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School Internet Filterers: What are we really blocking?

School Internet Filterers: What are we really blocking?

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Published by Jessica Maloney
This articles evaluates the value and problems of school internet filters.
This articles evaluates the value and problems of school internet filters.

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Published by: Jessica Maloney on Aug 01, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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School Internet Filtering: What are we really blocking?
If youre an educator like myself, I am sure that many of you cringed just reading the words Internetfiltering. Too often searching for useful lesson information on a school Intranet leads teachers tofind that the site they need is unnecessarily blocked and it will take the IT team days to unblock.Although Internet censorship is necessary and valued by schools, its implementation seems tofrequently err on the overdone side and repeatedly a one-size fits
all policy blocks useful educationalmaterials from teachers and students. While there is no doubt that schools have a fundamental dutyof care for students and site blocking is a key factor of schools cyber-safety strategy, internetfiltering is prohibiting students from accessing much more that just illegal and inappropriate sitesand content.In Australia, most State Governments have banned popular online networking sites from publicschools after these sites were accused of supporting a broad range of threats to young people.There have been many negative claims from both Australian politicians and media commentatorsthat online networks ; email, chat, social network sites, virtual online environments, are supportinga wide array of threats to students including paedophilia, bullying, racism and unwantedpornographic and violent materials (Notely, 2008, p20)
owever, social networking also provides new opportunities for individual expression, the creationof online communities and collaboration. These communication tools are growing in popularityamongst young people, but are being ignored or even feared by most schools. The educationbenefits of these tools are rarely discussed or utilised. Typically sites like Facebook, Wikipedia andYouTube are blocked in schools, because of the possibility risky content, even though they canprovide educational value. But are we really protecting students or preventing education?
There is no denying the many restrictions to the current internet censorship that is in place acrossmany Australia schools including:
School filtering which generally has to an all or nothing blocking system.
Filtering sites to protect students from inappropriate content are limiting opportunities toaccess the useful material for teaching and learning.
any schools have the same level of filtering across all grades and for teachers whichhampers learning for everyone (SICTAS, 2009).The restrictions of current online filtering in regards to emerging technologies such as ICTs need tobe recognised so that better filtering system can be used that can accurately differentiation betweenuseful and offensive Web 2.0 content and tools. Education.au found that 41% of surveyed educatorsconsidered site blocking to be a major impediment to their using technology in teaching (SICTAS,2009, p17). Of the countless frustrated teachers in school site censoring for Web 2.0 sites many arenow employing work-around methods to incorporate blocked content into their classroom activities,including downloading YouTube videos from home to a USB stick so they could use it in class.
isks and
For teachers, the Internet can be described as a two-edged sword, delivering both opportunity anddistraction to students. For tech savvy teachers, new technology and an emerging ICT culturepresent exciting changes to how they teach students. For others, fear of student distraction anddisengagement, plagiarism as well as classroom management during computer lessons is frightingand gives teachers a reason for avoiding online learning (Brandt & Williams, 2007). Regardless of which category you fall into, outside of the classroom students are ignoring their cautious teachersand using online services anyway.
any students arent waiting until they get home to go onto theirfavourite sites but are finding ways to bypass filters at school.This calls to question whether site blocking is really stopping students from looking at inappropriatematerial. Student have the ability to break through filters or use home computers without filters orusing their mobiles internet, and are able to view what they wish anyway. Whether schools like itor not students will be exposed to inappropriate material and potential dangers while online. So itstime that schools start educating students on cyber safety and not just believing that Internet filterswill stop students encountering online risks.As every teacher knows teenagers take risks, more risks than any other age group. Young people,especially those with low life satisfaction, may gain most from the online support and newfriendships that online networks can facilitate.
owever, young people are also likely to engage inbehaviour that may involve or lead to risk-taking online (Notely, 2009). In general the more timeyoung people spend online, the more skills they obtained, the more satisfying their experience, andthis increases the likelihood of students encountering risks.
owever, I believe the riskiest optionteachers can take is to not teach and expose children to potential online dangers. Schools andteachers need to take responsibility for educating children on the dangers of being online, becauseit is better for students to learn about cyber safety in a teacher guided environment than at homeby themselves (
urray, 2008).While the risks young people encounter online have been researched and openly discussed, it ismuch more difficult to verify online benefits.
owever, one of the key advantages of opening filtersto include online communication tools is to increase social connections for students and teachers.Online networks enhance social interaction because of their accessibility and the way socialrelationships are easily created and maintained online (Notely, 2009). Is it vital that student haveaccess to ICTs at school because studies show that 19% of Australians aged less than 15 years arewithout home Internet access (Notely, 2009). Even if students do have computers at home, that isnot to say that they actually get to spend a great deal time at all using them, through either otherfamily member use or strict time allocations from parents.Other educational possibilities of social networking sites include creating wikis, working together onblogs or Ning groups. All of these online tools offer opportunities for more engagement andcollaboration with other students and teachers around the world. The quality of a school's web sitecan greatly help schools to undertake interactive online activities safely and
securely. The toolsoffered on the school's web site can allow teachers to create safe online chat rooms and post blogsto only people who have a school login. While there is always a chance of students addinginappropriate information and harassing other students online, this can be controlled when teachersstart up a blog as they can put themselves as the administrator and approve all information before it
is posted on the web. The value on social networking sites while under researched could be avaluable tool for teachers to use to reengage students and make learning more collaborative andimportant for teaching students about cyber safety (Brandt and Williams, 2007).
eality for Teachers
Despite the desire of some teachers to explore the benefits of online tools for creativity and learningthey are restricted by educational authorities, limiting school policies and fear of legal action. Whilemost school teachers have the ability to request that a site be unblocked this is often a cumbersomeprocess that requires information to be submitted to a third party. When teachers need access to aparticular website as part of his or her lesson, the turnaround time on a request for access meantthe teaching opportunity would be missed. Teachers encounter a number of barriers in regard toeffective use of Web 2.0 in teaching and learning. Teachers often lack the knowledge andconfidence in ICTs, and are too worried of the potential risk of allowing students access to popularsocial networking sites. A key challenge for teaching in a new online environment is for teachers andstudents to develop strong Internet and digital literacy skills to not only be able to find, evaluate andcritique information but also collaborate safely online (
oughton, 2009).
Its time to Education
Teachers need to directly address online safety by teaching it openly in classrooms. Cyber safety inschools needs to change from the traditional technically-driven reaction to Internet safety to a moreinformed and proactive approach (Brandt & Williams, 2007).We cannot sweep online safety under the classroom rug and pretend its not there. I believe thatblocking every site that could possibly be harmful to students is not educating them but insteadgiving them a false sense of security online, which will not exist when they use the Internet at homeor on their mobiles. Despite any schools best efforts Internet filters cant block out all inappropriatematerials, as even typing seemingly innocent words like snake into Google Images can still bring uppornographic photos. While teachers or parents will never be able to control students behaviouronline, it would be careless not to try to educator students about online risks and educationalbenefits of online technology.Schools are currently blocking sites out of fear and lack of understanding, and not because of sitesterms of service which demonstrates a need for better awareness. While some sites need to beblocked, there needs to be valid justification for this restricted access to schools Internet. Teachersneed to understand the online environment, both socially and practically. Teachers should beencouraged to talk with their students about the benefits and the risks, to educate them about thethreats to personal safety and realise the benefits of online collaboration by learning about how tominimise the risks.Cyber-safety in schools needs to include more than just Internet filtering, but also educationalactivities targeted at teachers, students and parents to promote awareness and skills in areas suchas using technology, digital literacy, cyber-bullying, identity protection and the legal responsibility of schools to minimise risk (SICTAS, 2009, p11).
Moving Forward

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