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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Stop Blocking Online Content

Severely limiting Internet access does high school students a disservice.
By Jon-Michael Poff
Credit: Wesley Bedrosian

The blocking problem started back in August 2007. Each time desktop-publishing students tried to access images, they were blocked. When my English teacher, Lisa Huff (profiled in this Edutopia.org article), needed to get to information from Flickr and the document-sharing site Scribd, she was blocked. My classmate Megan Holifield wanted to watch a news clip on YouTube for inspiration in producing her own broadcast, and she was blocked.

Instead of embracing technology as twenty-first-century schools should, the Batesville, Arkansas, schools -- along with many others -- have been turning on the firewalls, preventing students from realizing the full opportunity the Internet offers.

Students and teachers need online tools to create projects, dispense information, and deepen their understanding of the subject matter. After more than a year of imposing a strict blockade, it's high time for the Batesville schools to bulldoze the firewalls and let the light of the Internet shine on students and teachers.

Last fall, a classmate at Batesville High School told me he spent forty minutes trying to access his school-assigned blog, one our English teacher graded regularly. Another classmate said she couldn't get to the images she needed for her desktop-publishing class; she had to download them at home. (Luckily for her, her family owns a computer.)

Not only is this blockade frustrating, it's also hindering our prospects as college- and work-ready students. In a multimedia world, it is essential that students leave high school with a deep knowledge of digital tools. Blogs are not only a cool way to publish your opinions, they are also the future of social and business networking. RSS reader sites like Google Reader enable users to sort and consume massive amounts of information efficiently. The use of photo sites is vital to creating multimedia projects.

District administrators and technicians have been aware of the problem since we voiced our concerns back in September 2007. Last year, I confronted a technician who was remotely accessing my computer about the growing problem of blocked Web sites. He told me that was just too bad -- some things we can't change.

Well, some things we can change. Some things we must change. As of this fall, it seems our district is beginning to grasp the need to equip students with up-to-date technology skills -- our blogs, Flickr, and TeacherTube are now unblocked. But there's still a long way to go.

To be fair, it's not just administrators and technicians who control the Internet at our school. The federal Children's Internet Protection Act states that schools and libraries may not receive the E-rate discount on communications technology unless they have technology protections and an Internet-safety policy. Such policies, according to CIPA, must include measures "to block or filter Internet access to pictures that: (a) are obscene, (b) are child pornography, or (c) are harmful to minors." My blog includes (d) none of the above. Neither does the information Mrs. Huff needed to access, nor does Megan's video.

Of course, the Internet does include some inappropriate material that school technicians need to block. However, blocking educational sites along with the nasty ones is not the solution. Clearly, we need a better, more efficient filter -- one that allows for unhindered educational use while also preventing twelve-year-olds from viewing pornography.

Beyond filters, there lies a fundamental issue of trust. Where is the district's trust in well-meaning, hardworking students when their Internet access is limited to the school home page and CNN?

Think back to when your parents first let you start driving. In the back of their minds was the knowledge that you might ding a door, hit a pole, or even smash into another car. However, they eventually realized they couldn't hold your hand forever; they had to let you drive by yourself. In the same way, districts must loosen the reins and let students "drive" by themselves. And, just as parents teach their teens how to make a left turn on a busy street, schools must mentor students so that they learn to navigate the information superhighway for themselves.

How much longer will schools compromise students' education? To those who have the responsibility to make a change, hear our cry: Tear down that wall.

Credit: Wesley Bedrosian
Jon-Michael Poff is a senior at Batesville High School, in Batesville, Arkansas.

Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ted Nellen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I concur Jon_Michael, filters are bad. You may get a kick out of an article I wrote ten years ago about filtering, the scourge of education: Filtering is Bad for Education written for Technology & Learning.
http://tnellen.com/ted/filter.html I'd love to see a publication like Edutopia do a comprehensive report on filtering in our schools. Who controls and determines what is filtered? That is a well kept secret.

What is ironic is that students use proxies to bypass school filters to access whatever they want. Teachers are restricted in their classes from accessing good educational stuff, while students access the inappropriate stuff the filter is supposed to block.

Once again adults think they know better and may be acting in good faith, but are not successful and continue to do the wrong thing. Much has to be reviewed about the filters and how the technology is not being used effectively in schools. In addition consider that these filters do not exist at home with the result that students are not learning to use the technology correctly or safely because we are hamstrung in our schools.


Melissa Rollosson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I run into this problem on an almost daiy basis. I work with teachers to incorporate technology into their classrooms - from laptops and LCDs to SchoolPads and TurningPoint, document cameras and more. I also create resource web pages for our teachers and am often stymied by blocks - try searching for information on "oral presentations." The word oral is automatically blocked, along with teen, mp3, lyric, and plenty more.
I understand the position administrators are in faced with CIPA, but I also know the frustration of the filters. I should not have to do my work at home. I can't get my home email at work, why should I have to view and download resources at home?
As you said, at some point we need to trust students. Yeah, some of them are going to mess up - let them suffer the consequences. Why should everyone else suffer? I am also a firm believer that teachers need to be aware of what their students are doing on the computers in their rooms and in the labs. Students should be on the computers with a purpose, not simply free time.
The state of Virginia requires all teachers to teach at least one Internet safety lesson each year. How can we teach students how to safely use MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, etc. if they are blocked? You can only go so far with screen shots (made at home).
You can't teach responsibility if you don't allow students some trust.

melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

CIPA is meant to prevent children for accessing potentially harmful material. However, many schools operate on limited internet bandwidth, necessary for daily operations, and block sites such as Youtube, or other games/entertainment sites because students waste so much bandwidth that the school needs. As a computer instructor, I hate the fact that my students cannot access some sites they need to do their work, and am constantly in touch requesting that sites be unblocked. Sometimes successful, sometimes not. To be fair to the schools, students who do have access are not using the schools' resources as they were meant to be used. I've had to stop illegal downloading of music and videos, students messaging each other with test information, or watching videos and playing games when they should be working on school projects. Classroom management alone does not handle these problems. I would hope that most schools adopt the attitude that if the teacher requests it to be unblocked, they then unblock it. It would be an ideal world if students had 100% access to everything they needed, but unfortunately that also gives them 100% access to what they don't need. And with the rising costs of simply running a school, and the school's increased need for bandwidth for just to manage, or operate PSEO classes, or run Internet software for certain classes, I for one just selfish enough to say - block it unless I need it, as I do not want my students to suffer lack of bandwidth when they need to access their online curriculum, so that other students can play their games.

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