Schools have been trying to embrace new developments in technology since at least the early 20th century to revolutionize education. When the motion picture was introduced, Thomas Edison said in 1913,
Books will soon be obsolete in the schools. . . . It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years (as cited in Reiser, 2001, p. 55).
This revolution obviously did not happen. As the 20th century progressed, educators and leaders would continue to make similar statements, yet books are not obsolete, and new instructional mediums have not fully replaced old ones. As new tools have appeared on the educational horizon, continuing into the 21st century, what guides and should guide their adoption? The answer can be found in the definition of educational technology, especially in the lens of the appropriate element of the definition.
According to Januszewski and Molenda (2008),
Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources (1).
In the authors’ discussion of the element of appropriate (2008), they address several components of what makes an educational technology appropriate. First, in the field of community development, appropriate technology refers to the “simplest and most benign solution to a problem” (10). Also appropriate technologies are the ones “connected with the local users and cultures” (10). Only practices and resources that are likely to yield results are appropriate, and they should be selected based on best practices, applied to the appropriate situation (10).
When professionals stay up-to-date on the knowledge base of the field to make decisions, they make an informed choice of the appropriate resources and practices which helps provide for productive learning. Choosing appropriate technologies also allows for the “wise use” of time and effort for the organizations and the educational technologists (11).
AECT Code of Ethics
Finally, appropriateness also has an ethical framework (10). Januszewski and Molenda draw on four separate provisions from the AECT Code of Ethics (2007) to frame the appropriate element of the definition of educational technology:
Section 1.5: Shall follow sound professional procedures for evaluation and selection of materials, equipment, and furniture/carts used to create educational work areas.
Section 1.6: Shall make reasonable efforts to protect the individual from conditions harmful to health and safety, including harmful conditions caused by technology itself.
Section 1.7: Shall promote current and sound professional practices in the use of technology in education.
Section 1.8: Shall in the design and selection of any educational program or media seek to avoid content that reinforces or promotes gender, ethnic, racial, or religious stereotypes. Shall seek to encourage the development of programs and media that emphasize the diversity of our society as a multicultural community.
Is Internet content filtering an appropriate practice?
I now will use these ethical frameworks and some of the previous discussion points to examine whether or not Internet content filtering in schools is an appropriate practice. If educational technology is
the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources (Januszewski and Molenda, 2008, p1),
what could the reasoning and effect be of filtering in schools? Is Internet content filtering an appropriate technological process or resource? Januszewski and Molenda do mention “appropriateness” as an avenue to censor books or other instructional materials, which does not fit into the context of this definition. One might say that filtering Internet content is the same as censoring of books. But as you will see, I will show differently.
Filtering, or blocking, of Internet content in schools is governed by several federal laws, including CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act, 2000). Reading the AECT Code of Ethics (2007), especially Section 1.6, one could argue that the Code of Ethics supports filtering, to “make reasonable efforts to protect the individual from conditions harmful to health and safety, including harmful conditions caused by technology itself.” However, as the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) National Education Technology Plan states,
Ensuring student safety on the Internet is a critical concern, but many filters designed to protect students also block access to legitimate learning content and such tools as blogs, wikis, and social networks that have the potential to support student learning and engagement (Barseghian 2011).
DOE Director of Education Technology Karen Cantor stated in April 2011 that broad filters are not helpful.
What we have had is what I consider brute force technologies that shut down wide swaths of the Internet, like all of YouTube, for example. Or they may shut down anything that has anything to do with social media, or anything that is a game….These broad filters aren’t actually very helpful, because we need much more nuanced filtering. (Barseghian).
CIPA was not created “to keep students stuck in the past, educated in a disconnected school environment that shares little resemblance to the real world for which we should be preparing our children” (Nielsen and Whitby 2011).
One could also state that the filtering is causing harm to the students when schools block access to all tools online, including the dangerous ones, without allowing the opportunity for educators to instruct the students in how to distinguish dangerous sites or online behaviors from safe ones. The students will eventually leave school and need to know how to use these new tools in this digital age. Furthermore, teens are using technology all the time already (Lenhart 2011).
Because the Internet is increasingly user-driven, users need to understand that they’re stakeholders in their own well being online. Kids need to understand that their own actions and behaviors have a lot to do with how positive or negative their online experiences are. This points to the need for a new kind of media-literacy instruction – the kind that develops the “filtering software” in kids’ heads, which is much more nimble than technology or laws, usually improves with age, and goes with them wherever they go. Media literacy has always developed that filter for information consumed and is needed more than ever. The much needed new part is critical thinking about what’s outgoing, about what we text, post, share, and upload as much as what we consume. (Anne Collier, as cited in Jackson, 2010).
All these ways show that across-the-board Internet filtering is not an appropriate practice.
Section 1.5 in the AECT Code of Ethics discusses evaluation of materials and equipment. More often than not, the technology department is in charge of running the filtering system and access to certain pieces of online technology (Skype, YouTube, Google Docs) (Johnson 2010). How do they evaluate requests to use these tools in different districts? Is the technology department held accountable to this same code of ethics? Are they evaluating the appropriateness of these websites and software for productivity of the learners and the educational technologists or do they not want change at all?
How can filtering be appropriate in light of Section 1.7? Educational technologists “shall promote current and sound professional practices in the use of technology in education” (AECT Code of Ethics). Current and sound professional practices currently include using blogs for reflection (Davis 2011), social media for connections (National School Boards Association 2007, Carvin 2007, and Conner 2008), YouTube for explanations or stories (Barseghian 2011), and Skype for connections (Johnson 2010). However, in many places these tools are still blocked through filtering systems.
Educational technologists see their benefits and their appropriate use through their colleagues’ sharing. Bloggers like Byrne track Free Technology for Teachers and explain how it can be best used in the classroom. Barrett has crowd-sourced with his colleagues around the globe to put together the “Interesting Ways to Use ___ in the Classroom” series, that describe numerous ways to use every major technological tool that is currently available.
Finally, Section 1.8 of the AECT standards focuses in part on developing programs and media that emphasize diversity and multicultural community. Many of the educational technology tools that are available can connect students around the country and globe.
If filtering is to be considered an appropriate practice of educational technology, in light of the ethical standards examined together, I do not see how this can be possible or benefit the students or the educational technologists themselves. If they are to be tracking the knowledge base of educational technology and tracking the current best practices, but filtering gets in the way, how can they best practice their profession? They can’t.
One of the best approaches I have seen to fighting the Internet filter in the schools comes from Hamilton (2009), who takes American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards for the 21st Century Learner, and shows how the various tools she wants to use can be applied to these standards. Maybe this is the approach the educational technology community needs to take to show the inappropriateness of the filtering system as it stands today.
The ethical standards of the educational technology community do strive to protect students from harm, but beyond that, filtering is not an appropriate behavior.
We need to go beyond worrying about predators and pornography and start thinking about young people as active participants – true citizens – in an increasingly interactive online environment where young people are just as likely to create content as they are to consume it (Larry Magid, as cited in Jackson 2010).
The appropriate element of the educational technology definition is an important one, especially when one considers the over-arching effects of Internet content filtering in schools. As the discussion of the AECT code of ethics that address the appropriate element has shown, Internet content filtering, especially as it stands today, is not the appropriate practice in educational technology. As the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (2010) concludes,
While tools ranging from content filters to anti-malware programs have their place, they are not a substitute for the lifelong protection provided by critical thinking. The best ‘filter’ is not the one that runs on a device but the ‘software’ that runs in our heads (32).
And I will add the most appropriate filter is the one that is in the hands of the student and the educational technologist who is allowed to use the best practices of the field to teach the student how to be safe, connect, and grow.
Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (2007, November). AECT: Code of Professional Ethics. Retrieved June 21, 2011, from http://www.aect.org/About/Ethics.asp
Barrett, T. (n.d.). Interesting Ways series. EDTE.CH: Inspire Connect Engage Create. Blog. Retrieved June 21, 2011, from http://edte.ch/blog/interesting-ways/
Barseghian, T. (2011, April 7). Eight Surprising Websites That Schools Can’t Access | MindShift. Mind/Shift: How we will learn. Blog. Retrieved June 20, 2011, from http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/04/eight-surprising-webites-schools-cant-access/
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Hamilton, B. (2009, December 11). Fighting the Filter LibGuides from Creekview HS. Creekview High School LibGuides. Pathfinder. Retrieved June 21, 2011, from http://theunquietlibrary.libguides.com/content.php?pid=85464
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