I’ve been following a number of posts the last couple of weeks about internet filtering and the erratic application of it in schools, and the frustrations of teachers just wanting to share fascinating new ways of learning with their students.
Karl Fisch did an excellent job of pulling some of those threads together in his post, “More Thoughts on Filtering.” I’ve been really thinking about this issue and how we can all develop better practices regarding internet filters, and what that might look like.
As a librarian, the idea of intellectual freedom for students and staff is ingrained in my nature. The American Library Association has a strong policy on intellectual freedom, which incidentally was passed in 1953 (hardly a time when this idea was popular).
ALA quotes the National Research Council whose report insightfully points out:
“Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one’s children is to teach them to swim.”
So, what can we do? Some ideas(feel free to add to these):
1. Create a committee to collaborate on the filtering decision-making process. While the day-to-day decisions will probably have to be made by one person, the general policy decisions can be reviewed quarterly to make sure that the responsibility for the decision making is shared. This removes pressure from one individual, as well as taking into account differing philosophies and experience in the district. (I think such a committee should include teachers, tech directors, librarians, an administrator, IT people, etc.) Gathering all the parties also has the added benefit of starting a shared conversation about technology use.
2. Develop a quick and timely process for responding to teacher requests for unfiltering sites. If the process is not timely, teachers will “give up,” thus essentially “censoring” the site.
3. Advocate a professional approach for staff. It is likely to be appropriate to provide less filtering to staff than to students. Most filters allow for this. No more than we would penalize an entire class for 2 misbehaving students should we penalize an entire staff or student body for a few who do not observe the AUP policies.
4. Understand that there is a difference between classroom management and filtering. (This is part of the purpose of having a committee approach or a process for unfiltering sites.) If students are misusing computer resources, this is a discipline problem, not cause to discipline all students by filtering a site. If students are giggling and hiding a book on sex education in each other’s backpacks as a joke, I don’t remove it for the whole campus. I deal with those students.
5. Develop a policy and atmosphere that treats students and staff with respect. Again, the majority of your students and staff deserve that.
6. Become very familiar with the laws involved. For example, the law does allow for the filter to be unblocked so teachers can use sites for bona fide research. In how many districts is this policy not being followed? or is so time consuming and slow that the point of need passes?
7. Promote the idea of intellectual freedom on your campus. Your librarian can be an ally in that.
If we want to be sure that students are protected by “learning how to swim,” rather than by us putting up fences (that they can climb), then it is up to all of us to help our campuses seek out best practices regarding internet filtering.
image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sis/410523571/