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and learning opportunities (and, incidentally, also sends messages to your most technology-fluent educators that you’re outdated).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
Katrina Schwartz said
Many students at [Los Angeles Unified School District’s Roosevelt High School] felt the news media had mischaracterized their school and its students as criminals for figuring out how to get around the iPad’s security features, often to access educational information.
“We were really caught up in how they kept calling Roosevelt ‘hackers,’” said Daniela Carrasco, a former student.
[Mariela] Bravo doesn’t understand why the district would give students iPads with so many limitations. Her peers were looking up homework help on YouTube – and yes, checking Facebook, too – but that’s part of life.
“They have to trust us more,” Bravo said. “We could surprise them and they could see that we are good kids.”
Students were frustrated that the district couldn’t see that negotiating distractions on the Internet is part of life now. “We should have been trusted with those websites,” Carrasco said. “Instead of blocking them, there should have been emphasis on how to use those websites for good.”
More nuanced responses from the students than the district…
Image credit: criminals crew_07, Phiesta’s way
When we take away technology access because of student behavior concerns, we send the message that digital devices and the Internet are optional, ‘nice to have’ components of schooling rather than core elements of modern-day learning and teaching.
When we ban teachers from using social media – but not other forms of interaction – to communicate with students in or out of school, we send the message that we are unable to distinguish between behaviors and the mediums in which they occur.
When we decline to devote adequate time or support for technology-related professional learning and implementation, we send the message that low-level or nonexistent usage is just fine.
When we require educators to go hat in hand to IT personnel to get an educational resource unblocked, we send the message that we distrust them so they must be monitored.
When we wag our fingers at students about inappropriate digital behaviors without concurrently and equally highlighting the benefits of being connected and online, we send the message that we are afraid of or don’t understand the technologies that are transforming everything around us.
When we make blanket technology policies that punish the vast majority for the actions of a few, we send the messages of inconsistency and unfairness.
When we ignore the power of online and social media tools for communication with parents and other stakeholders, we send the message of outdatedness.
When we fail to implement hiring, induction, observation, coaching, and evaluation structures that emphasize meaningful technology integration, we send the message that it really isn’t that important to what we do in our classrooms.
When we treat students as passive recipients of teacher-directed integration rather than tapping into their technology-related interests, knowledge, and skills, we send the message that they don’t have anything to contribute to their own learning experiences. And that control is more important than empowerment.
When we continue to place students in primarily analog learning spaces and ignore that essentially all knowledge work these days is done digitally, we send the message of irrelevance to our students, parents, and communities.
Are these the messages that we intend to send with our technology decision-making (or lack thereof)? Often not, but what counts is the perceptions of the recipients of our decisions.
What technology messages is your school system sending? (and what would you add to this list?)
Image credit: Important message, Patrick Denker
Tim Cushing said:
Few entities approach new advances in technology with more foreboding than school administrations. What could be used as portals to a nearly-infinite supply of information via the Internet is often neutered into uselessness by schools’ acceptable use policies (AUPs).