It’s late 2015, we’re still overblocking the Internet, and the blame is on us as administrators…
I read a post recently that stressed yet again how access to the wide range of the Internet is an equity issue. Like library and textbook censorship, not only does blocking video services, social media, online interactive content, and other Web resources restrict students’ intellectual freedom, it also prohibits them from engaging in powerful conversations and learning opportunities (and, incidentally, also sends messages to your most technology-fluent educators that you’re outdated). One of my doctoral students’ dissertations at the University of Minnesota, for instance, found that overzealous school filtering prohibited student access to online content essential for satisfying state Social Studies and Health curricular standards. The equity concerns are most egregious for students who lack Internet access at home because school may be their primary option for learning what it means to be an empowered, active online citizen.
There are numerous reasons why we overblock the Internet. Sometimes it’s simple confusion around what actually must be filtered. There are a lot myths out there and even our best technology support personnel may lack understandings of what must be blocked versus what does not. Other times it’s because our technology support folks are more interested in controlling bandwidth or the ‘integrity of the network’ rather than figuring out ways to empower students and staff. And many times it’s because of our own administrative fear, need for control, lack of knowledge, or unwillingness to educate ourselves and our communities. I have the good fortune to interact with schools all around the world. I hear time and time again from students and teachers that the primary reasons that they can’t access important content online are because of overly simplistic filtering software (hint: you have other options), technology coordinators’ prioritization of security over learning, and administrators’ fears and/or unwillingness to treat filtering concerns as educational, not technology, issues. Superintendents and principals should be actively leading ongoing conversations about what is filtered and why, particularly since we know that our most technology-successful schools are ones that filter less, not more. Administrator mindset and leadership are critical here. Given the necessity of the Internet in our lives and the need to teach students digital empowerment and citizenship, the emphasis should be on opening up rather than closing down.
Hopefully we all realize by now that our environment of mobile devices connected to the Internet constitutes the dominant information landscape of our time. Teaching students to be literate within that landscape is one of the primary tasks – and challenges – of our time. But we don’t get there by overblocking the Web. And we don’t get there by abrogating our responsibilities as instructional leaders.
I maintain a collection of Internet filtering and blocking resources that hopefully will be useful to you, including 27 Internet safety talking points for you and your community. Will you work to open up to your students the most powerful learning environment we humans have ever created?
Image credit: Save the Internet Net Neutrality protest, Steve Rhodes