Staff at Dr Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Burlington, ON, Canada are opposed to a proposal to install Internet filters at HDSB schools. They sent a copy of their letter to school trustees to a local newspaper for parents to understand their viewpoint. Their letter highlights the ongoing issue that educators face – should schools have Internet Filters?
When I read the letter, I was surprised with how conflicted I felt about the issue. I agreed with all the arguments made by the HDSB teachers. Yes, students need to learn digital citizenship. Yes, students can circumvent Internet Filters using proxy servers. Yes, Internet Filters cost lots of money to maintain. Yes, Internet Filters mistakenly block content that students should be able to access.
So if I agree with the HDSB teachers, why do I like the fact that the school where I teach has an Internet filter?
Don’t get me wrong. There are things I DON’T like about the school’s Internet filter. For example, I cannot stand that YouTube is blocked. I have begged the IT Committee to approve joining YouTube for Schools so that students can have access to videos that have educational value. However, so far I have made little progress (still not giving up!).
I also really dislike it when there is a perfect site that I want students to visit and for some unknown reason it is blocked. Yes, I can make a request for it to be unblocked, but this tends to take a few days. Typically, this means that I need to plan ahead if I know there is a site I want my students to access.
I also have found that from time to time, some of the Grade 8 students will find a way to circumvent the Internet Filter to access a social media or gaming site. This always highlights the imperfect nature of the Internet Filter.
Despite these complaints I still like the Internet Filter. What do I like about it? I like that it removes some of the worry.
Top 3 Reasons I Like the School’s Internet Filter
1. Prevents Inappropriate Thumbnails
When students are searching for images, often thumbnails will appear in the search results that are inappropriate. The Internet Filter is really great at making sure pictures of nude women or men never appear. I like that my students don’t have to be exposed to pornographic images when researching a topic at school.
2. Provides a Level of Security
In the ideal world there would always be a teacher in the computer lab. However, often students are in the computer lab before or after school, during recess, or at lunch time. During those times, a teacher may not always be present or they may be engaged in another task that prevents them from closely monitoring student activities. It is comforting to know that the Internet Filter is there to maintain some level of security.
3. Enforces Digital Citizenship
Some people argue that students need to learn how to become responsible digital citizens and an Internet Filter prevents them taking ownership for their behavior. I disagree. Everyone knows that the Internet Filter is imperfect. However, it tends to protect the students from innocently stumbling on inappropriate content. However, for those students who intentionally want to seek out banned content such as pornography or gaming sites it forces them to engage willfully to circumvent the filter. This activity is a breach of the Internet AUP and it highlights students who are NOT behaving as responsible digital citizens. I find the Internet Filter does not negate digital citizenship – instead it highlights the students who are engaging in ethical, safe, and responsible behavior and those students who are not.