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Survey: School web filtering can impede learning

Many survey respondents said web filtering can curb learning’s social potential.

More and more students are bringing personal mobile devices to school, but a new survey from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) finds that internet filtering often prevents students from taking advantage of learning’s social potential.

School librarians report that web filtering programs have had varied effects in their schools and on school library programs. Fifty-two percent said internet filters have impeded student research when topics or keyword searches are filtered. Half said web filtering has decreased the number of potential distractions, while 42 percent said it discounts social aspects of learning.

Roughly one-third said internet filtering has decreased the need for direct supervision, 25 percent said it has prevented continued collaboration outside of face-to-face opportunities, and 23 percent said web filtering allows research curriculum to yield more relevant results.

Many schools let students bring and use their mobile devices, and roughly half of survey respondents said their school has a filtering mechanism in place to control content that students view on their devices.

Of those that do have filtering in place for student devices, 48 percent implement an accompanying acceptable use policy and 47 percent make students log on through school networks. Twenty-nine percent do not allow internet connectivity on personal devices, and 28 percent limit their use to a classroom teacher’s discretion.

Permitted mobile devices include eReaders (53 percent), cell phones (49 percent), laptops (39 percent), MP3 players (36 percent), netbooks (32 percent), and portable game players (16 percent).

The filtering report is a supplement to AASL’s 2012 “School Libraries Count!” and included 4,299 responses to 14 questions covering a variety of filtering issues.

All of the respondents said their school or district filters online content. In addition, 94 percent use filtering software, 87 percent have an acceptable use policy, 73 percent supervise students while they use the internet, 27 percent limit access to the internet, and 8 percent allow students to access the internet on a case-by-case basis.

The most popular filtering software is URL-based (70 percent), keyword-based (60 percent), and based on blacklists (47 percent).

A large majority of schools (88 percent) filter content for staff as well as for students. Just more than half (56 percent) use the same level of filtering for staff as they do for students, and 73 percent use the same level of filtering for all grade levels.

When it comes to what content is filtered, respondents indicated:

  • Social network sites (88 percent)
  • Instant messaging or online chatting (74 percent)
  • Gaming (69 percent)
  • Video services such as YouTube or SchoolTube (66 percent)
  • Personal eMail accounts (41 percent)
  • Peer-to-peer file sharing (40 percent)
  • File transfer protocol used to download large files (32 percent)
  • Newsgroups (17 percent)
  • Professional development tools such as eBinders and Google Docs (9 percent)

Most often, the decision to “unblock” a site is made at the district level (68 percent), and it is made less frequently at the building level (17 percent). Thirty-five percent of librarians said their requests to unblock sites take between one and two days, while 27 percent said such a request is answered immediately or within a few hours. Seventeen percent said it takes more than two days, but less than a week, to unblock a site, and 20 percent said it takes more than a week to block a site.

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Laura Ascione

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