How far have we come in 8 years with balanced filtering in schools?

Over-filtering of Internet content in US schools has been a problem for years. In the 2002 report, “The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools,” authors wrote:

While many students recognize the need to shelter teenagers from inappropriate material and adult-oriented commercial ads, they complain that blocking and filtering software often raise barriers to students’ legitimate educational use of the Internet. Most of our students feel that filtering software blocks important information, and many feel discouraged from using the Internet by the difficulties they face in accessing educational material.

These complaints are not limited to students, of course. Many teachers have and continue to report problems with over-filtering of Internet content. The problems are not limited to websites with desired and appropriate content, however. Many schools have and continue to block access to web-based email accounts for students as well as staff, despite the fact laws (like CIPA) do not require such blocking. In the same report, authors noted:

In addition, many students describe schools that do not allow them to access their outside email accounts—the vast majority of students are not provided with school-sanctioned email accounts. In many cases, schools also prevent students from using instant messaging technologies, save their files to the school network, visit Web sites that teachers do not explicitly authorize them to visit, and—in perhaps the most extreme case we heard about—perform “right clicks” of their mouse to launch a (seemingly) innocuous pop-up menu within the Microsoft Windows operating system.

How far have we come as a nation, in our public schools, in eight years when it comes to balanced content filtering? Some schools have come a long way, but many others remain in the dark ages. seeks to change this impasse and accelerate the pace of change in local communities when it comes to discussions about balanced content filtering.

Source: Arafeh, S., Levin, D., & Rainie, L. (2002). The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved November 8, 2010, from

On blocking and banning and somesuch by Bill MacKenty

This is a great post shared by Bill MacKenty on his blog.

via Bill Mackenty by Bill on 10/13/10

On blocking and banning and somesuch

I’ve never liked the idea of blocking or filtering. My students will be living in a digital world; they need to learn how to communicate in it. They need to learn digital literacy. Basic skills in being safe, appropriate communication, boundaries, the commercial aims of many social networking sites. They need to learn how to be in a digital world.

I don’t think filtering or blocking helps students learn, I think it actually prevents them from learning how to live and learn in a digital world. I understand as a school, we have a duty to keep students safe; we also have a duty to teach them. Herein lay the balance schools must maintain.

We /do/ block sites that are unquestionably bad – adult, openly illegal*, violent, and sites that could harm your computer. But many sites are not unquestionably bad; nor are they unquestionably good. And this is where we need to tread carefully.

One other point: it is not impossible to bypass filters. Kids are rather clever about getting around these things, and with the rise of handheld smartphones, schools can do very little to prevent a student from logging onto facebook, posting a picture or movie, or accessing the internet.

I dont thing removing access is a good thing.

What’s good about facebook

Facebook is popular. The Whitehouse has a facebook page, the UK Parliment, every major political candidate has a facebook page, every major corporation hasd a facebook page. Any social cause you can think of has facebook page. Colleges and Universities use facebook to communicate and stay in touch with applicants and students. Teachers use facebook because it is so easy to communiate with their students (teachers should use a separate facebook account, though). Many teachers report joy in staying in touch with their students over the years.

Let me repeat: facebook is so popular because it is easy to stay in touch and communicate. It is a major vehicle for communication and collaboration.

But it’s not all good, is it?

Facebook can distract students from learning (unless you are learning something on facebook). Facebook has numerous add-on and games that can distract students from work. There are privacy concerns related to facebook. There are add-ons and modules to facebook that make it easy for kids to say very hurtful things to each other. If a student exercises poor judgement, they can be quite embarassed. Fads, half-truths, and even lies can be very quickly passed around to a large group of people.

Not all that different from doodling on a piece of paper or a bad day on the playground.

What should schools do?

Schools need to engage in a genuine partnership with parents. We need to educate parents about the internet and technology. We need to share what we see and hear. We need to share our professional expertise with parents and help them make wise decisions about technonology and their kids.

But I don’t think we should think of ourselves as parents. I think we should think of ourselves as teachers. Hard lines need to be drawn in the world, but you need to be careful when you draw them. Our job is to develop kids, to support them and to encourage intellectual curiousity and learning. I’m not sure completely blocking access to a popular site fits into that model.

Where can parents look for help?

Click here for Google’s family internet safety.
Click here for Microsoft’s parent safety guide.
Click here for Facebook safety tips for parents
Click here for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre
Click here for netSmartz

* even this is tricky; is blocking a site which protests against a law appropriate? If we looked at some legalize marijuana sites, we would see advocating marijuna. Should we block that?

#OpenBeta5 and Ideas for the Balanced Filtering Online Gradebook

Last night I had the opportunity to share five minutes of passion and ideas about at OpenBeta5 in Oklahoma City. The lightning talks were recorded, and I’m hoping will be posted to YouTube soon. I’ll link and embed my talk here when it’s published. One of the exciting things I learned about at OpenBeta was we’re going to have a TEDx event in Oklahoma City this spring! See for more details. The date is set for April 8, 2011. Once my OpenBeta5 lightning talk is published, I think I’ll submit it for consideration by the TEDxOKC organizers.

In the meantime, I want to move forward with development of a “Balanced Filtering Online Gradebook” for schools and school districts. This will be a free tool useable by anyone, anywhere, and the app will log submissions. Submitter’s names and email addresses will be optional. The app, like ClustrMaps, will geo-locate the submitter’s location based on IP address. The simple web form will ask for school name and location too, however, since many schools are in the same geographic area. I sketched out the three parts of this process, as I’m envisioning it now, on my daughters’ whiteboard and took these photos with my iPhone.

Grade My Filter: Step 1

Grade My Filter: Step 2

Grade My Filter: Step 3

One of the important things I want to do with this application is draw attention to BOTH schools who are currently doing a great job with balanced filtering (like Howe Public Schools in Oklahoma) as well as schools doing a TERRIBLE job with draconian content filtering (like Edmond Public Schools in Oklahoma, where my two girls attend now.) Just as websites like (formerly provide a level of public transparency, visibility, and accountability for aggregate rates of instructor/professor performance at universities, I want the “Online Gradebook” to make thousands of people in our communities take notice of how LOCAL school districts are handling Internet content filtering. Are school leaders enabling students to learn how to become responsible digital citizens? Does the district have a pro-active, well formulated strategy for helping promote perceptions of online accountability on as well as off-campus, or do district leaders think simply having draconian content filtering in place will suffice as a digital citizenship curriculum?

I want to showcase and amplify school districts and school district leaders who ARE taking a balanced approach toward content filtering. I hope the site can (eventually) provide not only this “Online Gradebook” for school content filtering, but also a variety of tools and resources for educators, parents, church leaders, and others in our communities who want to engage in the dialog necessary to raise responsible digital citizens. The online gradebook is a step in this direction.

I would love to “code local” with an Oklahoma City-based developer or developer team for this project. If you’re interested, please contact me. If I can’t find someone in Oklahoma to work with, I am certainly open to other offers. I also am considering posting this as a job for bid on I was pleased with the results of a small webscraping job I posted there over the summer, and have a couple friends who have had good outsourced coding experiences on similar sites. If possible though, I’d like to work local. As OpenBeta OKC showed last night, we have an AWESOME group of creative and passionate geeks in Oklahoma!

If you’re interested in this project, in addition to offering your comments and feedback here please subscribe to the blog and follow @balancedfilter on Twitter. (Today the account just has 3 followers. Be number 4!)




State Internet Filtering Law Comparison

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a good website comparing state Internet Filtering Laws. I’m not sure if this is being maintained, last update as of this writing (2 Oct 2010) was Dec 2009.


I was very interested to learn that here in Tennessee, where I’ve been for the Martin Institute‘s fall 2010 conference, all public K-12 schools are required to have Internet filtering which is CENTRALLY MANAGED by the state. This means there is NO local autonomy for individual schools or districts to determine their own whitelists or blacklists.

I wonder how many other states are under this type of centralized filtering regime? It seems to me an advocacy campaign which sought to legally enable local schools to adopt and maintain their own Internet filtering policies is needed. Local control is an essential value of our public school system in the United States. Centralized management of Internet content filtering by a state authority lends itself naturally to highly conservative and reactionary policies which may significantly impede the use of digital resources to support learning in the classroom.

That’s a nice way of saying, Tennessee state-managed content filtering is (in the perception of some) draconian, heavy-handed, and unbalanced. If you’re an educator working in Tennessee today, what’s you’re view on this?

Do you know of other states in the United States which centrally manage Internet content filtering for schools?

Oklahoma Isn’t China:

On Thursday, October 28, 2010, Oklahoma City OpenBeta will be held for the fifth time featuring five minute “lightning talks” by a variety of speakers. Wesley Fryer is scheduled to speak at this event on the topic, “Oklahoma Isn’t China:” The short session description is:

Many public schools in Oklahoma practice draconian filtering of Internet content which makes China look permissive in comparison. A social action campaign is needed to advocate for balanced content filtering in our schools which complies with the law, encourages accountability, and helps prepare our students to be responsible digital citizens.

The following is a proposed bio for Wesley, for OpenBeta5:

Wesley Fryer is an educator, author, digital storyteller, husband, dad and educational change agent. In addition to regulary seeking out the best restaurants for fried chicken and soup dumplings worldwide, he promotes constructive ways to disrupt our educational status quo and support a blended learning revolution. Wesley blogs at and is the executive director of Story Chasers Inc. based in Edmond, Oklahoma.


All OpenBeta presentations are video recorded and subsequently published online. Wesley’s presentation about at OpenBeta5 will be shared here following the event.

Welcome to

We need balanced content filtering in our schools, and specifically in our U.S. public schools. BALANCED filtering is content filtering which recognizes multiple needs:
  1. The need for US public schools receiving federal ERate dollars to comply with provisions of CIPA and other laws.
  2. The need to provide accountable online environments in our schools.
  3. The need to equip students to make responsible, ethical decisions in online as well as face-to-face situations.

Resources and suggested action plans related to advocacy in your local community for "balanced content filtering" will be added here in upcoming months. Current resources include:

  1. Unmasking the Digital Truth: A collaborative document providing background and information about various reasons some school districts choose NOT to utilize a balanced approach toward Internet content filtering

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