Magazine article Technology & Learning

Beyond Filtering ... toward Internet Productivity

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Beyond Filtering ... toward Internet Productivity

Article excerpt

There has been much discussion about Internet filtering. People ask: Do we really need to filter the Internet? Do Internet filters work, or do they block useful content? Will the government require filtering in our schools for us to receive our E-rate discount? A few years into the debate, a somewhat clearer picture has emerged, with respect to schools in particular.

Filtering discussions have often been controversial, because they touch on sensitive issues such as free speech and children's welfare. Outside of Congress, public libraries are at ground zero in this debate. To be sure, librarians are wrestling with challenging issues as they attempt to balance the interests of children and adults, while upholding their professional obligations. Only 15% of public libraries use filtering software(1). For families with Internet access at home, about 32% are filtered(2). Businesses are just beginning to address the issue; currently, less than 1% use access management technology(3). Interestingly, schools are out in front of these other groups in resolving the filtering debate.

In May of 1999, 52% of US school districts were using some form of Internet filtering technology. By the end of the 1999-2000 school year, nearly 72% expect to do so(4). It seems that schools have decided that filtering is a necessary precondition for effective use of the Internet in education. We expect that shortly, nearly every school will provide Internet filtering service for their students. Either by law, or by choice, content management will become the norm(*). Like airbags in your car, an effective Internet filtering system is an invisible, practical precaution in an exciting but uncertain environment.

What have leading schools learned about Internet filtering over the last few years? Most experienced school technology managers use server-based, network-wide filtering instead of client software running on individual computers. Server solutions are superior in terms of installation, maintenance and security; most client software can be easily disabled by a smart student. Experience has shown, too, that filtering accuracy is crucial; better not to filter at all than to do so poorly. A combination of powerful technology and intensive human review has proven effective in keeping pace with the growth of the Internet, and providing the necessary filtering quality. A third lesson learned is that local control of the filtering configuration is important, so that you can customize access for your own educational community, and override filtering when necessary. …

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