To block or not to block

Very often in education it is decided that the best way to “protect” learners is to block as much of the internet as possible. This is more often than not the policy in schools, nearly just as much in Further Education, and even in Universities.

I have for many years that technological solutions such as blocking are a blinkered approach to e-safety and that educating and training learners in how to use the internet safely and to be aware of the issues relating to digital identify was a much better and superior answer. If you block and lock down the internet, it can result in a false sense of security, this could result in learners not been fully protected.

It would appear that this viewpoint has been echoed in a recent Ofsted report on e-safety.

There was this interesting article from BBC News on this report:

Pupils given a greater degree of freedom to surf the internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term, inspectors say.

“Managed” online systems were more successful than “locked” ones at safeguarding pupils’ safety, they said.

The article continues…

The five schools judged outstanding for online safety all used managed systems to help pupils become responsible users of technology.

So what was the difference?

…while the 13 schools using locked down systems kept pupils safe while in school, these systems were less effective in helping them learn how to use technology safely.

Now this is interesting. You decide that the best way to protect learners is to lock down your system, the end result is that they are less protected.

One of the key reasons that this happens is that as the teachers and management perceive that the network is locked down and thus safe, they don’t need to worry about informing the learners about e-safety and digital identity. Of course once that learner goes home to their unlocked home internet, their smartphone, their 3G dongle, a friend’s computer… they have no concept of how to act responsibly and safely online and as a result put themselves at risk.

I would suspect that those schools that lock down their systems, have no real idea themselves about the issues and potential dangers of the internet for their learners; and feel that their responsibility only lies with their own computers… let the children fend for themselves outside school….

Whereas those schools which manage their systems, allow learners greater freedoms, have a much better awareness of e-safety and have ensured that it is part of the curriculum or tutorial programme.

If your institution is serious about e-safety and safeguarding, it will know that technological solutions are in fact not solutions at all, merely simple aids in supporting a coherent, robust practical strategy and policy based on education and training.

So what type of institution is yours?

Who helps your learners “become responsible users of technology”?

5 thoughts on “To block or not to block”

  1. James,

    My own post (last week) touches this subject briefly.

    All too often, decisions are made without proper care and deliberation.

    No arbitrary decisions should be made and although I’m the last person to suggest committees – sometimes they are needed, if only to utilise the correct expertise.


  2. All too true, and not just in the case of internet activities. The same is true with everything as far as children (and adults!) are concerned.

    We learn by doing, by making mistakes, and being responsible for our own actions, even as children. By removing “all” possibility of mistakes being made, we are in effect removing the responsibility, and therefore the incentive to take care, learn, and develop.

  3. Very interesting to see a flurry of blog posts on this topic lately. Personally I think walled gardens of any sort can’t provide satisfactory learning opportunities (I should know I used to help run one).

    If I rubbed my crystal ball for long enough and asked it “will there be internet filtering in schools in 10 years time?” — The answer will be yes, but I think that was a recorded voice mail message and it may change in 20 years.

    To summarize, technical solution to a social problem, very rarely works well.

    I am extremely happy with the educational focus being applied now to deal with e-safety as a social issue.

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