Everything Wrong With Internet Filtering

Ran into my first major problem with my TEDx project today. Well, I say “major problem,” but I really mean “minor but recurring problem requiring a big change.”

Anyways, the problem is that blog.com is awful. It clearly hasn’t had anybody coding on it for a couple of years at least, and even the blog page for blog.com hasn’t been updated in almost 2 years. I knew it wasn’t a great option, but I didn’t have a lot of blog site options that my students could actually get to on our school internet connection. I talked it through with my 1st period (after repeated 502 – Bad Gateway errors and issues logging in), and we agreed it would be better to switch services now than fight with the issues for the next 7 weeks. We’re going with Weebly.com now, and so far, the kids are much happier with it.

This endeavor leads me to the bigger issue though. See, if I didn’t have limitations, I would have my students create WordPress.com blogs, or maybe use Tumblr. Both of these options are blocked. I’d even go with Blogger, but also blocked. Why you ask? Well, because our county firewall has a content filter that blocks anything declared “blogging” from being accessed by students.

This whole problem kinda goes back to my post last week about social media in the classroom. In our absolute terror that a student might post or read something “inappropriate,” we essentially toss the baby out with the bathwater.

It is absolutely asinine to say “all blogs are bad.” No one would claim that (OK, I’m sure SOMEONE would, but certainly not anyone reading this, for obvious reasons). Therefore, we instead have to say that “some blogs are bad.” I can agree with that. I’ve read some awful blogs. Even going with awful being subjective, and way too broad a category, even some of the “awful” ones could be considered good for a classroom. Marzano tells us (in his “research” of other people’s research)(we used to call that plagiarism, but whatever) that students learn great from both examples and non-examples. I have seen plenty of times that non-examples are potentially more beneficial. So, I want to teach students the importance of writing properly, I show them a terribly written blog and say “Would you assume this person is smart or dumb?” I want to show why their online presence matters, why they need to think before they post, so I show them an example of someone who is posting things online that they probably shouldn’t and pose the question “Would you hire this person?”

“There’s other ways to teach that lesson,” you say. Sure, I could screenshot it on my computer and provide it on a Nearpod slide. So let’s look at the real point of blogging: sharing of ideas. Those of us that blog do it for a myriad of reasons, but at the end of the day, we just want other people to know what we think. To assume that all blogs are bad, tells our kids it isn’t safe to share their ideas, isn’t smart to put yourself out there, isn’t wise to connect or interact. That is NOT the lesson I want to teach my students.

In my school at least, this is only one example of the blanket blocks our students face. Twitter, facebook, and instagram are completely blocked (although SnapChat works just fine, which I think would be better if it didn’t, but that’s a whole different story). As I said previously, that’s no good. YouTube is blocked. Sure, we’ve all been lost in the vortex of YouTube channels like Epic Rap Battles of History or Honest Trailers (in fact, even typing this sentence I feel the draw to open a new tab), but that doesn’t make it useless in a classroom. Almost all teachers use YouTube, and logged in as a teacher I can, but my students can’t when they log in to a computer. Heck, YouTube does the majority of the content filtering we would need, at least at the high school level. Sure, a good bit of profanity (and stupidity) make it through, but not nudity. That’s something.

Much like many of my other posts on this blog (and many of the problems in education), I don’t intend to give you a magical answer to these problems. I do know that if we had these sites, and many others like them, we could teach the students to use them responsibly as a secondary part of the lesson. Students don’t truly understand the power, or consequences of the internet, we see that every day, but our schools hinder us from truly teaching digital citizenship. Help us!