Does DODDS Web filtering hinder learning?
Brooke Singleton doesn’t even use the computers at school to access the Internet anymore.
“It’s gotten to the point where I either go to the library or just do my schoolwork at home, it’s such a hassle,” the Naples High School 17-year-old senior said of the overseas military school system’s program that blocks access to countless Internet sites.
Nevermind chatting online with friends, or reading the latest gossip posted to social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, she said. “We can’t do schoolwork most times, go online to find answers to problems we’re assigned. I find there’s no point using [school computers].”
In this age of technology, when textbooks virtually are outdated by the time they’re printed, the Internet is the preferred study and learning tool, she said.
The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires schools and libraries for kindergarten through grade 12 that receive federal funds to filter out unwanted Internet content. This includes child pornography, soft-core pornography and visual depictions considered harmful to minors. School officials also have the greater responsibility of safeguarding students from potentially harmful sites, said Sue Gurley, chief of staff for the Office of the Director for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.
DODDS teachers in South Korea have filed a grievance over Internet restrictions they say hinder their ability to educate students, a problem teachers and students say they face daily across the Pacific.
No grievances have been filed in Europe, Gurley said.
“I think our policy and strategies to review sites and quickly open sites for students and teachers has worked well for us,” she said.
Last school year, a DODDS-Europe committee of educators, librarians and information technology specialists reviewed between 150 requests to 180 requests. This year, there have been roughly 25 requests.
Roughly 85 percent of the requests were approved, and sites either were unblocked, or unblocked with continuous monitoring because of potentially open portals to Web-based e-mail access that can threaten the network, Gurley said.
Gurley said she does not think the blocking program is too restrictive. “Generally speaking, I think we’ve opened enough for children and staff to have access to educational sites,” she said.
The review process is relatively quick, she added.
“I’ve been told that it typically is done in two days, but I think it may depend upon the site itself and the review committee’s questions, and then IT actually doing the block or unblock,” she said.
That hasn’t been Maryellen Pienta’s experience.
When the teacher at Sigonella High School in Sicily learned the Yahoo Groups link that her students use to post schoolwork and projects was blocked, she filed a waiver request that took “well over a month” to address, “and then they flatly rejected it.”
“Kids used it to save assignments, they could have a personal folder, post college essays, PowerPoint presentations, four-year plans for college; and then they couldn’t access it here at school,” she said.
Some of Pienta’s research and schoolwork for the advanced English and Advancement Via Individual Determination classes she teaches must be done at home, such as the posting of photographs showing student projects or links such as college preparatory sites, she said. “I have to do it on my own time, … at my own expense, to post on a blog for educational use,” she said.
DODDS-Europe uses the 8e6 R3000 library filtering device that can block inappropriate sites based on key words, content or categories, according to a May 6, 2007, DODDS-Europe memo. The filtering system is updated nightly. The library consists of millions of sites organized into more than 75 different categories
“As much as they want us to use technology, they are making it harder and harder on us to use technology,” said Pienta, who has been with DODDS for 20 years, both at the teaching and administrative levels.
“DODDS is a great school system, but some of the practices are incomprehensible. We love to teach the latest tools so the students can go out and use the latest tools that they are going to need to know in college and jobs.”