Filters/Firewalls

As School Librarians we have a custodial responsibility of protecting our students from some of the things that can be found on the Internet. If I were a Public Librarian I would tackle this problem differently.

I believe we need to do three things to protect our students.

  1. We need to have the best filtering technology available.
  2. We need to teach teachers how to give Internet assignments and teach teachers how to monitor students’ using the Internet.
  3. We need to teach students individual responsibility.

Having the best filtering possible is the hardest of all. There are not any really good filters. Those that filter by word prevent access to “breast cancer” and “chicken breast recipes”. Those filters that block sites based on a category will overnight arbitrarily add the web site the teacher has been practicing with in anticipation of a great lesson the next day. There is no greater way to stifle teacher use of technology than block the site today that the teacher spent hours learning yesterday for her class today.

One critical piece of near success with filters is to have the School Librarian involved in the selection and management of the filter. For example, the School Librarian needs to be part of a “reconsideration committee” to evaluate when sites need to be blocked. School Librarians need to have the ability to unblock sites.

And it almost does not need to be said, but filters need to be configured so as to function optimally. The district needs to be sure that the company has adequately trained the people managing the filter so that the filter spends more time blocking repulsive e-mail and letting access to good web sites as opposed to the opposite!

Teaching teachers how to give Internet assignments is less difficult but also wearing on the School Librarian. Research shows that good Library programs correlate with higher student achievement. Delivering staff development is one component identified by research that makes up a good Library program. When teachers give an Internet assignment that should take 10 minutes for the students to complete, the teacher should give the students 20 minutes to do the work. You know what they say about idol hands. Teachers and Librarians need to monitor the students on the computers continuously. As a colleague says, “Any time 3 or more boys gather around a computer screen it is time to check on them”. The purpose of the monitoring is to be sure the students are successful in finding good information. The side benefit is that students are less likely to circumvent the filter while the teacher and Librarian are looking over their shoulder.

Students need to be taught self-responsibility. Students need to be introduced to the fact that when inappropriate images are viewed, the images stay in their brain forever and can guide their thoughts on occasion when students are not engaging their minds on specific activities. Students need to be taught how to exit sites quickly that are inappropriate. I believe the “Alt” key and the number “4” will close all windows on a PC computer. Schools need to have clear enforceable consequences when students are exploring inappropriate sites.

Although we have a responsibility to attempt to protect our students, I think we also have a responsibility to use tools wisely and to teach students to do the same. Closing blogs, YouTube, MySpace, and other social networking tools does more harm than good. It would be better to teach the students proper use of these tools than to ignore they exist and pretend that blocking them will solve all problems. We should not rule by exception or in other words let’s not punish most of our users by limiting access to great tools just because a few might abuse the tool.

3 Comments Already

  1. VWB said:
    March 1, 2007 at 12:11 pm     Permalink

    A clearly stated, concise description and list of solutions to a problem that is almost to the breaking point…that is to say, breaking down Librarians who very much want to embrace the 21st century concept of educational information and resources and are just plain running out of steam battling what it takes to accomplish this goal. This information will provide good support for presenting their case when Librarians meet with those in control of making the necessary changes.

  2. Unblock MySpace Movement said:
    March 2, 2007 at 4:35 am     Permalink

    Finally I hear a sane voice. But using filters is a waste of time, it is a game that you can never win.

    Also, I understand blocking porn and hate sites, but blocking social networking sites like myspace and bebo is the most dumb thing I can imagine from the educational point of view.

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