I never went to the Library to study or look something up. Google and a PC would have saved me an incredible amount of time with the ability to cut ‘n’ paste and modify to make it appear to be my own words.

    As for testing and comparisons, I thought there were standardized tests that the more civilized nations used. You likely have better data as to just who gets tested than I from each country. Just seems we have gone from 1st to about 30th+ in the last 50 years. Perhaps we need more government direction as to how to teach our kids to make them more productive and able to fit into society.

    • Once again, Mike, I think we are discussing much of the same point of view, just from different positions.

      I had the “technology” of a set of encyclopedias at home. I never went to the Library
      to study or look something up. Google and a PC would have saved me an incredible
      amount of time with the ability to cut ‘n’ paste and modify to make it appear to be
      my own words.

      I , too, grew up with the old technology. But I did the same then…modified the wording in print to make it sound like my words. Not a new skill, just maybe easier with the cut and paste function.

      Many countries that test better than us concentrate on the core subjects. No art, music, industrial ed, physical education classes to be found.

      Our multiple choice, fill in the blank testing that we use today does not measure ones knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge. It simply measures how much one can remember. However, almost all major decisions are based on those test results. How about a real life, relevant test for our students? Make them go into society or “real life” and produce something, complete a task, lead a group, etc… That would be more of a test of ones ability to function in our society.

      As for funding…schools do the best they can with what they have. With that being said, there is a lot of waste, just as you and I discussed the other day. When grants are received, large percentages of the monies are given to external people at all levels, skimming off the top before the money gets into schools hands…essentially having no effect on student learning…that needs to change. How, I don’t know, but 20% of grant monies seems to be going to places that are not directly related to the schools.

      So here it goes…I was holding off for another post in the future, but here is a quick rundown…Schools need to:
      1. Adopt a dual track similar to what Europe is doing. Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone who goes to college will finish. Let some students prepare for futures that do not include a college education.
      2. Stop promoting students based on age. Not everyone learns at the same rate. Let some go slow, let some go fast.
      3. Teach in English…I will probably catch some slack over this one, but English is the language of this country. If you are here taking part in free public education, than you should be able to learn in English.
      4. Quit teaching to the test. Teach what is relevant and important. Make learning engaging. Demand parents do their part.
      5. Compensate teachers. How do you increase competition for the teaching jobs? Offer better pay. More people to select from would give you a better overall pool to select teachers from.
      6. Revamp unions…Unions should not affect student learning.
      7. Change the structure of schools where teachers become the entity responsible for students, not administration. Administration therefore, would work for the teachers, not the teachers working for administration. Lots to think about here, but this thought is still in its infantile stages.
      8. Hold parents accountable. (until a certain age of the student) Parents should be able to make sure their child attends school. If not, the parent should be the one serving the sentence, not the child.

      I am probably leaving lots out, but those are my thoughts.

      Bottom line… I don’t think we can reform education. We need to start over and try something different. Sure not everything will work…we will fail before we succeed…but we need to try.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: