One of the most challenging aspects of educational technology management is walking the fine line between protecting students and ensuring access to academic, creative, and communications resources. As a department, we receive hundreds of requests per year to block – and to unblock – specific websites, online services, and sometimes whole categories of online content.
In order to address the very real concerns – on both sides, in most cases – related to internet content filtering, the Office of Technology & Innovation adopted a process several years ago that relies upon a basic set of rules and representative input as it relates to content filtering decisions within the district. You can read the full policy here, or read on for a summary.
How the Process Works
When a teacher or administrator submits an allow/block request, the district determines whether the site/service fits cleanly into an allow/block category per the content filtering policy, and if it does, immediately implements the request. If the request falls into a gray area, the request follows the process outlined in the policy – you can click the flowchart image to see details – which routs the request through a committee review process, with the potential for temporary action to be taken if the request has a potential student safety impact. Once the committee has considered the request and made a recommendation, Office of Technology & Innovation staff implement any necessary changes within our content filtering services.
What happens when there are unintended consequences?
By definition, it’s impossible to anticipate and avoid all unintended consequences. That said, our use of a representative, committee-driven process that includes opportunities for feedback to be gathered and considered is intended to avoid, to whatever extent possible, disruption to our learning environment. In cases where a content filtering decision has an unanticipated and significant impact on our students and staff, our technology committee has leveraged an online platform to revisit requests asynchronously, expediting our ability to respond to and mitigate problems that are reported following a content filtering policy change. While this approach is responsive, it’s certainly not a solution that always makes everybody happy. Revisiting a content filtering decision, based upon new information, may or may not result in a change to existing practice as the committee still has the responsibility to weigh the impact of disruptions against potential risks.
Do parents have the ability to make content filtering decisions for their children?
Yes and no. ICCSD provides parents with access to the Securly Parent Portal, which allows parents to establish additional content filtering for their child(ren)’s account(s) when they are off-campus. While on campus, however, it’s important in terms of the teaching and learning environment and expectations that students have consistent access to resources, and that teachers can rely upon that access. As such, on-site content filtering is applied generally, and does not usually vary from student to student.
How does ICCSD’s approach compare to other districts?
Our content filtering approach probably leans slightly further toward the “open” side of the spectrum than most districts, though our practices generally align with other large districts in Iowa, along with other members of the national League of Innovative Schools, two groups that we generally identify as peer districts. We are uncommon in our use of a committee process for content filtering decision-making, compared to most districts where these decisions are largely made from within the IT department.
Has our content filtering policy been effective?
To resort to cliche, this is in the eye of the beholder. There is never a singular right answer as it relates to content filtering, and for every passionate message I receive advocating for a block or allow request, I receive another equally-passionate message in opposition. Ultimately, we seek to strike a balance between our ability to protect our students while providing them with valuable exposure to and experiences with our connected world. This is instrumental to the facilitation of innovative and meaningful teaching and learning within the district, and acknowledges our role in preparing students for success once they enter higher education and the workplace.