A Common Sense Approach to Internet Policy

Posted by Bob Price on September 28, 2012

At some point we’re just going to have to trust people to do what’s right when it comes to use of the Internet in schools.  In my district we have spent countless hours keeping our appropriate use polices up to date, implementing the latest in filtering technology, and monitoring to the best of our ability, what people are doing while they’re on the Internet.  We have had Internet connections available for students and staff since 1995.  During that time we have had only a handful of appropriate use violations.

Is all the time and effort to keep the system locked down really productive?  As we have provided increased technology for our staff and encouraged them to use the technology in their classroom instruction, the number of complaints over blocked sites has skyrocketed.  The number of appropriate use violations has remained very low.

A typical scenario goes like this.  A teacher searches the web and finds some great video resources to support a planned lesson.  What better way to use the new classroom projector?  After spending hours in preparation, the teacher arrives at school excited about the new infusion of technology into the instructional process.  Trying to access the resources at school, up comes a message that the content is blocked for one of many reasons—none of which make sense to the disappointed teacher and students.  Requesting to unblock sites is somewhat cumbersome and unpredictable.  Maybe we need to lighten up a bit.  Perhaps it would make more sense to have teacher computers unblocked and then take action if we find there is abuse.

For students the issue is a bit more problematic.  We are required to have Internet filters on computers for student use.  The trust factor is a bit more dicey with students.  However, we have not had many instances of inappropriate use of the Internet by our students.

I’m sure we can strike a balance between protection and access if we really try.  So in my district, that is what we are going to do.  If a teacher wants access to YouTube, the teacher will get access.  If the teacher chooses to visit inappropriate sites, we will deal with that teacher rather than blocking access for everyone.  Students, at least for now, will have to live with the restrictions.  However, when they need to visit a site to make a presentation or report, they can always use the teacher’s computer with supervision.    Hopefully this will turn out to be a common sense approach that allows teacher to take advantage of some wonderful online resources.  Or, it could make my last year as Superintendent very challenging.