Internet Filtering in a 21st Century School

This website is blocked due to filtering rules.

Imagine logging onto a website while at school and being greeted by a blank screen and the above warning, which you’ve never seen before. A little bit strange, right? Now imagine your school has previously protested Internet filters and that you had no warning of this new filtering rule. Even more strange.

This is the situation that myself and countless other students experienced today at school. “Did you hear about the filters?” was a question asked more frequently than “Why wasn’t today a snow day?”, which is notable considering that we had a significant (if less severe than predicted) winter storm last night.

Granted, the blocked website that caused an uproar was Netflix. Should students be accessing Netflix while in class? Probably not. But this doesn’t justify a filter. Consider lunchtime, spare periods, and students who get to school early or stay late. There’s nothing wrong with catching up on your favourite TV show during those times (or watching a show that relates to course content) – unless you have a filter in place which sends you the implicit message that there is something wrong with this.

Then there’s the reality that teachers often use Netflix to show documentaries or movies in class. I often find that my understanding of a topic is greater after I’ve seen it applied in a real or fictional story (not to mention that I’ve also experienced test questions based directly on a movie or documentary which was viewed in class).

Streaming Netflix does use quite a bit of Bandwidth (the capacity of a system which provides Internet access). This is the fairest argument for filtering it can prevent higher costs needed to pay for more Bandwidth. Still, implementing the decision without any notice is not, in my opinion, the right way to go about such a thing.

For part of today, Instagram was also unavailable to many students in addition to Netflix. Whether students should be able to use social media or not while at school is an entirely different question (and one which I plan to further explore on this blog). My school embraces 21st century learning. We’re a paperless school; we use technology quite a bit. Students are already using their laptops and phones not as distractions but as learning tools, and what many people fail to realize is that social media is also a learning tool, just maybe one that’s not part of many curriculums.

Internet filtering sends the message that students aren’t responsible enough to use their learning tools to, well, learn; or to choose what websites they access. It also sends the message that students need to be controlled by adults who monitor what we can and cannot do. Today at lunch I clicked on the social media folder on my phone and went to open Instagram. I then recalled that it wasn’t working, supposedly due to the filters and, thumb hovering over my screen, I realized that I was no longer in control of my actions. A filter was dictating them for me. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in that moment – and this is, though small, an example nonetheless of how Internet filters can restrict students’ rights and freedoms.

I’m a firm believer in the power of teachers and educators to do their jobs (and go above and beyond what is required of them). I am confident that we can rely on educators to teach students how to be good digital citizens – without restricting the ability of students to make decisions, take ownership over those decisions, and deal with the (potentially negative) consequences of those decisions. If we can’t trust teachers to do this, then the problem is not Internet filters, or watching Netflix in class; it’s what students are being taught. And that’s a whole other story… one that won’t change if Internet filters remain in place.

16 thoughts on “Internet Filtering in a 21st Century School

  1. The other day I opened up YouTube at my office during coffee break to see new dance video of Matt steffanina choreography and guess what it was filtered as marked as adult video. Heck !!! What was so adult in the dance video. I raised a concern but no response .

  2. This definitely made for an interesting read. In my school, we use our laptops a lot as well and they are configured to the school internet. And so many websites are blocked, it’s unbelievable! Even while doing research for assignments or even looking up recipes we come across websites that are blocked! The other day, they blocked gmail for some reason. I think it’s quite unfair to not trust students enough to let them decide what websites they should be accessing or not. Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

    1. I agree! It’s a distraction to learning to have websites constantly blocked by filters, and, in my opinion, filtering the content students have access to sends creates a negative culture.

  3. This was a really interesting post, but I have to say I quite understand Internet filtering, and personally think it is perfectly acceptable. My school blocks all social media, and I think it’s a good thing – it means people can’t be distracted, and that they engage with each other more, at breaks and lunch etc. rather than being stuck on their phones the whole time. X

    1. Interesting to hear the other side of it! I think it’s definitely different in my school as we use technology in class all the time since we are paperless and embrace 21st century learning. I’ve also found that technology fosters collaboration, rather than hindering it, and serves as a learning tool rather than a distraction. Because that’s the way it is in my school, Internet filters entirely contradict the learning philosophy which we are taught. However, I totally understand your point of view as well!

  4. I COMPLETELY agree with you! I feel strongly with this subject. Students should be taught to be good digital citizens. And students should be given the choice to choose to do what they’d like (wether that’s watch Netflix in a free period because it is a bad day). Students need to be given a choice because everyone learns from choices

    1. Exactly! Learning comes from experiencing something or making a mistake and growing from it, and this can’t happen with filters in place – not to mention the negative messages around trust and responsibility which filters send to students.

  5. I don’t think it should be filtered…. I understand that some students may use these during class time but it’s not really up to them to block Netflix and Instagram. I understand elementary schools blocking sites because of inappropriate content, but by high school I don’t see any reason for that. So if their goal was to get kids to pay attention in class, rather than their safety, it won’t work out, kids will just find different ways to waste class time.

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