Friday, November 5, 2010

Controlling Internet Access in Schools

             Since the beginning of time man has sought to make their existence easier as the days, months, and years go by. Initially communication was limited to writing letters.

                                                               Letter Writing
              Now individuals rarely write letters. The focus is on the technological devices that are evident. Mobile phones are used to send messages. Instant messaging is available as well. One can also have video conferencing. Without a doubt, the ways to communicate instantly is quite numerous. The art of letter writing is said to be a dying one. "More than a quarter of seven to 14-year-olds have not written a letter in the last year, and one in 10 has never written one, according to a poll commissioned by World Vision." You can read the rest of the finding of the survey by using this link. I am sure that teenagers are not the only ones who are not writing letters anymore.

              With the dawning of a new day comes new and more innovative ways to use the technology that is now evident in society. The teaching and learning environment has evolved just as everything else in society. A number of schools have given students access to various technological tools. The aim is to make the students capable of not only functioning but also thriving in the 21st century. Many schools have given the students their personal laptops that should be used at school daily. Where personal laptops are not available the students have access to desktop computers. One would have thought, YES, a wonderful way to aid the teaching and learning environment.... 

               Of course, with the advent of these wonderful additional teaching ,schools have sought to inititate various policies that governs the use of the varied technological tools that the students will have access to. One such implemented policy is the trend of banning certain websites that the students should access on the internet.
                                                          Internet Banned

              What gives the school system the right to be able to be able to block certain use of the internet? The answer is quite simple: The Children Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which is a federal law that was enacted by Congress to "address the concerns about the access to offensive content over the internet on school and library computers." There are several requirements of CIPA, one of which is that "an authorized person may disable the blocking or filtering measure during any use by an adult to enable access for bonafide research or other lawful purposes." Obviously in order to disable there must be something that needs to be disabled. In this case it is the blocking of certain websites that the school activated.

                                                    Internet Ban

               However some schools, like mine, have sought to block all social networking websites. Imagine my unwanted surprise when I went to work on Monday November 1st and could not access my wikispaces webpage that I had been using daily as an integral part of the teaching and learning environment. It is a good thing that I am flexible and was able to teach the day's lesson even though our main technological tool had been disabled. This problem was sorted out by Wednesday November 3rd, however, it made me realize how limited internet use we had at our school. Everything is banned. Most websites have some sort of link to social networks. We can't even use yahoo, yes, yahoo a search engine. Google is very limited in scope as well. I know that YouTube has a number of videos that the students ought not to have access to at school. On the other hand, what about the various videos and other resources that can aid the teaching and learning environment? Yes, it is said that teachers can click the login option when it says access denied. However, even after you have identified yourself as a teacher you still can't gain access.
                Computers can't filter like a human brain. It blocks what it is told to block. Computers can't use its discretion and allow something to be shown that it may deem as being appropriate. It will block what it was "instructed" to block irrespective of any usefulness that a blocked website may possibly add. Where do we go from here? Hmmm.... That is a good question!

                I was of the impression that my school was offering differentiated blocking. However, I don't see any differentiation. Even when you try to login as a teacher, you are still blocked. I don't have what this blog outlines, differentiated blocking so that a teacher can access the website. That sounds like a luxury that I would love to bask in the glory of. What we have to do to solve this dilemma is to find the websites that we want and submit it to the technology support; who will in turn view the website and ultimately decide if you will gain access. Needless to say this is a long process. The upside is that the website once approved is available for future use as well.

               I really don't find differentiated blocking very useful. Like I said before, you are prompted to log in as a teacher to gain access and often times I am told that I still can't access the website. I think, as Attorney General Roy Cooper of North Carolina stated in his article Protect Kids on the Internet, that "computers are wonderful learning tools, but they can also expose children to dangers like unwanted content and inappropriate contact from adults through the Internet. Parents, educators and caregivers can limit the danger and help children learn to navigate the Internet safely. By protecting their personal information and being cautious about what they view, families can reduce their risks."
                 Without a doubt, schools need to have policies, and parents need to set rules that clearly state the appropriate use of the internet. Students should be informed about the inappropriate use, and possible negative end results, if the internet is not used properly.
               One thing that I have learnt is that students are curious. They should be informed of why they should be cautious when using the internet not just told don't do this or that, which is essentially what banning does. Can I tell you that if we chose to not answer a students' questions and just think that banning is the end all, then we have another thing coming. There are websites that will inform these students about the various ways they can access a blocked website. Please view this link to see an example about How to Access Blocked Websites. Here is another that gives 9 Alternative Ways to Access Blocked Websites.  This site even has illustrations. There are websites and blogs that give specific walkarounds for certain blocked websites such as Google. Check the links that I haved given you out. I am sure that there are students that will find these websites just as I have.

                                              Countless use of the Computer

                Can I also tell you that I am not saying that parents should be Helicopter Parents, which according to Danah Boyd can lead to the seclusion of students because parents are being overprotective. That is going from one extreme to the next. What I am saying is that parents should monitor their child's use as much as they can on the internet. The child should feel more comfortable asking their parents questions instead of simply a peer or a friend on the internet, who they may have never met before, and who obviously may not have their best interest at heart. As this blog in response to Danah Boyd's outlined parents should protect their children and aid the child to become responsible users of the internet. At some "point they have to learn to judge for themselves: they need the opportunity to develop their own gut feelings about situations and people to avoid. Parents can talk things over with kids and help them evaluate, gently guiding them towards the day when they’ll have to do it for themselves anyway."

               Schools should focus on educating their students about the proper use of the internet. There will still be some level of blocking, such pornography and so on. However, if the focus is on proper and safe internet use, I am sure that with expected behavior, monitoring, and education about the proper online use of the various websites students will conform. I am sure that as Vicki Davis had pointed out with the use of cell phones in her class that many people felt that it was not possible. On the other hand, with the establishment of expectations it worked. As Harold Jarche pointed out in his blog students need to be taught how social networking websites can be used for the teaching and learning environment. He goes on to outline that instead of being restrictive that schools information technology and internet use policies should state the following:

  • "Because the Internet is used by almost all students to do research, the school should focus on developing skills to discern the veracity of information available.

  • The proliferation of Web services means that their use in education should be encouraged so that students understand how best to use them and develop appropriate behaviours, guided by teachers.

  • The high use social networking sites suggests that teachers engage students in evaluating these services from a critical perspective and understanding how they can be used for learning.

  • Students who use the Internet must know how to protect their digital identity.

  • Ease of access to text and media online means that students must understand intellectual property, copyright, fair use (fair dealing in Canada) and how to ease copyright restrictions through licensing such as Creative Commons.

  • All system users should ensure that their behaviour online reflects the values of public education."

  •                 I support Harold Jarche's views that I have outlined above. I definitely echo the various points that I have noted as well. The internet is a way to not only go places that one may never be able to go physically, but to also be exposed to other cultures through websites such as social networks. The internet is a way to have students interact with each other and get feedback on a completed assignment that is immediate. Yes the internet can be a distraction, however, proper monitoring, and the teaching of the proper use of the internet could minimize this problem.
                   To Block or not to block, that is the question. This is a very debatable topic. I hope that you found this blog informative. I am sure that like everybody else you have your views on this issue. You may or may not agree with mine. One thing that is sure though is that the internet is here to stay, what we do with it is the question.


    1. I do believe that censoring is necessary, for ext-rated, demeaning and vulgar websites other than those, the more I read the more ridiculous the whole thing seem; who protects students when they are on their cell phones surfing the web at school (I doubt the phone companies are censoring anything) or for the kids who have access to the internet at home or with the countless Wi-Fi hot spots available. It all boils down to teaching our kids how to be responsible.

    2. Accessing the internet is so common that we simply cannot avoid the inevitable. Like you said, we all play an important role in teaching students responsibility in this regard. Good post!

    3. Computers can't filter like a human brain. It blocks what it is told to block. Computers can't use its discretion and allow something to be shown that it may deem as being appropriate. It will block what it was "instructed" to block irrespective of any usefulness that a blocked website may possibly add. Where do we go from here? Hmmm.... That is a good question

      Wonderful piece of information because if computers were capable of filtering we certainly would not need to see 'ACCESS DENIED'. We need to , very soon, come up with a feasible solution that will enable educators and students to more websites that can enhance learning. Great points.

    4. I love what Teachergirl said a few comments above - "the more I read the more ridiculous the whole thing seem; who protects students when they are on their cell phones surfing the web at school". How true! I have told many teachers that if you want to find out how to get around the sites that are blocked in your classroom...just ask your students!

      Seriously, we as teachers and administrators need to move out of the block mentality (which is a false sense of security) and instead move towards one of instructed responsibility. I agree with you - Harold Jarche's suggestions are super!

    5. I agree with the idea of not blocking the entire web, but certain parts, like the ones relating pornography or incendiary content. In Chappel Hill-Carrboro Schools System, I know that when I worked there in 2008-2009, there is a policy of open internet and they have a program to filter unwanted content. It is pretty much like the program parents use on tv networks, and even at home with their domestic computers, in order to block adult content from kids. Children need, as you said, explicit instruction on the appropriate use of the internet. Good points!