Web Filtering Best Practices: Who Makes the Policy?
We talk so much about encouraging students to share and communicate that “collaboration” has become something of an over-used buzzword in ed-tech talk. But one of the things that is often blamed for hindering online collaboration among students is web filtering. And that, it seems, is one topic where the notion of collaboration should be used more.
A District Web Filtering Policy survey we’re conducting asks respondents to rate how collaborative the process for determining filtering policies within their district is, with 0 being not at all collaborative and 10 being very collaborative. The survey is ongoing, but the initial results:
- The average response: 4.95
- The top response from people who identified themselves as IT: 7
- The top response from people who identified themselves as teachers: 1
The discrepancy reflects the fact that educators, who are running into blocked sites and access denied pages as they try to teach and engage students, don’t feel like they’re part of the process. When asked to describe how they feel about their district’s filtering policies, the top responses from teachers were: Frustrated, Angry, and Voiceless.
When we talked to Alan November, he shared, “Teachers are frustrated that they can’t get to the sites they want to get. They have to ask permission; it bogs things down. So right now I would say, that our over-reaction to filtering is one of the biggest problems.”
On the other side of the discussion, one administrator shares, “It appears you don’t see the IT side of the threat and risk sites pose. If everything was not blocked the network would be down or would run incredibly slow given the resources the school has and teachers would not use it and that defeats the overall goal.”
We do see the IT side, of course, but this is an excellent reminder that as we look to bring educators into the discussion about filtering policies, we need to keep IT there, too. (And maybe add in students, parents, boards….)
So, this is the situation: people are frustrated. Now what do we do?
In his blog, The Principal Difference, Mel Riddile encourages administrators to get involved and to work with IT to “step up and end brute force filtering.”
Based on his research in North Carolina, Alan Warren advocates in his thesis, Web Site Filtering: An Evaluation of Local Education Agencies, for a committee approach to determining filtering policies and for the use of differentiated policies for teachers as compared to students. (His research found that only 57% of the surveyed districts used differentiated policies for teachers and only 32% used different policies for high school versus elementary students.)
Through his grass roots campaign, BalancedFiltering.org, Wes Fryer identifies three primary needs that must be addressed and balanced: 1) The need for US public schools receiving federal ERate dollars to comply with provisions of CIPA and other laws. 2) The need to provide accountable online environments in our schools. 3) The need to equip students to make responsible, ethical decisions in online as well as face-to-face situations.
Everything points to the need for balanced, nuanced, smarter filtering — that accounts for IT and educator needs. By the number of blogs, Tweets, and emails on the topic, a couple of things seem very clear:
More education is needed – About what CIPA requires, why filters are necessary, what features are available through them, and more.
More collaboration is needed – So educators can better appreciate the IT needs of network security and bandwidth allocation and can understand why some sites are blocked; and so IT can better appreciate the educational validity of sites and how they relate to learning objectives. And so together, both sides can be balanced.
Like any important conversation, this is one that’s sure to continue. Be a part of it!
- Our survey is ongoing, and we’ll continue to share results. You can take it here.
- We’ve created a Guide to Web Filtering in Today’s Schools: Balancing IT and Educator Needs highlighting some of these ideas. Get your free copy, and share and discuss it. (We’d love feedback. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Add your comments. What do you see in your district? What best practices and ideas can you share? How can all sides, and the sometimes-conflicting needs they represent, be balanced?