I was delighted to read Kathleen Kennedy Manzo’s article for the latest issue of Education Week today, “Filtering Fixes,” which features on-the-mark quotations about how we should be approaching Internet filtering in our schools from Shawn Nutting (of Trussville, Alabama schools) and others. The lead image includes April Chamberlain and Shawn, who are both past presenters in the free K-12 Online Conference.

April Chamberlain and Shawn Nutting

Before I share some quotations from Kathleen’s article and comment on them, I’ll share a few related links connected to Shawn and April.

For K12Online06, Shawn presented “Internet Access with Minimal Filtering,” and for K12Online07 he presented “Creating a Paradigm Shift in Technology.” All K12Online presentations remain online and available, and these sessions are just as applicable today as they were in 2006 and 2007. April presented the session “Trailfire” for K12Online07. I co-presented with Shawn in 2006 at the SITE conference in San Antonio, along with Sheryl-Nussbaum Beach, in the session (still available as an audio podcast) “Lessons Learned from K-12 Online 2006.” Shawn and April played pivotal roles in utilizing K12Online Conference content in their local, face-to-face professional development sessions in Trussville schools following our inaugural year. That story, which is well worth reading, is detailed on the wiki page, Trussville Schools Use of K-12 Online 2006 for Blended Professional Development.

Here are some on-target quotations relating to Internet content filtering in schools from Kathleen’s article.

From Shawn Nutting:

“We are known in our district for technology, so I don’t see how you can teach kids 21st-century values if you’re not teaching them digital citizenship and appropriate ways of sharing and using everything that’s available on the Web,” said Shawn Nutting, the technology director for the Trussville district. “How can you, in 2009, not use the Internet for everything? It blows me away that all these schools block things out” that are valuable.

One of the reasons many schools are not “using the Internet for everything” today is because of multiple digital divides. Not only do we have digital divides of access and connectivity in many of our communities, but we also have enormous knowledge divides among educators in our schools. These are BIG reasons why free, online professional development opportunities like the K-12 Online Conference are so important, and why the 2009 theme for the conference (“Bridging the Divide”) is so relevant today. It’s also why educating our school LEADERS about these issues is critical. If the leaders don’t “get it,” the change won’t happen systemically. Good leadership matters.

From yours truly:

“The majority of our schools are overblocking and overcensoring the Web,” said Wesley Fryer, the executive director of Storychasers Inc., a nonprofit organization that hosts a digital storytelling site that provides historical resources to Oklahoma schools and communities. Mr. Fryer, a digital-learning consultant and former elementary school teacher in Oklahoma City, writes frequently about educational technology issues on his blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity.

“Some of that is understandable because of the risk-averse, conservative nature of schools,” he said. “My position is not ‘don’t block,’ but let’s filter reasonably and let’s also talk with students about choices and digital literacy and ethics, and let’s prepare kids for the unfiltered Web.”

These dynamics of overblocking the web in our schools is a primary motivator behind the wiki project, “Unmasking the Digital Truth.”

From Trussville Schools Superintendent Suzanne Freeman:

“We know kids use these tools, so we really feel obligated to help kids use them right and prepare them for what they face in the world every day,” said Superintendent Suzanne Freeman, who has two teenagers attending high school in the district. “Kids have access to a lot [on the Internet], whether we want to believe it or not. I would worry about it if we didn’t prepare kids to use these tools properly.”

How refreshing and inspiring it is to hear a school superintendent share this vision. Bravo Suzanne, and bravo Trussville School Board!

From Trussville Schools library media specialist Rachel Brockman:

“We basically start to train students as early as kindergarten about things to look for out there and strategies to help them stay safe” on the Internet, Ms. Brockman said. “Rather than saying this is a scary tool and something bad could happen, instead we believe it’s an incredible tool that connects you with the entire world out there. … [L]et’s show you the best way to use it.”

Advocating an outlook of proactive saavy rather than panicked fear? Yes! Let’s hear it for library media specialists as digital learning leaders!

From 12th grade Trussville Schools English teacher Eric Jenkins:

“I’m a big advocate for experiential learning, but it’s kind of hard to teach Internet etiquette or rules of how to act and interact online without exposing them to the stuff that’s out there,” Mr. Jenkins said. “It’s hard to teach those things in a vacuum.”

It’s also hard to learn how to swim without getting wet. Eric is on target: We have to use social media tools and technologies with our students, to learn how to safely navigate and intelligently utilize these resources.

underwater girl giving a big thumbs up

And the closing quotation from yours truly:

“If we don’t want to take risks, let’s not let kids go outside for recess and let’s not let anyone go on the Internet,” Mr. Fryer said. “But if we recognize what’s developmentally appropriate, we know we need to get them outside exercising and playing in digital sandboxes and giving them opportunities to become ethical digital citizens.”

Kudos to Kathleen Kennedy Manzo and Education Week for researching and publishing an article on Internet content filtering which presents a much more balanced, thoughtful, and proactive approach toward digital citizenship than we typically see amplified in mainstream media.

Edmond school leaders, are you listening? Oprah, are you listening? There WILL be a test on these ideas, and the stakes are high: It’s the educational present and future of our children, our communities, our nation, and our world.

Hat tip to Lee Kolbert for bringing this article to my attention today, as well as Kathleen Manzo for her tweet on it.

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3 Responses to Advocating for balanced approaches to Internet filtering in schools

  1. I think that sometimes, the truth is, it is easier to ban or filter websites than it is to take the time to work out how to use them safely. YouTube is often banned at school, but I would bet good money that almost every child who has internet access at home is using YouTube in some format. YouTube’s unmoderated comments are more of an issue than their unmoderated content in my opinion, but if we always look for the bad in things, we may never use any new tools.

  2. Sam says:

    Fantastic and relevant comments shared in the brief captions. I wholeheartedly agree rather than censor everything that our kids might come across on the internet, that we teach them how to surf and use it properly. However, how do we change the long held opinions of our state leaders who often control things such as internet blocks?

  3. chalnier says:

    Great ideas and comments! So then, who is keeping all this information locked up? Is this like the case of movies, where, kids will watch rated “R” movies at home, but their parents won’t let them watch rated “PG-13” movies at school? I am positive that most all of the students I teach utilize youtube at home, yet we can’t use ANY of it at school. It’s maddening.

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