Internet filters restrict students’ learning Friday, December 09, 2011 By Shelby Hoffmann
One of the most controversial aspects of classroom education is the school’s insistence on blocking and censoring the Internet. Students complain about it constantly, claiming that if they could access popular websites, it could help them increase their learning experience. Should students really be able to access these websites? In most cases, they should. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are just a few popular social networking sites that can be helpful when used in an academic setting. The school filter should block only websites that are truly offensive and have no educational value. Students at Arapahoe High School are mature young adults who are capable of using the Internet for beneficial reasons. YouTube can be used for projects, resources and to help students understand what they are learning more deeply. Students can also use Facebook to get in touch with classmates in order to help each other with homework assignments, projects and assigned readings. Similarly, Twitter could be used to contact teachers in order to ask questions and get help with homework and test reviews. These are just a few of the social networking websites that can aid students prepare for unit tests, semester finals or midterms. However, we miss out on the chance to use these opportunities because the school has purchased an Internet filter that specifically prevents us from accessing these. This filter blocks everything from YouTube to hate sites. Many students would like use these sites like YouTube, to find videos to include in class projects to enhance their research or the points they are trying to make. This makes sense as we are living in a digital and visual society where videos are often used in the classroom. However, students do not have the option to access YouTube at school and thus must find videos to use at home. This does not make sense and is unfairly punitive to students. After all, if a student is assigned a project that must be completed at school and they want to include a video, but YouTube is blocked, what are they supposed to do? Fail the project and have their grade decline? That is every student’s worst nightmare, especially if it is a required course. “There is enough educational value through YouTube that particularly the high school level students are mature enough to not waste their time on looking up non-educational stuff,” Karl Fisch, Director of Technology, said. While there is no doubt that some censoring is necessary because certain websites have no educational value and are not appropriate to access at school, filters are ineffective because they end up blocking a lot of valuable websites as well as legitimately inappropriate ones. Filters do not allow for the district to block objectionable websites on a case-by-case basis, instead the school must broadly designate what types of websites it considers to be “inappropriate.” The filter company then blocks all websites that contain anything that fits into the broad categories of what the school has determined to be offensive. The result of this is that vast information resources are unused because they are located on a site that contains information that a faceless filter company has determined to be “inappropriate.” While still imperfect, a better policy would be to only block websites that are truly offensive and have no educational value. The school should trust high school age students to be mature and make good decisions in regard to what they are accessing online while at school. I believe, if given the chance, students would stick to using websites for legitimate educational reasons. Facebook is another frequently criticized website within edutional settings, that actually has educational value. Reporter Julie O’Dell recently wrote that“20% more of Facebook-using students (as compared to students who didn’t use Facebook) said they felt connected to their school and community.” With this in mind, it seems unfair that students are banned from accessing Facebook at school. Yes, the teachers are able to override some websites, though not Facebook, but if there are multiple websites in one class period you have to override it takes up time. When the teachers are teaching and have to stop to override the system, those extra five to ten minutes could be spent by getting further along in class. This phenomenon is not limited to YouTube or Facebook; there are many currently blocked websites that have educational value. Not every social networking site or video site has to be banned from the teenage eyes. Teenagers are bound to see these websites when they are at home or any other place with an uncontrolled Wi-Fi system. So is it really necessary to block them? The Internet helps students be successful and it also has the ability to help teachers with their lesson plans. With teachers using the Internet for multiple reasons, the students are learning to a greater extent than without it. “If teachers are making their lesson plan at home and they find this great website and don’t realize it’s blocked at school, when they get there they have to figure out another website that does or shows what the original website did,” Fisch said. The Internet is a valuable educational resource that does significantly more good than harm. If our goal is to raise students to be able to use this resource reasonably and responsibly, then we should trust them to do so while at school. Many students agree, citing the need for the school to trust students to be mature. “You could go on [social networking sites] and waste your time, but on the other hand you can connect with your classmates, get information about homework assignments, get to know people better and feel more comfortable engaging with them on academic matters,” Kelly Truong wrote in the article “Study Finds No Link Between Social-Networking Sites and Academic Performance” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. If our future is in our hands, then it should be our choice whether or not we want to mess around on websites that will not benefit our future. If we want to play video games and go on websites that will not help our future, then let us. It is our decision, and should not be up to the school board nor some company that we do not even know about. So, why can’t we choose what we are able to see? Are we not mature enough to handle our own future? Many juniors and seniors are going to be old enough to vote for the Presidential Election in 2012. We have our future and the world’s future in our hands. Being given full access to Internet sites helps prepares us for that big step into college where we will have to learn how to maneuver through the distracting technology. To do this, filters should be loosened, or removed entirely, allowing us to expand our learning view and dive more deeply into the topics we are researching.