Thursday, April 17, 2008

Paw Prints

Internet screening software in the schools has always struck me as faintly ludicrous because 1) schools should not adopt the policies of authoritarian regimes like China or Iran and 2) there's a lot of hardcore pornographic material that frequently has inoffensive titles that could get past any name-sensitive filter, such as "two girls one cup." (And I would advise you not to look it up, if for some reason you are unfamiliar with that meme.)

At my eleven-year-old's school, they apparently use St. Bernard Software, which my son pointed out with amusement seemed to mainly be designed to forbid students from Googling "games" while allowing them to easily search for "explosives."

From going to the company's website, I learned that their laudatory case studies prominently featured elementary schools and that the audience being policed appeared to go far beyond the pupils. For example, in the Greenwood district, we discover that the software was installed for "increasing student, teacher and staff productivity" and that they wanted to discourage "online purchasing for teachers" while still allowing administrators to take part in this kind of financial transaction. At the Harding Academy, their staff no longer has to "police" or play "detective," given the company's hard-working algorithm, although blocking access to "video streaming sites" would obviously block some of the best educational content on the Internet, particularly for history classes. In the case of the Kannapolis district criticism of a competitor's product could actually be read as damning of the whole proprietary cyber-safety software industry and the proprietary technologies and misguided legislation that feeds it.

Brenda McCombs, Instructional Technology Director for Kannapolis City Schools was less than happy with the results, even though it met the requirements of The Children’s Internet Protection Act. That software package frustrated Brenda and her staff and didn’t effectively filter many unacceptable web sites. While the students were happy they could beat the system to access porn and gaming sites, the staff was frustrated because they could not access web sites that they needed for their lesson plans. When Brenda attempted to unblock the sites, she was unsuccessful the majority of the time even though she was following explicit directions from the manufacturer. The teachers often had to quickly modify their lesson plans to present their concepts in a more traditional manner, which discouraged their use of technology integration the next time they planned a lesson.

Often there is a very explicit Taylorist subtext to their "success" stories that is expressed in language about "productivity" and "efficiency." Ironically, as I know from talking to my child, that the kids find workarounds and games away from top-ten sites or obviously titled web pages. After all, a game by any other name would be as fun, and the urge to play on the computer may be as irresistably strong as it is on the playground.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home