Internet Filters, Bad – Zoning, Ok

Unfortunately, the course I am currently taking does not provide many opportunities for this kind of generative thinking. In truth, this is probably not as “research based” as my professor would like, but I am happy with this post. :)

Assume we all are in agreement that students must have Internet access in our schools. If you were the Technology Coordinator in a school, what policies would you enforce to ensure students have access to appropriate educational sites only. Cite appropriate research but for this exercise feel free to draw on any personal experience and report what worked, what didn’t.

I am going to take a controversial approach in my response to this prompt. I think that there should be no filtration of the internet in schools… especially in schools. If someone decides they want to filter the internet for themselves or their children in their own home, that is their own business (and by extension, if they want their student to have restricted access in school, I suppose we ought to help facilitate this, though I think precedence can be provided to argue that we shouldn’t), but schools are the last places that should be trying to limit the information available to a person.

Instead, I would focus on preventative measures, primarily education. “The students should complete [an] introductory class before they are given access,” suggests the Internet Guidelines Form of the Poynet School District. Though I don’t think the authors meant for this to replace filters, I think this is a great place to start. If students are educated about the need to show discretion and be careful when dealing with people online in the same way they are educated not to take candy from strangers, they would be better prepared to make good decisions online.

Also, exposure to the sorts of decisions they will be confronted with (such as when a pop-up with an advertisement or inappropriate content appears) and the ways in which they can chose to deal with it will better prepare them for those inevitable moments when they will be confronted with such things. After all, they will not be protected by school filters after they graduate… or after 3 o’clock for that matter.

I feel it is far more important, part of information literacy in fact, to educate students to make the choices that are right for them when given the freedom to do so. The amount of information online continues to grow, and access to it becomes more and more ubiquitous. These skills will become increasing important life skills, and students are done a disservice when they are not prepared to use the full power (and temptation) of the internet without filtering.

Now, that being said, a sort of compromise occurred to me while researching for this post. Bayer (2002) explains a concept of zoning which is not present online, but which helps people to avoid things they wish to avoid in physical space.

“In the real world aspects of our life are separated either in time or in space: … you may watch erotic films at home between 11 pm and 5 am, and unless you subscribe specifically to such a channel, you do not see sex and violence on TV in the afternoon. In shops there are signs what are not sold for minors, where they may not enter, and where you are not supposed to enter if you do not want to encounter shocking experience of seeing sexually explicit products. Before television programs you are warned if you are supposed to see something which may disturb you.” (Bayer, 2002)

Perhaps software that serves the same purpose might make an effective and flexible school filter. Imagine a normal school filter such as websense which scans for inappropriate content in web sites and which consults a list of sites deemed inappropriate by the administrator… but instead of blocking them outright, it first displays a page suggesting why the site is inappropriate. The student would then have the opportunity to hit the back button (or otherwise navigate away from the page) before embarrassing themselves or their teacher.

More importantly, if a page containing legitimate educational content were accidentally blocked, then students would have the option of proceeding anyway.

This warning page could even include a legal disclaimer and/or instructions to the student to check with a teacher before proceeding. Such a scenario would help facilitate teachable moments as opposed to punishments, and would serve as scaffolding to alert students that they have a decision to make before proceeding.

Perhaps as important, students would be able to make bad decisions… meaning that they could learn from the consequences, and that their good decisions would be meaningful rather than simply the only path possible.

Call me a radical, but I am interested in your perspectives on these ideas.

-Mark

References

Bayer, J. The lefal regulation of illegal and harmful content on the internet New York: Internet Policy Fellowships. Available: http://www.policy.hu/bayer/ResearchPaper1.rtf

Internet Guidelines From Poynette, WI: Poynet School District. Available http://www.poynette.k12.wi.us/psd/internet_guidelines_form.htm

2 Responses to “Internet Filters, Bad – Zoning, Ok”

  1. Robert Says:

    While researching Internet filtering in education I found your blog (very well done BTW) and your posting from Aril 2005, pasted in part below.

    “Imagine a normal school filter which scans for inappropriate content in web sites and which consults a list of sites deemed inappropriate by the administrator… but instead of blocking them outright, it first displays a page suggesting why the site is inappropriate. The student would then have the opportunity to hit the back button (or otherwise navigate away from the page) before embarrassing themselves or their teacher.

    More importantly, if a page containing legitimate educational content were accidentally blocked, then students would have the option of proceeding anyway.

    This warning page could even include a legal disclaimer and/or instructions to the student to check with a teacher before proceeding. Such a scenario would help facilitate teachable moments as opposed to punishments, and would serve as scaffolding to alert students that they have a decision to make before proceeding.

    Perhaps as important, students would be able to make bad decisions… meaning that they could learn from the consequences, and that their good decisions would be meaningful rather than simply the only path possible.”

    I tend to agree with your assertion that filtering could be used as part of the instructional process, to prepare children for the real life choices they’ll face after completing school. I believe certain categories of content have no place in a K-12 educational setting (sexually explicit sites, racist/hate sites, etc.) so I don’t agree your position entirely.
    As the father of 3 school age children, I prefer such content be completely blocked at school. Lessons regarding such material are the responsibility of the parents (albeit a duty often neglected by some parents as I’m sure you’ve discovered).

    I assume teachers would also have unrestricted access to the Internet according to the policy you proposed. In light of the number of documented cases of pedofile teachers, I doubt very many PTAs or school boards would support so radical a liberalization of a school’s AUP.

    Interestingly the technology (if not the inclination) is available to facilitate the type of policy you advocate. 8e6 Technologies (based near you in Orange CA) provides appliance-based filters with the granluar administrative control necessary to implement your suggestions.

    Many school districts across the country use 8e6 appliances (including my county school district) for filtering and reporting on student and staff use of the Internet. I suspect that you’re familiar with the company, if not I suggest you take a look.

    Best regards,

    Robert

  2. Mark Wagner Says:

    Robert,

    I’m catching up flagged email and comments today… and I wanted to say thank you for your in depth comment, and for your positive feedback, too.

    I checked out 8e6. It is something that I may need to investigate in more depth, but I am aware now if an opportunity to connect a site or district with them comes up. I also FURLed their “about us” page for other readers. (My FURL archive is at http://www.furl.net/members/markwagner if you’re interested.)

    -Mark