Students Breakthrough Web Filters

Just three years ago, I vividly recall students and faculty alike complaining about being unable to access harmless, legitimate web sites. This grievance is all too familiar with technology departments across the nation, grappling with trying to promote web-based learning while guarding against viruses and harmful, inflammatory content.

With the increased popularity of tethering, which provides computer web access via mobile devices, more and more people are bypassing school servers altogether. Depending on one’s carrier plan, this feature remains relatively expensive—but for many, the ability to freely surf the net is well worth the added expense.

Either way, it’s only a matter of time before tethering becomes significantly more affordable, especially if this technology hopes to compete with 3G and 4G tablets. iPads and knock-off clones already offer unfettered web access, so long as users have decent cell reception or are within Wi-Fi hotspot distance.

It is utterly naïve to think that any enforcement strategy will have any significant impact on preventing students from gaining unrestricted web access.

As far as education is concerned, information technology is facing an identity crisis. Much of what these hard working individuals do involves providing restricted Internet access and caring for a local network. It is utterly naïve to think that any enforcement strategy will have any significant impact on preventing students from gaining unrestricted web access.

Technology departments should spend significantly less time and money in an increasingly futile effort to restrict web access. Instead, they should really think about how to educate the ethical and proper use of the Internet. Without question, each school should create its own strategic plan on how to best tackle this challenge.

I’m not blind to the myriad of legal and liability concerns that come with this difficult step, especially with younger children. I don’t have all of the answers or know of any ideal solution. At the same time, continuing to invest in local networks and content blocking software is not the answer.



As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

3 Comments

  • Reply December 29, 2012

    B. Wienkell

    Dear David,

    Tethering to the internet via a cell phone can be blocked provided the network settings on a school issued computer are configured accordingly. Restricting cell phone browsing is much more difficult to control; it requires consistent and fervent surveillance from faculty and staff alike.

    However; putting the logistics of playing internet watchdog aside the more startling idea you pose is unrestricted internet use in a school setting. Your belief that educating students on the ethical and proper use of the internet is ideal, but perhaps naive. In my opinion today’s youth are very much like past generations; they need freedom just as much as they need boundaries. At an age when hormones and popularity cloud the average teenager’s decision making process granting free range of the internet could prove disastrous on many levels.

    Today’s average student roams unrestricted content on the internet via their cell phones, but not without apprehension. The fear of having their prized possession confiscated at school forces a majority of students to be conservative in their use. A school with ungoverned use of the internet and/or cell phones would most likely prove ineffective. Everyday new apps, websites, and inappropriate content continue to grow exponentially which undeniably captures our students’ withering attention spans. An educational environment that willingly provides unrestricted access to the internet can only further compound these issues; therefore such a proposal is questionable.

    I will be the first to admit that filters block “good” content, but they also block the “bad”. Perhaps filters cause teachers to miss out on some teachable moments, but simultaneously eliminate distractions and/or content destructive to our students’ education.

    Is granting free range of the internet what is best for students; or is it what is easier for teachers?

    My 2 cents,

    Barry

    • Reply January 5, 2013

      David Cutler

      Dear Barry,

      Thanks so much for your response! I think you bring up a lot of great points. I guess I’m more of the mindset that no matter what, students who don’t want to pay attention won’t pay attention. I don’t think content filtering will do much to stop that, and with tethering and 3G, I think even trying to do so is a poor use of energy and resources. But sust to be clear, I’m not in favor of ungoverned use of technology. I think it’s very important that students and teachers sign a technology agreement form, and if and when infractions occur, they should be held accountable. Granting “free range,” as you say, is a moot point. Students who want to access unfettered web content will access said content, and this will be made even easier with the development of better and cheaper cellular connections.

      Are you a teacher or a member of an IT department? I would enjoy speaking with you in more detail, and perhaps we can even have a cordial podcast debate. Where I agree or disagree with you, I can’t tell you how much I respect your point of view and ability and willingness to effectively express your views.

      I hope we can chat soon!

      Best,

      Dave

  • Reply November 4, 2016

    Cele3thehacker3

    I have no way to tether myself, but there still are ways to bypass filters. Proxy apps are common for mobile devices. Signal jammers are illegal in the US, which takes that out of equation. Actually, pretty much the only website i’ve seen blocked at my school this year is urbandictionary.com, and I don’t get why. All other websites are not blocked at all

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