Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

The Joys of Filters

Flickr.com/The Daring Librarian

I would like to start out by saying that I understand why we need filters on the Internet in a school. Children can get into an awful lot of trouble if given the chance—and what better chance is there than a computer connected to information on every topic known to man? I would never put a child in front of a computer that is not filtered in some way. I also would keep track of what has been seen on that computer to catch those things that manage to get through the filter. I go so far as to want key-logging software on school computers as well. I have heard cases of cyber-bullying being discovered and put down by tracking the things typed into school computers. If people say that this is spying, I like to point out that these are school computers on a school network and therefore everything on them or passing through them is subject to search—just as a locker or a car parked in the school lot can be searched.

I also agree that the Internet can be huge waste of time for professionals. A recent Tumblr post I read described a “Bermuda Triangle” of office productivity in Twitter, Facebook and Gmail . However, I am a professional, and using a school computer, I know I am being watched. By law everything I do on the computer is public record. Several schools got sued, successfully, to give up their staffs’ email.

In my own workplace, I am behind a filter; the same filter as my students. This shouldn’t be a problem, since, after all, what would I look at work that I couldn’t have a child see? It’s not the filters that I object to, but rather the difficulty the filters sometimes create. For instance, I can’t download a computer version of chess because it shows up as “games” in our filter. I cannot look on Marvel Comics’ or DC Comics’ websites to find age-appropriate comic books, because they are blocked as “comics.” I cannot go to YouTube; many schools, technology blogs and news sites and my own blog use YouTube as a place to host video. When my kids got their snowman video on YouTube a few months ago, they could not watch it at school. Our music teacher often comes to me with requests for music that she would like me to download from YouTube, since a VHS tape describing Indian music can be hard to come by.

I know that there are a lot of better filtering and administration systems out there, but I was reminded by our district tech coordinator that many of these cost upwards of $16,000. For a small district like ours, that kind of money is better spent on other things.

I don’t want to raise a fuss about this. Putting up with the filtering issues is a small price to pay for knowing that the kids are safe, but there are times when I am frustrated. Like when I found out that Sesame Street, who put all of their content online and indexed them by topic for parents and educators, was blocked because its online video was from YouTube and therefore treated as “R-Rated” content by our filter.

I wish for the day when, as a teacher, I could have a little more control over the filter other than sending an email to our provider. I am hopeful that someday soon the system will make a little more sense. Maybe a two-tiered system, where teachers have more access than students, would be better. Or a system where students get more and more access (but the same amount of supervision) as they get older.

How does your school handle this issue, one I find so frustrating?

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Comments on: "The Joys of Filters" (2)

  1. Yes, it’s true that filters block many, many appropriate educational sites and this problem will only get worse. Schools need to find a better way to protect children without blocking a broad swath of enriching material in the process. For example, educational publishers–including Weekly Reader–are exploring new ways to use the digital realm to deliver content to classrooms. READ magazine, for example, is presenting a Shakespeare play via Facebook in April. But how many schools block Facebook? YouTube, as you mention, does contain inappropriate materials that no kid should see, but it also has many wonderful videos that extend the curriculum in ways that no textbook can. What’s the answer?

  2. I think the answer, while not a popular one for a lot of administrators, is to put tools in the hands of teachers. give teachers the training to avoid any adult-content issues and then allow the teachers to have some ability to use sites such as youtube or facebook and model these new technolgies as tools, while at the same time having complete supervision and recording of ALL internet traffic that occurs on the network to keep teachers and students alike honest.

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