I have come across two blog posts in recent weeks that have resonated with me. Both are about the use of Internet filtering and the role of the IT department in schools. Doug Johnson’s (@BlueSkunkBlog) Don’t be a mushroom when it comes to filtering and Gary Stager’s(@garystager) One in a Million are definitely worth reading, especially if you can relate to what it is like when you are in the middle of a project with your students and you find you are blocked from sites that you KNOW have educational value.
Some of the pushback to these two posts came from IT directors who were quick to point out that they have to make sure their network complies CIPA, FERPA, and other laws. If you are not sure what all of these acronyms are then I recommend taking a look at Unmasking the Digital Truth. Wes Fryer has done a superb job busting some myths surrounding CIPA and other legislation. Henry Thiele’s FUD vs GAFE presentation might be of interest to you if you work in a district that is anti-Google.
Filtering in school is necessary and required by law in order for schools to receive eRate funding. I don’t think you will find many teachers who are opposed to filters that are required by law. I have some concerns regarding excessive use of filters and I’m pretty sure a number of educators share these same concerns.
I’m not saying there are not really good IT departments out there. I definitely don’t think that 999 out of 1000 techs are evil, but I think sometimes they can be overzealous when it comes to filtering content. I believe so much of it comes down to the desire to control the network and the people who are using it. Many teachers are afraid to use the Internet with their students because they are intimidated by the IT department. The only way to get past this is for teachers to become informed and for the lines of communication between teachers and tech to be open. Students have the right to be on a network that is as open as possible. It is our job to teach students how to filter out information. My biggest concern is that if the person with the keys to the kingdom is allowed to block sites they deem distracting, then what is keeping them from blocking sites that don’t fit within their idea of what is educationally valuable? What safeguards are in place in districts to make sure this doesn’t happen?