May 06, 2008

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of filtering - it's not got a future

AB has taken the previous arguments on a stage, by pointing out what those of us with 3G wireless internet have known for a while. Whitelists and blacklists mean very little to someone who's simply bypassing your whole system.

So, maybe the arguments about how a whitelist is formed or what sites should go on it are all futile - Local Authorities, companies and other organisations maybe need to speed up the urgency in the answer to the question of December 25, 2008 (and almost certainly 2009):

when a minority of your students can provide unfiltered access to the web to their mates in our increasingly collaborative classrooms, and their teachers may start doing the same with their own technology, what will be the response?

Mobile phone blocking, à la Russian opera, or an educative approach to making net use worthwhile? What's happening with cell phone and mobile internet usage in Asia will come to these shores soon (and, some would argue, already is) so the urgency can't be underestimated.


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Should we not be educating students to the appropriate use of technology? Not such statements as you "Can" and "Cannot" access certain things.

Filtering could be seen as a policy decision that takes the choice away from the user, and covers the Internet Provider in education.

Can see a case for some form of filtering. My wife teaches a P1,2,3 composite (5,6 & 7 years old) class.
I can see a case for a 'walled garden' for them to explore. To discover and play in.
Its a completely different case for high school pupils or even staff. They tend to be covered by exactly the same level of 'protection' as the younger classes.
For older pupils and staff the case is very different.
And then Paul is correct we should be educating in the appropriate use of technology.

My S1 class today were convinced that "my password" gave a different level of access to their passwords - had to disillusion them. Websense was back today so animoto and Shared copy (both of which I had planned on using) were blocked. Now I'm back to sending emails to try and have them unblocked.

We don't filter at our school as it it would eliminate so many learning opportunities. Plus when filtering is in place, students just bypass it with a proxy. It becomes this constant cat and mouse game causing more distance between IT and students. Instead it should be a learning collaboration between these two groups. Our Japanese mobile phone are powerful enough to replace still and video cameras, so in this case we try to encourage there use as much as possible.

Thats great. What about use of the internet for younger pupils?

There may be a case for some filters / walled garden approach for very young children - but I would always advocate for situating any measure within the context of 'the age and maturity / capacity of the child' (paralleling the Article 12 and Article 13 Rights to voice and to access media under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).

However, whether filters are part of the solution or not - our approach has to be capacity building first, with control as a last resort to fill in the gaps / deal with illegal / highly problematic content.

However, personal and mobile phone based internet access does raise a significant problem for the capacity building approach - as one of the best ways to support young people's safe and effective use of technology is simply to design ICT labs so that all screens are in view and a supportive adult (or peers) can intervene to identify problems, and, more importantly, suggest ways to develop skills and take up of opportunities

As net access moves to the small screen, that oversight becomes far more difficult...

I'd be really interested to hear what strategies are being used to support young people in safe and effective use of mobile internet technologies...

In managing out school bandwidth usage, I have of late considered filtering... filtering not on whether a site is appropriate for school, rather on its bandwidth usage. At this point no action has been taken, but am monitoring sites that appear to give little educational benefit, yet chew up bandwidth. Anyone else dealing with this?

Hi Chad,
It's an interesting take, but more often than not I'm hearing about districts and schools solving this problem by adding more juice in the pipe. That school in NZ I was harping on about get through 500GB per month, and will continue to add access as long as there is demand (whichm, with teen boys, is endless). And this in New Zealand, whose internet access is notoriously slow and expensive, given that there is only one pipe in and out of the country.

For the most part our young pupils are not given free access to computers. There is always an adult with them. In the event students are using technology we try to encourage the use of web quests so students are on task at website teachers have already chosen.

Instead of filtering we do shape our network traffic. Squeezing our 100 MB pipe down to 1 MB for P2P traffic and game sites.

In an ideal world of course everyone would prefer that the access to the internet be unfiltered. The same we we would prefer not to have to install anti-virus scanners, span filters, etc. But the reality is that there is a vast quantity of very unsuitable material on the web which is very accessible. You do not have even have to look for it: mistyping a search term can bring it to you.

Do you enforce safe search on Google? If so then you are making some decision on filtering access. Do you want to allow porn sites into the school? I hope not. And so again you are filtering access.

Of course pupils can access this material at home - just as boys have always had blue magazines under the bed - but that does not meant that you should make it available in school: do your Libraries stock the "top-shelf" magazines that are available in the local newsagent?

The argument about filtering is not really about *whether* to filter or not: the issue is at the margins. *Exactly* what do you filter: there are the obvious which is easy and the debatable: this is hard.

[Company name] We address some of the problems outlined in these posts by (a) having multiple filtering profiles (primary through to staff) allowing differential levels of access, (b) multiple subscription URL lists, (c) content based controls (so, for example, porn sites can be blocked even when they are not in the URL lists or accessed via a proxy), (d) allow all users to subit an online form to request (un)blocks, (e) option to bye a local system to give some control over the lists.

[This software does], in general, block and suchlike as there are some very unsuitable ones out there but will unblock particular sites on request.

This filtering system was developed in concert with schools and from the outset was designed to address some of the real issues with "commercial" systems: what is clear, however, (apart from "you cannot please all the people all the time"!) is that unfiltered access is not an option. The trick is to make filtering as efficient, responsive and transparent as possible.

You don't seem to be taking account of the fact that we can access the web without filtering already, so a solution like the one your company produces becomes less relevant than educating staff and students on what not to search for. Extreme sites can be blocked - I don't think anyone in education would question that - but there are the ones in the grey area where, to be frank, thinking is more powerful and useful outside school than simply assuming thought will not happen.

@Ewan reading posts like this is really frustrating. We filter quite heavily at our School. I don't agree with it. I feel that we need to teach our students to make correct choices as has been said earlier.

Unfortunately we currently have 2x 512kb SDSL connections shared between our 300+ computers. We are currently in the process of upgrading to a 2MB Fibre E1 connection. To read that you have a 100MB pipe, that just makes me sad. Simple as that. I'm sad. We could only dream of 1. Obtaining a link like that, and 2. Being able to afford it with the scary prices we pay here in Australia.

It's very frustrating how far behind the rest of the world we are when it comes to high speed internet.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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