What’s the distinction between Protection from and Prevention of the Net?

The topic of safety on the Internet and protecting children from the perils of the Internet, as well as protecting organizations from possible lawsuits, have been coming up more and more frequently. A few years ago I would encounter the “ACCESS DENIED” screen not more than once every couple of months.  I would even have participants in a training purposely type in a URL that would produce that same screen, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system keeping children secure and I would also report a site for needed blocking, if I stumbled upon something that was clearly inappropriate.   When encountering ‘the screen‘, I would continue with my work  and possibly check the source I was looking for after hours from my home computer.

Today I encounter the “ACCESS DENIED” screen several times a day and my colleagues report a similar experience.  The firewall is becoming a barrier to research, learning, collaboration and  innovation.  Now I contact the appropriate department requesting adjustment of the site I am trying to get to and  inevitably get the answer that “there is nothing that we can do – the School Board will not allow this site as it is classified as______”.  Are there more inappropriate sites than there used to be?  Are we blocking more than we used to?  Are we screening effectively?  Are we effectively teaching the appropriate use of the Internet?  Has the firewall become a replacement for teacher monitoring and supervision?  Is there a difference between social networking and professional networking?  How are social networking and social bookmarking the same/different?

The advent of social networking and virtual worlds used by the working world have caused me to ponder these questions and push back a little at our well-meaning and disciplined “Internet Police”.  I wonder if the fear of what students MAY encounter has caused us to prevent encounters that could be useful and educational.  Can social networking sites and working in virtual worlds positively impact collaboration and learning?
A government site, http://www.onguardonline.gov/, provides information for parents to know what to look for and to discuss with children regarding safety on the Internet, including social networking and virtual worlds.  Could this be curriculum material for educators to use?   In an ISTE 2010 address Mario Armstrong referred  to school districts blocking of the Internet as the  Locked Net Monster.  Check out the learning today blog for some ideas on teaching digital safety in a k-12 school setting.

I am not suggesting we unlock the firewall to all that is available, just a more thoughtful approach to what could be useful.  An approach that includes academic review, intellectual curiosity and alignment with 21st century skills.  The approach would require diligent supervision by teachers and appropriate preparation for use of the tool that has become ubiquitous, except in the classroom.  In the meantime I’ll do like the kids – use my smartphone, call a friend or wait until I get home to look it up.


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