Friday, May 27, 2011

Block the website - or not?

Recently, I had a great question from a Teacher Librarian (at an elementary school) about blocking websites that have violent games:

I have become aware of our 6th graders playing very violent games on the internet during recess and/or free time.  I thought I remembered hearing along time ago that we could notify someone of websites that aren't blocked to get them blocked.  Is this true and who do I notify?

My Reponse: 
Yes. We do (as a district) need to make reasonable efforts to filter and block webpages - in order to comply with the law and receive federal funding.  Here is the official page for Jeffco employees  to make a request to block (or change the status of) webpages: 
That is why we have the Bluecoat Filter - and some of those settings are managed by Bluecoat and some by district personnel.  (disclaimer - I am not one of those people.  This is in my circle of "influence" not my circle of "control" =)
My past experience :  for every game site we block – new ones will be created, or kids will find a way around.  At my previous school, I first tried getting some game sites blocked – but then our tech committee and admin decided to take a different track:  Computers are instructional tools being used during school time – if kids are using them for non-instructional purposes, they either need explicit permission for that activity, or they will have a consequence – ranging from loss of privilege (no computer) to more serious (depending on the nature of the infraction – we did have some suspensions).
In some ways – this is a conversation to have with staff.  What do we allow kids to do on devices provided by taxpayer money during school hours?  Do we require kids to show us and tell us what they are doing?  Do we treat it like Halloween?   (no blood, gore, weapons)
Every school (and teacher) handles all of this differently – but in many ways the computer should be no different than other school activities – both in expectations and accountability and consequences…
If we don’t let kids play “shooting games” on the playground – and we have systemic practices in place to communicate what is okay and what is not okay – and what privileges will be lost if they break that rule, then I think the same thing could be done with activities on the computer.  (and part of that could be that the computer screen has to be visible to the teacher at all times)

The filter can’t take the place of good classroom management and communication about expectations.
Obviously - this conversation extends beyond game websites...
What do you think?  Am I crazy? What does your school do?  We'd love to see your answers, comments, and questions below.