Megan's Blog Desk: Internet Safety

Monday, June 18, 2007

Be Careful What You Post...

I was impressed with this video - The creator is a Technology Coordinator for a public school district in Texas. I visited his website, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and thought his view on filtering in public schools was one I particularly agree with:
So often I read posts about content filtering in schools and the ensuing discussion usually revolves around whether or not we should be filtering the Internet in schools. According to Federal law, in the form of the Children's Internet Protection Act (citation), schools and libraries that received E-rate funds are required to filter the content of the Internet when accessed by minors. So since the majority of us must filter our Internet connections, what is the best method(s) for doing so?

I recently switched content filters in my school district and through out the search for and implementation of our new content filter several points kept coming to mind:

1. The content filter should be managed by someone from a curriculum background. So often school districts make the mistake of placing decisions about which web sites are appropriate for education with someone that has never spent a day in a classroom directly involved in teaching and learning. While information technology personnel may have to be involved in the set-up of the filter, that does not mean they should be the "Net Nazi" (likened to Seinfeld's Soup Nazi character, "No Soup for You").

2. Ultimately, the building level principals should determine what web sites are appropriate for their teachers to be utilizing. The principals should have the advice and expertise of the content filter manager (remember, this person also has a teaching and learning background). I have found that administrators will seek to block anything that they do not directly understand. Often the content filter manager can provide insight and assurance to the principal so that a proper decision can be made.

3. Filtering profiles should be available to allow certain users more freedom online than others. Why? While student must be blocked according to Federal law, teachers and other adults doing "bon a fide" research are not restricted to the same level of content filtering. One possible set-up is to block adults to a certain level, giving them access to a specific category (e.g. blogs) while students are blocked from the same category, but individual educational blogs are permitted. A problem with this is that sometimes teachers allow students to use their computers while they are still logged in. In this case, teachers must be educated about Federal law and their Acceptable Use Policy should reflect that they are bound to uphold district policy.

4. Adults should be able to override the filter for specific categories. This particular feature has the biggest potential for abuse. I envision a teacher running from student computer to student computer entering in override credentials, or worse - writing the credentials on the board. I firmly believe that while not all teachers act like professionals, they should still be treated as such. The override accounts should be monitored (by that content filter manager) and inconsistencies should be given to building level administrators. Why override the filter? is a great example of a potential source of educational information - but unrestricted access is probably not a good idea (since its so addicting and some content is not necessarily educationally appropriate). When a government class is discussing a recent national or state election, is a great source of political ads. A teacher ought to have the ability to get that educational material without having to go through a bunch of hoops. Unfortunately, since some teachers cannot seem to control themselves, they will have to be notified that they are being monitored.

This is an approach to filtering that all levels of administration should be advocating for. It keeps students away from dangerous content, but allows teachers and those at the school level to maximize the beneficial qualities of internet access.