Professional Journal #2 Beth Cramer : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Elizabeth Cramer May 15, 1999

January 1998 issue of Electronic School Professional Journal #2

CENSORWARE How well does Internet filtering software protect students? Lars Kongshem addresses the controversial issue of using Internet filtering, blocking and monitoring products. Should we avoid using censorware and allow are young elementary students to accidentally stumble upon a pornographic sight such as (the government site is exactly the same but ends .gov). On the other hand do we use censorware and block out sites such as Mar s Ex plorer? According to Lars Kongshem, the U.S. Supreme Court placed the responsibility on the schools to shield students from online indecency and many companies have jumped at the opportunity to provide censorware. Unfortunately, many educators do not always agree that these software companies are equipped to decide which sites are appropriate for the classroom. Some educators believe that companies make choices to block certain sites for political reasons. Others say because of the estimated fact that the web doubles in size every six months, censorware provides no guarantee against inappropriate viewing material. School technology leaders do agree that schools should conduct hands-on evaluations of censorware before deciding how to filter Internet access for students. One type of censorware is a filter. The unrefined software censors by using keyword blocking. This method of blocking undesirable words can lead to eliminating perfectly acceptable words and sites. This software may block out only the inappropriate word(s) leaving the reader with altered text that can be difficult to comprehend. More refined methods of filtering, block individual web pages. For example, Cyber Patrol rates sites according to categories such as violence/profanity, partial nudity, intolerance, satanic or cult, drugs and drug culture and sex education, to name a few. Most vendors will allow schools to choose what categories they would like blocked but they will not allow educators to view the list of blocked sites. The only way educators will know what sites are blocked is by trying a site and seeing what happens. The two drawbacks to filtering software is that people who rate sites are not required to have backgrounds in library science and also censorware blocks sites that are educational while allowing access to sites that are unsuitable. Although vendors claim that schools can add or delete sites, many educators doubt that students will ask to add sites dealing with personal issues such as teen pregnancy, abuse or homosexuality. Lars Kongshem does not have many positive remarks about rating systems, another approach to blocking Internet access, as a possible monitoring solution for schools. Many of these systems rely on Internet publishers or third parties. Many sites have not supplied ratings, including the White House, which promotes web ratings. Third party systems depend on strangers to provide subjective ratings. These rating systems attach too much significance on someone else's opinion and judgment. Many educators are uncertain about the question, "To block or not to block?" One teacher claimed that " using a computer that had Surfwatch installed on it, I was able to download information on how to build a bomb" as well as many other dangerous topics. Other school technology coordinators believe that the "inexact science of Internet filtering and blocking is a reasonable trade-off for greater peace of mind". Lars Kongshem concludes with the question: Who is in control of the agenda "to block or not to block"? Many argue with "censorware in place, school districts give up the control of what students can and can't see". Do we allow one group or organization to control what students view on the Internet? Are censorware programs political filters? Benjamin Jenkins, a 17 year old student at Community High School in Ann Arbor, believes that censorware is a violation of the trust between students and staff.

Many parents and educators, including myself, are apprehensive about unsupervised children and students accessing the Internet. There are so many sites that are beyond "X" rated. How do you educate young and older children about safe surfing? Should parent and teachers purchase censorware as a solution? We, St. Thomas School, hooked up to the Internet three years ago. I have thought about purchasing censorware for our one on-line computer. I was not aware of the controversy of purchasing Internet filtering software. Right now, the students can not get on the Internet without the teacher putting in the secret password that is unknown to all students. Most of the time, the classroom teacher guides students when accessing sites. The teacher is the censorware. I remember the note I put together for parents that first year St. Thomas was on-line. I was worried about getting sued if a student accidentally connected with an "X" rated site. Each student was required to bring back this form with their signature along with their parent's signature. By signing this Internet form, they agreed to avoid all inappropriate sites or give up all Internet privileges. Three years later, I don't bother with these forms. I do not know whether I am being too laid back, but I have not had any problems with any of my students. Similar to Benjamin Jenkins point of view, I believe in establishing a relationship with my students based on trust. My environment of small class sizes in a school system with large numbers of parent volunteers allows me to develop this relationship of trust. If I were in charge of a larger computer classroom with twenty- four computers accessing the Internet at once, I would be more apprehensive about relying on the student-teacher trust relationship. I would probably choose to install censorware in this case. I like the idea of installing a proxy server-based product through a networking operating system that assigns each user a logon ID and password. In this situation, I would be able to filter information based on the age-appropriateness of the material. Unfortunately, this process can be very time consuming and I would worry about the up-keep with this type of filtering system. I have had many conversations with my middle school students about their experiences with the Internet. Many of my students claim that they can get on the Internet at home, whenever they want. I ask them if their parents monitor what sites they view and they laugh at me. I have this fear that some parents are not familiar with the material their children can access. When I ask my students what they look up on the Internet, some say they look for Nintendo codes, others say they look for yo-yo prices and some admit they go into chat rooms. I believe many of my students have probably intentionally accessed inappropriate sites. Even so, students know what the school rules are and do not cross over that line when it comes to using the Internet in the classroom. The "ideal" substitution for censorware would be well-educated classroom computer teachers and volunteers. In this perfect classroom setting, there would be 5 adults to every 25 students. Students would be educated about URL addresses. These well-educated students would know by just glancing which sites to avoid. Computer curriculums could be created by well paid educational computer staffs whose main responsibility would include surfing for age-appropriate educational sites. Realistically, one-teacher computer staffs, like myself, can substitute for censorware. They can make available researched and improved educational sites on hand near the computers, that students can access. These teachers can use parent volunteers as a way to build an educational Internet site database. Also, many students are happy to share some of the appropriate educational sites they have come across. There is no easy way to protect students who use the Internet. When using the Internet in the classrooms, teachers need to use their best judgment in conjunction with their teaching environment. Censorware is not the best choice for monitoring student Internet access, but for some teachers it might be their only immediate choice.

-- Anonymous, May 17, 1999

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