Filters and fences.

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I love the advances that my school has been making in technology over the last 2 years.

Despite the advances that schools make, there are always bound to be areas to improve upon, points to be refined and strategies to be implemented. Which is why I find technology so frustrating at the moment!

Simple things like internet searches should not be made difficult. I understand the moral obligations and responsibility for students’ safety that a school must uphold, but enforcing strict internet search filters is not the way to encourage students to be deep thinkers.

At my school, I believe we have certain categories that internet sites ‘fall into’ to deem them restricted. Like ‘Entertainment and Games’. I agree that games can be distracting, and that watching endless Youtube videos can lead to disruption in a classroom environment. However, when my student is genuinely interested in researching ‘The Top Ten Cricketers of All Time’, he can’t, because cricket falls into the ‘Games’ category and is therefore blocked. It’s the same outcome when I include a link to a maths game that students can use to consolidate their skills.

I tried to access the Harvey Norman webpage, as I am in desperate need for a new laptop. This was made difficult as it fell into the category of ‘Advertising’. While trying to use my Twitter account on the school network, I am faced with the restricted category of ‘Social Media’. Our school maths program provides a list of suggested websites for students to visit to complete their investigation tasks. When I checked the sites to ensure their quality, I had no problem accessing the site. But under a student log-in, my students found that the sites were blocked. They fell into the category of ‘Other’. The straw that broke the camel’s back and caused me much frustration was the fact that one of my students was unable to post a new post on his student blog, as ‘New Post’ was blocked.

I am a big advocate of Genius Hour, where students pursue their own interests. Like cricket or minecraft, ballet and mythical creatures. Although excited and passionate about their projects at the start, they have become increasingly frustrated with the limitations that are holding them back from accessing the information they need. I love seeing students immerse themselves in content they find meaningful, which is way more engaging than me giving them a list of unblocked websites. I’m a teacher, not a website analyser – I don’t have time to trawl through the endless numbers of possible websites that my students might want to use and request that they all be unblocked.

As an E-learning leader, I have pushed for sites to be unblocked, but feel like a broken record, as I send email after email to get sites unblocked, one by one for my upcoming lessons. Our technicians are not teachers, and as a teacher, I am not a technician. As I don’t have a student log-in, I can access most sites, so am unaware of the difficulties that students will face when they log in. This can sometimes be quickly fixed, or diverted into using something else, but can sometimes detract from the whole content and purpose of the lesson, no matter how flexible I plan to be!

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to prevent children from inappropriate content, they may still come into contact with it. It is more important to teach them how to deal with the inappropriate content, rather than to close the door and ignore it. I discovered this yesterday, as one of my students searched for a Google image of a ghost. Many cartoons and drawings came up, but so did a photo, of a half-naked couple. This photo was able to wrangle its way through our stringent internet filters, and I was able to have a discussion with the small group of boys and the very embarrassed girl about what needs to happen.

Internet filters are like pool fences. We put them in place to protect, but we also need to teach the survival skill.

How does your school filter internet searches?
What is needed to encourage students to think deeply and inquire about their learning when faced with restrictions like this?

2 responses »

  1. Great post Fee.
    I am very lucky at my school because I have such a fabulous tech. The hard part is getting permission from the principal class as I have to explain the benefits of using the website (or whatever is blocked) which can be really difficult before I’ve even tried it out with the kids.
    So far, I have not run into too much difficulty with pages being blocked. Your filter seems very excessive and I can understand your frustration. The categories that these harmless sites are falling into seems to be the big problem! Who categorises them anyway?!
    I think that the most important thing we can do as teachers when using technology in the classroom is to teach kids to have that filter for themselves. If we are teaching them to use social media properly and how to report unwanted material, success can only be measured by how much junk the kids filter out. Hopefully, teaching them the correct way to use social media will prevent big problems in the future.
    Katelyn 🙂

    • Thanks Katelyn,
      Having to explain the benefits can sometimes take the appeal out of using it! I get sick of constantly having to justify my decisions as a professional educator! Teaching students to be responsible and how to deal with issues is way more important than wrapping them in cotton wool to ‘protect’ them!

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