Internet Filtering Pros and Cons
Not all aspects of our jobs as educators are fun and glamorous, and one of the less glamorous parts of the job is setting boundaries and restrictions for what students can/can’t do in class. No one wants to be the “bad guy,” but establishing and enforcing these restrictions is an important part of ensuring our students’ safety and success in our classrooms. Their online experiences are an extension of those classrooms.
The most common method of restricting student access to potentially unsafe and distracting/disruptive content online is web filtering, however, the use and effectiveness of web-filtering has become a widely debated topic among educators. In trying to understand if the process does more harm than good, many are asking, “Are the web filters at school too restrictive?” Some feel that the filters deprive students of autonomy and the chance to learn to make their own choices, as well as cut off access to useful educational resources, while others contend that the pros of web filtering far exceed and outweigh any potential cons.
Pros of Web Filtering
There are many incentives for teachers and administrators to use web filters in their schools, from the moral to the financial. Web filters help keep students on task and focused as learners, as well as keeping them safe.
Pros of internet censorship include:
- Blocking student access to graphic content, including pornography and violent images
- Keeping students from being distracted by entertainment and gaming sites
- Cyberbullying prevention
- Protecting students from predatory strangers online including scammers, hackers, and people who would mine personal information
Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools that agree to filter content under CIPA guidelines qualify for a discount on broadband internet, saving money that can be put to use for other school needs and creating an added financial benefit for schools.
Cons of Web Filtering
As with any skill, digital literacy takes practice to become adept in, and web filtering potentially deprives students of this practice. How would any of us ever have learned to ride a bike if our instructors never took the training wheels off? Additionally, if school web filters are too restrictive, they can interfere with learning by creating too many restrictions to content that bars even educational content and necessary search results to complete student research.
Some of the cons of internet censorship include:
- Discouraging student autonomy and decision-making
- Preventing students from learning to use the internet efficiently and responsibly
- Limited access to useful educational sites
- Overly restrictive filters that can impede student learning
Although we would all consider the safety and productivity of our students to take first priority, it is necessary to acknowledge these concerns about web filters as a means of achieving those goals.
Why Schools Should Block Websites
Teachers and administrators have not only a moral obligation to ensure the safety of each student in every school, but a legal one as well. Despite the negatives, web filters have been among the most effective means of doing so. Many of the concerns about the cons of web filters can be addressed by using a program like GoGuardian’s Admin™ to create a more intuitive web-filtering and content-monitoring experience.
When schools use Admin™, students are empowered with more online freedom while teachers operate as guides. Administrators can set schoolwide policies banning keywords instead of URLs or disabling specific functions of websites. For instance, you can disable the comment section on YouTube and block all but approved channels rather than banning access to YouTube altogether. Or you can use Admin’s “Smart Alerts” so teachers can see what types of restricted sites and content students are attempting to access. Teachers can then talk with students about why this content is restricted and, depending on the website, suggest approved alternatives. Though there may always be some negative effects to using web filters, the benefits have been demonstrated to absolutely outweigh the cons.