Should provincial Ministries of Education create web filtering standards for schools?

January 25, 2009

YES! (with a twist)

Ministries of Education should provide guidelines for internet filtering, ensuring the safety and integrity of school networks, and here’s the twist . . . as long as it doesn’t interfere with teachers and students achieving the outcomes which are also directed by Ministries.

It’s naive to suggest that there should be no filtering of school networks.  In Manitoba, Manitoba Education Research & Learning Information Networks (MERLIN) provides Provincial Technology Standards including hardware and software infrastructures. My understanding is that the most vile, malicious threats and illegal websites are first filtered by MERLIN to maintain the integrity and safety of school networks.

School divisions/schools are then allowed to assign further filtering and security measures, and this in my current understanding, is where the biggest problems begin. I believe the Ministry should provide clear direction that restricts  further attempts to filter the web.

Ministries of Education provide curriculum guides and standards documents for integrating technology in education including this one implemented in Manitoba:


The framework is based on the inquiry process, which is also emphasized in subject curriculum documents.

The continuum also provides examples of some of the tools that student could use to achieve the outcomes  such as blogs, wikis, threaded discussions, video and podcasts.

One of the Student outcomes listed on the continuum is students are expected to apply “guidelines for ethical and responsible use of ICT”.

Ministries of Education create curriculum and support documents like the one above, and they should also set the filtering standards that will ensure the suggested  activities are do-able in schools.

Let’s take a look at some of the problems that can and do fester in schools caused by local control of filtering:

  • Information Systems personnel and technicians are often left to decide what will and will not be blocked instead of educators.
  • There is a tendency to become over-reactive to situations in the news involving cyberbullying or internet predators, resulting in ever-increasing tightening of security on networks.
  • Some sites that are accessible one day become inaccessible the next without warning or explanation.
  • Resources available on YouTube like The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest , recommended for lessons on media literacy on the Manitoba Education Literacy with ICT Blog, are unavailable for many students. (insufficient bandwidth has been cited for the reason – but I thought I’d just throw this one out there because I suspect some will continue to block YouTube for other reasons even after bandwidth to schools increases.)
  • Exemplary educational tools like VoiceThread or PicLits that require students to upload images are blocked for student use, and teachers only realize this after the students are already seated at computers and ready to work. Already-overburdened-teachers throw up their hands and stop using the internet in their practice altogether.
  • Social networking sites and the new collaborative web 2.0 tools are almost always blocked because it’s impossible to block the possibility that students will either create or come across inappropriate content.
  • Educational technology staff in each division spend valuable time to set up alternative division-sponsored and monitored blogs, wikis, on-line educational games, discussion forums and even social networking sites which may not be as authentic, desirable or engaging. These measures also lead to inequity of access for students between school divisions depending on the size and expertise of the educational technology staffs.
  • Students attempting to research their carefully planned, deep-thinking inquiry projects are continually frustrated by blocked content – especially if their topic involves controversial topics like drug use or teenage pregnancy, which are often the nature of topics that they’re most interested in learning more about.
  • Teachers of young students may feel it’s okay to leave students unsupervised online, or feel it’s not necessary to  guide the student’s choice of on-line activity because they think the filter is going to filter out all inappropriate material anyway (even though we know this is not possible!)

And the scariest part is that overly-restrictive filters in schools are paradoxically unsafe and dangerous. Because inappropriate websites and social networking are blocked at school, teachers don’t feel the need, urgency, and more importantly, have the authentic real-life learning situations in which to teach and reinforce the strategies needed to participate ethically, responsibly and safely online.

Who will guide our young and youth when they’re out of class and online? Some parents may know how to do this, but what about the parents and their children who don’t know the dangers and risks or strategies to deal with them effectively?

Local control over filtering has resulted in issues of freedom of access, intellectual freedom, censorship and equity. The IFLA/UNESCO Internet Manifesto Guidelines identify filtering as a barrier, and that “the use of filtering software on public access Internet terminals is a clear obstruction of users’ freedom of access to online information” (p. 20) and that “intellectual freedom is the right of every individual both to hold and express opinions and to seek and receive information; it is the basis of democracy; and it is at the core of library service” (p. 14).

Ministries of Education should maintain the least restrictive filtering measures and at the same time:

  • Provide direction that is much more enlightening, pro-active and protective of student’s rights to access to information and equity.
  • Provide direction to make sure that each school not only creates Acceptable Use Policies that students and parents sign, but make sure they’re taught and reviewed at least twice a year in an age-appropriate way.
  • Recommend and provide training using resources such as the Media Awareness Network Resources for Teachers or the  “Kids in the Know” safety program.
  • Make sure students know how to recognize and respond to instances of cyberbullying. Recommend teachers follow: for trends and solutions.
  • Make sure students know how to recognize the common lures and lines used by internet predators and what to do if confronted with them.
  • Make sure students understand the difference between what kinds of images and information are appropriate in an educational setting, and know how to respond when encountered with inappropriate images and information.
  • Make sure students can recognize the difference between bias and bigotry online, and the most appropriate way to respond to it. What better way to do this than to examine the insidiously racist website: and examine the techniques used to lure followers?  Yet this site is most often blocked for student examination at school. Will they just assume its a reliable site when they come across it out-of-school?

I’m a concerned Teacher-librarian, and I know all teachers don’t agree with me. I suspect many parents don’t agree either. I don’t know what’s being said in principal and superintendent councils, or at the Ministries of Education on this topic, but I’d love to know.

If our Ministries of Education don’t provide clear direction so that necessary resources are available to teachers and students to achieve mandated student outcomes, or the platform to ensure the safe, ethical and responsible use of technology be taught and reinforced, then who will?

My intent is to create opportunity for continued discussion, clarification and understanding.  Do you think Ministries of Education should create least restrictive web filtering standards for schools and why or why not?


All a’twitter for Twitter

November 11, 2008

I’ll admit it – I’m all a’twitter for Twitter. Check out my journey with Twitter at .

I’m following these famous Web 2.0 people on Twitter: Helene Blowers, David Warlick, Joyce Valenza, Terry Freedman, Vicki Davis, Kathy Schrock, Darren Kuropatwa, Donna DesRoches, Lee LeFever (creator of the common craft videos), Doug Johnson, Jack Layton and the perhaps the most prolific Twitterer in my Twitter network on the evening of the US election – Will Richardson. Some of them are even following me! I even received a personal response from Terry Freedman once on Twitter.

In Buffy Hamilton’s Blog about Twitter: she comments that through Twitter can you feel you are “rubbing shoulders with the stars at a Hollywood party.”

I’m also following Youtube, Diigo, Wikispaces, Manitoba Museum and K-12online updates on Twitter.

In my previous post I described my community of communities and how they are related. I started following Donna DesRoches on Twitter after she wrote
at 3:23pm on February 16th, 2008 in our Facebook Groups: Librarians and Web 2.0:

Twitter please! If you are not already part of the twitter network please think of joining. I am very connected to an educational technology community but would love to be in more immediate and direct communication with teacher-librarians. My twitter name is donnadesroches.

I got a comment from bookwyrmish, a teacher in Pennsylvania on my blog a couple of weeks ago, probably because she Googled herself and found that I had referenced her in my blog about Delicious. She must have found my link to Twitter on my blog and now we’re following each other.

Twitter has helped me keep up-to-date on other Web 2.0 applications. When I was having technical difficulties with recording sound on my laptop at work on Voicethreads, I recalled Joyce Valenza’s tweet on Twitter “Has anyone had problems with VoiceThread not recording sound? I can no longer record with new desktops. We tested everything.” 3:55 PM Oct 14th from web. This didn’t lead me to the solution to my problem, but made me realize that if someone else was having difficulties I shouldn’t feel bad and decided to simply use the workstations that were working with recording sound in VoiceThread instead of spending time on advanced troubleshooting.

I watched the Election 2008 Twitters roll in on the eve of the US election – there was a special twitter set up stating “We’re filtering hundreds of Twitter updates per minute to create a new source for gathering public opinion about the election and a new way for you to share your thoughts.” I copied and pasted the following approx. 10 seconds of the scrolling list, all of which I found very illuminating:

ebarrera Avionetazo en Periferico y Reforma? Gobierno de SLP? Pensé que habia sido el de McCain… less than 5 seconds ago

ZakNormandin Like it or not, looks like Obama is going to be the next President. less than a minute ago

Yanwoo So far, so good. Still a long way to go, but quietly confident America will make the right choice and choose Obama less than a minute ago

davidmturner has failed to keep up then. Obama 3 – McCain 8? That’s old news! less than a minute ago

JxnFreePress Exit polls: 17% white vote for Obama in MIssissippi. less than a minute ago

MicheleMT MSNBC says 75% of whites in NC said race was not a factor…24% said it was, 30% of them still voted Obama. less than a minute ago

Mario_AM Obama por delante en Texas less than a minute ago

Sedana Me: 77 to 34? Obama is so going to lose. ;D My sister: …his glasses! My sister: when he’s old! I’m ashamed of my heritage. less than a minute ago

vivaciousv1114 It’s all looking very promising for Obama so far. 😀 less than a minute ago

thecitydesk ALERT- JOE BIDEN HAS KEPT HIS DELAWARE SENATE SEAT. It is his safety school. less than a minute ago

cooldeadsex Mccain said the mac is back lmao less than a minute ago

Charles_ah_um just got a #robocall reminding me to vote for McCain. “Don’t let the democrats steal this election.” 1-866-558-2875. Shall we call? less than a minute ago

circulating Unofficial Election Results McCracken County (home) with 53 of 54 precincts counted McCain & Palin R lead Obama & Biden D by only 130 votes less than a minute ago

ashdanz I voted. Go Obama! less than a minute ago

stephanieho 51% obama 48% mccain IN TEXAS!!! MY VOTE DID SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! less than a minute ago

mistersnappy OK, I’m off to bed. Happy Obama Day everyone! less than a minute ago

BryanKuhn bodega is throwing an obama party, complete with projection tv for results. less than a minute ago

gomi321 watching the election results. crossing my fingers for an obama win less than a minute ago

instruisto @claytonmorris That was the only big state McCain was expected to win. If Obama takes Texas McCain can go ahead and concede. less than a minute ago

emelex I swear if mccain wins va i’m going to kill some of my friends less than a minute ago

There was a similar Twitter with just as interesting scrolling comments the night of the Canadian election.

Here is a list of twitter-related links posted by the highly reknowned and recently retired Marg Stimson of our Manitoba School Library listserv:

After adding my name to the Library Media Specialist list on the Twitter for Teachers Wiki listed directly above, my Twitter network more than doubled.

I see myself keeping up with the “Who’s who?” and “What’s new?” in Web 2.0 with the help of Twitter for a long and happy time.

Listen to this post courtesy of

Social Networking: A Community of Communities

November 11, 2008

I took the title of this post from Bud Hunt and his K-12online08 podcast “The Lie of Community: The True Nature of the Network” of October 31, 2008. Bud pointed out that there is not one online community, but a community of communities. You start following people with similar interests, then follow their followers until you’re all following the same people.

This phenomenon led Dennis Richard to aptly describe it as “the echo chamber that is Web 2.0”. (“There’s Something Going on Here You Need to Know About… “ by Dennis Richards and Charlene Chausis, K-12 Online08 Audio Channel, October 31, 2008)

This is me in my current online social networking community of communities: bubblus_social_networking

I used the free online tool to create the above graphic. I probably should have added more arrows to demonstrate how interconnected the above networking sites are, so please imagine a shifting, 3 dimensional web of connections between all of the above.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter where we meet, chances are we’ll meet again so please join me in Facebook by following the link below – or click on my Twitter feed on the left sidebar and join me there. (More about my true feelings about Twitter in my next blog!)

facebook-imageFacebook me!

( CNET news reported November 3rd that Facebook membership surged to over 120 Million Users!120 million people can’t be all wrong!)

Listen to this Post Courtesy of