I read the following article with some interest yesterday.
I want to start by clarifying my own position on the topic of Internet Filtering in a schools/LA/Education context.
For reference – here is a link to my earlier post on this topic https://www.ruachonline.org.uk/blog/?p=453
I consider that some degree of filtering is necessary to protect users from the considerable amount of illegal/undesirable content which is available and accessible on the internet and also prevent illegal use of publicly funded facilities. The Internet Watch Foundation provides and maintains a filter list which it considers contains a list of content which is unacceptable for use/access in schools. Any network provider who is making content available for children should take account of this and apply at least a basic level of filtering in line with the IWF approach. There may also be additional content which should also be blocked.
When I was involved in provisioning the original SSDN Interconnect (now known as the Glow Interconnect), one of the driving objectives was to provide more cost effectively a connection to the internet which could sustain classroom (and admin) ICT needs for schools, libraries and LA’s. The SSDN (Glow) Interconnect provided an unfiltered path – again I say an unfiltered path, to the internet via Super Janet. The Interconnect provided bandwidth/capacity which far exceeded the amount of bandwidth LAs could traditionally afford. The Interconnect was/is provided by the Scottish government at no cost to the LAs. It remained the responsibility of the LA to provide connectivity between Schools and the LA SSDN (Glow) Interconnect node – LAs also had to sign up to the Janet Acceptable Use Policy – which refers to the transit of unacceptable information/data across the network. The connection between the school and the LA SSDN Interconnect node was/is paid for by the LA (the cost of this, which to some extent was dictated by circuit bandwidth, geographical location and circuit length etc). LAs provided the connections that they could afford which resulted generally in urban schools being provisioned with better connectivity than rural ones. ADSL was often used to connect schools which was always, in my opinion, an inappropriate technology for schools connectivity (I don’t want to develop that line here) but it was often the best that could be provided. The Broadband Pathfinder (Scottish Government funded) project lead to an improved position for schools in the following LAs, Shetland, Orkney, Highland, Moray, Argyle and Bute, Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.
Why do LA’s Block certain traffic types?
Now some comments regarding the position in Scottish Education which has lead LA network administrators blocking whole services as opposed to specific instances of inappropriate content. This includes Twitter, facebook, youtube etc…… I believe that some original decisions were based on the need to protect bandwidth resources. This particularly in relation to YouTube where there was a concern that LA WANs were not designed/provisioned to support video traffic.
Video and its use to convey knowledge was always attractive for educators. The introduction of YouTube and other similar services would provide attractive possibilities for learning and teaching which when appropriately exploited, would add value. Video needs bandwidth – and many LAs were aware that to open up the likes of YouTube would lead to a potential flood of network traffic. This could certainly lead to problems on the LA WAN and reduce performance as seen by end users to unacceptable levels. So I would maintain that in order to open access to video based sites it would make good sense to increase bandwidth on school uplinks and ideally move to synchronous circuits (same bandwidth for up and down stream data paths). Interactive video services – video conferencing etc was another video application which was commonly blocked. There may be other reasons for blocking access to video services (the common use of commercials etc) but I think that the original bandwidth preservation issue may well have lead to a continuation of the “status quo” even as bandwidth provision improved.
I take the view that all of the services listed above should be made available where there is a clearly understood and demonstrable value of the service to the learning/teaching process. Regarding the question of who is best placed make that judgement – I think the answer to that has to be teachers. This said there is also need to be able to identify abuses of the “network” and to provide mechanisms to deal with such incidents.
Ideally, I would like to see system that provides access to most of what the internet/web has to offer as long as the content being access is legal, relevant and appropriate for the individual viewing/using it. This applies to web pages, any other web accessible services/content including social network tools and interactive services etc. But the users we are responsible for are at a wide range of different stages in their IT literacy journey and I feel that this needs to be given careful consideration when designing filter policies.
What could be done to improve the situation?
‘What if’ there was a badge system which pupils and teacher can be linked to – simply put the there would be a beginners badge (all users would be assigned this when they enter the school system) through to a advanced user badge (the ultimate level which all teachers should attain and also any pupils considered to have achieved internet maturity) and various intermediate stages. The badge would be accessible by the filtering system (which should be a nationally provisioned and linked to the Glow Directory and authentication system) so that users would have a filter policy which is linked/controlled by their badge level. There would be an incentive to progress through the badge levels which would be based a on users “network maturity” – the topic of how to define “network maturity” certainly need further investigation/discussion. Network abuses, if they occur, would result in the user being demoted down an appropriate number of badge levels – the number of levels of demotion would be decided by school staff.
A users publishing rights as well as their rights to view internet based content should be controlled by their badge level. Being a network user should include the concept of consuming content but also that of publishing content. For this reason I think it reasonable that a pupils of low network maturity should be able to engage in network activity’s – such as blogging – but their content should not be published automatically – and be subject to teacher or peer review! A very mature pupil on the other hand should be able to have their blog posts immediately viewable on the public internet. This brings me to the point that there is still a valid need for a Glow like intranet environment which becomes more open in as the user matures. I think this will be subject matter for another post.
In this post I supports the need for a filtering service – but one that is “fit for purpose” and sensitive to an active users degree of “network maturity” as opposed to what still seems to be the case today where an all or nothing approach is taken. The end goal of the school education system should be to help pupils achieve full network maturity and the badge system would be a mechanism to allow them to see progress towards that goal.
To read more of my blog posts around Glow Future see here https://www.ruachonline.org.uk/blog/?p=575
Note – the views expressed in this post are my own, based on my own knowledge and experience and are in no way connected to my employer which is Cisco International Limited.