This fall, my district switched filtering programs and many, many more sites and services are being blocked as a result. I have lost access to, among other things, bloglines, netvibes, writely, and many edtech bloggers, including everyone who publishes using blogger (even me). Thank goodness I still have classblogmeister or much of my lesson planning over the summer would have been shot (although teaching about RSS has become more difficult). To date, my requests to have these sites unblocked have gone unmet.
But there is hope.
Two weeks into the school year the district technology director sent out an email outlining the changes and asking for comments/questions for the web review committee. Such an open invitation is a first, so I answered with the following letter.
September 18, 2006
Web Review Committee,
Thank you for the invitation to share comments. One of the more frustrating aspects to internet filtering in the district has been the lack of dialog on filtering and its impact on student learning, classroom instruction, and professional development. [The technology director's] email on September 11 was an important first step in opening up the conversation, and I look forward to a continuing dialog across the district.
First and foremost, we need to remember as a district that the importance of the internet as a source of information and a tool for communication is only going to increase. Our students have unfettered access to the internet once they are outside the reach of the district filter. As responsible educators, we need to be involved in educating our students of the dangers. But more importantly, we need to be modeling and providing guided practice in the safe and appropriate use of these 21st century tools. Blocking access to the educational use of these tools only serves to leave our students under-prepared to navigate the changing landscape of the internet.
This is not to say there should be no filtering. Certainly, there are many sites unsuitable for students—content of a strictly adult nature should be inaccessible. However, just as our libraries contain information appropriate to the grade levels served, our district should filter the internet at a level appropriate to the grade levels served. Tiered filtering that respects the developmental differences of elementary, middle, and high school students is critical to providing age appropriate instruction.
Additionally, any filtering scheme needs to respect the professional judgment of educators. Educators should have the most latitude in accessing the internet so they may best determine what sites may be used, in whole or in part, with their students. The current practice of blocking a site simply because there is, for example, a shopping aspect to the site prohibits access to related, but educationally appropriate, content. Moving toward a filtering process that allows educators to temporarily turn off the filtering of a given site will improve teachers’ ability to plan and provide for more flexibility in terms of just in time teachable moments.
Ultimately, filtering should be based upon the appropriateness of the content. The new filtering system is blocking entire categories of sites based on the method of publication (notably blogs and wikis, but other important, educationally valubable resources as well). This wholesale blocking is cutting off access to a wide range of educationally appropriate, topical, and timely information.
Finally, I urge the committee to increase the amount of communication across the district regarding the educational integration of the internet and the role of filtering in meeting our educational goals. Committee discussions, or at least the results of those discussions, need to be public and communicated to the district. The committee, if it has not already, needs to become familiar with the growing wealth of online tools—including blogs, wikis, rss feeds/aggregators, and web-based applications—and their relevance in the classrooms of the 21st century. I would be happy to provide more information on any of these topics to the committee as a whole or to individuals.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the district’s filtering policies. I look forward to continuing this discussion.
Matthew J. Clausen
There hasn't been much response, yet, but I am hopeful. Thank you to all the edtech bloggers I have been reading over the past year or so. Your ideas helped frame this letter, and any success is a direct result of the wonderful openness of the conversations.
I have already thought of a few things missing from this letter. Most importantly, the notion that often filtering is used as a technological fix to what is really a teachable moment/discipline issue. I am planning a second letter to addres this; anyone have any thoughts on what else to include?