Today at the “Building Human Connections in a Digital World” Educational Technology Conference in Missoula, Montana, I attended Terrisa Metzler’s presentation “Balancing Learning and Security in a Web 2.0 World.” I am very interested in the topics of this presentation because of the Balanced Filtering in Schools project (balancediltering.org), the “Unmasking the Digital Truth” project, and my breakout session next week at the “Technology Runs Through It” conference in Missoula, “Smart Networks.”
Terrisa Metzler, regional sales manager for Lightspeed Systems, presented this session. During the session in demonstrating the “My Big Campus” educational / social networking platform Lightspeed offers free to everyone (not just its customers.) Terrisa made a comment I’d like to address which can be misleading. Terrisa showed how teachers can embed “cleaned” YouTube videos on their webpages within My Big Campus, and stated this is good because it protects students from “non-CIPA compliant YouTube videos.”
CIPA is the Children’s Internet Protection Act and applies to all U.S. schools and libraries (both public and private) which receive federal E-Rate funding.
Here is the clarification I’d like to offer: There is no such a thing as “CIPA compliant content” or “non-CIPA compliant content.” There obviously IS content online not appropriate for school, but that determination is not made by the CIPA law, it’s made by local authorities. CIPA requires that each school or library subject to E-Rate rules have a filtering policy in place and enforce it, but it does NOT definitively state specific videos and other webpages which should be blocked and should be accessible on school networks. Tina Barseghian’s recent post, “Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites” (highlighted in the BalancedFiltering.org post, “Do your school administrators REALLY understand CIPA?”) is an excellent article about these issues.
It is confusing to say, “My Big Campus” keeps your school CIPA compliant by filtering out non-CIPA compliant YouTube videos. CIPA requires a content filtering policy and enforcement of that policy. CIPA does not define “compliant / non-compliant YouTube videos” or other content.
Teresa also said: “WikiPedia is a site of hotlinks, and students can quickly get to inappropriate content” from WikiPedia articles. She then advocated for how Lightspeed Systems lets teachers whitelist (allow on the content filter) just a specific WikiPedia page, but then every hyperlink on that page is blocked from student access.
I have big reservations about this. I understand Lightspeed Systems is a vendor and is creating a product to meet consumer demands, which include IT personnel who want to overblock the web for students and teachers far beyond what is required by US law. I also understand a system in place which lets teachers directly unblock websites for student access, and specifically whitelist websites for student access, is a HUGE leap forward from the “digital prisons” in which many of our K-12 learners live today at school.
The perspective of educators like Matthew Kitchens, who wants to shut down open web publishing of content by students at school and for school, is also troubling. Lightspeed Systems tweeted a link to Matthew’s post and amplified this today. Matthew wrote in July:
I believe social networking has a place in the classroom, when used within a closed, monitored learning management system(s)…
LightSpeed Systems is a big company and has a lot of clout. Terrisa said Alan November as well as Kevin Honeycutt are now presenting on behalf of LightSpeed Systems at educational conferences. I am very appreciative of Terrisa’s session today, but I think it is very important to be careful and scrutinize the words and phrases we use to discuss these issues. These aren’t minor points.
Terrisa said in our session, “Every filtering company today is working hard to block Google image thumbnails, and we’ve done it.” She then went on to describe a hypothetical student who tries to search on the network for ‘Playboy.’
The issues here are both technical and human. Schools need policies in place to protect students and comply with CIPA as well as other laws. There is a significant difference, however, between protecting students from objectionable content and trying to stop all students from searching for anything inappropriate online. We also have obligations as educators to help students use sites besides Google Images which are copyright friendly and less inappropriate image content. I’m tackling that issue tomorrow at the conference in my breakout on Pecha Kucha presentations and ending PowerPoint abuse.
LightSpeed Systems has some good products and services. The ability for IT in your school/district to have access to bandwidth utilization graphs as well as data like that shown below by Terrisa in our session is vital. Many of our smaller/rural schools don’t have this kind of capability and need it. In Oklahoma, NewNet66 is a great organization putting tools with similar features in the hands of its member school educators.
I’m really interested in advocating for more balanced content filtering in our schools. LightSpeed is doing some good things to address overblocking, but I’m concerned about advocacy which would push everyone onto the “closed web” and discourage learners from publishing on the open web. See my notes from Karen Fasimpaur’s session, “Open Educational Resources: Share, Remix, Learn” at the 2011 ISTE conference for more on that topic. I’m also concerned with definitions of WikiPedia like “it’s mainly a hotlist of inappropriate links” which perpetuate misconceptions about the site rather than clarifying what the value of the site is and how it should be used AND authored by our students. I’m finally concerned about phrases like “CIPA complaint content” which are misleading and do NOT help others better understand the actual requirements and terms of the CIPA law.
On a related note: Two free websites which can be used to show “cleaned” YouTube videos “live” to students are VideoPure and QuietTube. These weren’t mentioned by Terrisa, but I want to share them since they relate to the topics of this post. Those sites don’t stop students from visiting other “related” videos on YouTube, but they do eliminate related videos, comments, etc. when showing a YouTube video to students live in class. I included those sites in the Video chapter of my eBook,”Playing with Media: simple ideas of powerful sharing.”
What’s your take on these issues?
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