Fitering holds learning back


School staff rooms, educational blogs and kitchen tables are filled with heated debates on the conflict between blocking educational information on the Internet through filtering systems and the freedom of educators to have open access in order to provide a quality learning experience. The news and blogs have even picked up on the topic as a battleground for freedom of speech. Ironically, this is nothing new. Anyone who has ever taught a class or raised a child has filtered information while training them and has taught the child how to make the best choices for their lives. Filtering is a national, cultural, religious and parental necessity that will always be a part of human life.

 

Perhaps the debate has lost track of the real issue that our children who live in a digital world expect from us. Perhaps we should listen to the child’s question, “How come it is so hard to find the right information to complete this assignment?”

The debate may not be about censorship or blocking. The debate may be that we are failing to present a quality Internet-based experience in a single search. Teachers and librarians demand an easy way to build an Internet lesson and to guide a child to quality educational web sites. Perhaps we should give it to them.

Problems of Traditional Filtering

Traditional filtering evolved out of corporate IT security and was strategically designed to block unwanted content out. Unfortunately education is a process of finding, discovering and learning. Traditional filtering did block porn but was not designed to improve the acquisition of quality content. Unfortunately, with traditional filtering we threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Facing traditional filtering issues is critical to migrating into Web 2.0. The development of a security based blocking tool rather than a search based educational tool yielded the following issues.

n        Filtering never addressed search. Filtering blocks. Search finds. The goal of the student is to quickly find what is age appropriate and relevant to the lesson in a few clicks.

n        The commercial filtering systems are way to restrictive for schools. Schools all have various personnel skill sets and authorities. Schools need the flexibility to give authority to a teacher to access a site without IT’s intervention.

n        It created operational frustrations of the departments. A rule of thumb is the 80% of the cost of any system is in operations. Traditional filtering, in many cases, ignored interdepartmental processes and replaced them with corporate style LAN security system. These barriers resulted in many educators giving up on Internet education.

n        Filters blocked the education process. Traditional filters worked on an on-off process. The results were either blocking access to YouTube altogether or wide open yielding chaos in the class and increased risk.

n        Still gave us class chaos. Even a safe search open browser allows the class to search endlessly while the teacher tries to teach.

n        Blocks social education. Web 2.0 offers the most current Internet information that most students use anyway. Teachers need the power to selectively teach off certain blog or wiki sites.

n        Made many teachers drop or avoid the use of Internet tools. The combination of technical and method difficulties made the class experience way too frustrating.

 

Internet’s Paradox, The good, the bad and the irrelevant

An elementary school-aged child searches for “doggy,” and the results bring up puppies and porn. Basic school government compliance requires that we filter out the porn but not the nonsense or substandard quality. 

Good, bad and really ugly content

Filtering has nothing to do with the quality of the content. Search responses can be commercial, deceptive, educational, hateful, blogs, YouTube or even virus-filled malware. Sometimes teachers teaching subjects like history, social studies and health need to expose high school students to hate and violence found in war or even gang related topics. Filters will block such learning processes.

Web 2.0 social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube are extensively used by educators for exceptional content but may also provide easily accessible distractions, detracting from the value of the lesson. They are filled with mountains of dreadful, non-compliant, and useless content.

Teachers are frustrated by the extreme nature of most filters. Do we ban all social networking sites or just a few? How do we allow the great YouTube material in, while we leave the not-so-great out?

One argument is that it should be wide open, and parents should monitor what kids see.  Unfortunately, this is often unrealistic, because parents may not have the time nor do librarians have the resources for individual instructional time after school hours. How many parents even know that Google has a Safe Search feature? Probably less than the number of students who know how to turn safe search off!

 

Note: There is a trend occurring today where single parents in cities are having their teens go to the local public library after school, because they are safer there than on the streets. The parents will pick them up there after they get off of work. The kids flock to the Internet for entertainment. So is a teen safe listening to music that says, “I want your baby”? Libraries have become baby sitters, which is a problem that can be changed into an opportunity to learn great material.

Do searches focus or distract?

When a child does a search on Yahoo or Google, they are hit with ads (that are not always age appropriate) and responses that are paid word searches. No place has more distractions than the Internet. When the browser is turned on, entertainment and instant messages (IMs) from friends kick in. Before you know it, hours go by before homework is even touched. Students need a distraction-free, personal Internet library portal that serves up all they need to get their homework done.

Internet can both help and destroy

Information is powerful. It can build and heal, but it can also destroy. Teasing in social networking has led to suicides and inflamed racial prejudice as well as extreme violence. Schools work hard to keep these elements out of their physical environments, so we need to work equally as hard to keep them out of Internet environments. For years, we have trusted the ethics of teachers to filter out these destructive elements of society. We also expect them to educate the child on how to spot what is wrong and reject it. For this reason, educators continually request the ability to focus the child’s attention on the Internet the same way they do in the classroom. This requires a system that gives that authority to the teacher to direct a child’s attention.

   

 Filtering Vs Directive Searching

Administration

Administration wants filtering systems for a long list of reasons: federal requirements, fines, lawsuits on rogue employees, auditing, safe schools for budget approval and more. Yet at the same time, they are under pressure by the faculty to use YouTube and other sites that filters block. Depending on the filtering system, a change may require a call to IT to allow that site for a lesson or to tell the teacher they simply can’t access the site. Ironically, advanced teachers will simply print out the page from home or download a video clip to their laptop. Administrators request ways to distribute authority of these exceptions to different department heads. Perhaps an instructional designer, librarian or senior member of the faculty can sign off on the request that allows a unique web page to be shown. The problem is that few of the filtering systems allow these modifications in a simple way. They require that the IT department gets involved or the system can’t handle it.

Professional Educators

The bottom line to the professional educator is to find and present to the student quality Internet curriculum-based content. Asking a teacher to know the location of millions of ever-changing servers offering information in their field is simply unrealistic. The next generation system must provide educators with pre-screened sites that are very simple to evaluate and relevant to their lessons. Better yet, giving educators the availability to a library of lessons that link to sites associated with their curriculum would be ideal. We must place quality content in the hands of the teacher in a proactive and helpful way.

There is a tendency for educators to stop using systems or new methods that either prevent or aggravate the teaching process. It must be very easy to do and usable within the current teaching methodologies.

Freedom

Professional educators want the same power to filter and the freedom to present what they have today in a paper-based world. There is an element of human trust in the current paper-based education system that should be replicated in an Internet-based educational system. The alarm, and the claims, of political and religious censorship evolved out the frustrations of first-generation filtering systems, because they were blocking many relevant educational resources in a controversial way.

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