Project Tomorrow has just released the results of its Speak Up 2010 survey that asked over 300,000 students (and 43,000 parents, 35,000 teachers, and 3,500 administrators) about their thoughts on technology and learning in the classroom. The results confirm what many of us already know: Children have access to a wide variety of technologies, both at home and at school.

Take for example, these statistics comparing 6th graders today with those from just five years ago. In 2005, half of the 6th graders surveyed said they own a cellphone. Today, that same statistic holds true, but now an additional one-third say they own a smart phone. Almost 73% say they own an MP3 player, compared to just a third in 2005. Half of all 6th graders take tests online and three times as many have taken an online class as did in 2005.

Almost half of 6th grade girls and over a third of 6th grade boys say they regularly update their social networking profiles – up over 125% from five years ago. This, despite the fact that most 6th graders are not old enough to legally register on many of these sites.

But here is the statistic I found particularly striking. In 2005, the 6th graders complained that the Internet at their school was too slow. Today, their number one complaint is that school filters and firewalls block the websites they need to do their school work. It wasn’t just the main complaint of 6th graders — 71% of high school students and 62% of middle school students said that greater access to the Internet was the number one thing their school could do to make it easier to use technology.

Of course, removing filters and blocks at school is easier said than done. CIPA, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, requires that schools and libraries receiving federal E-rate funding have protective measures in place when it comes to students’ Internet access. But there’s often a gap between the mandate for and the practice of filtering and blocking.

CIPA requires institutions have an Internet safety policy that addresses blocking or filtering access to images that are obscene, child pornography or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). It requires a method for monitoring (not tracking) activities.

CIPA, along with the other regulations that are frequently invoked in discussions of blocking (namely FERPA and COPPA, both of which address data privacy), is meant to protect children online. But as teacher-educator Tom Whitby argues in a blog post, “World’s Simplest Online Safety Policy,” these regulations “were not created to keep students stuck in the past, educated in a disconnected school environment that shares little resemblance to the real world for which we should be preparing our children. These acts do not say we can’t publish online student’s names, videos, work, pictures, etc. They do not prevent us from using social media, YouTube, email, or any of those things that may be blocked in many school districts. An important goal of education is to strive for creation and publication of content by students. In today’s world technology and the Internet are an essential components of that process.”

Based on the results from the Speak Up 2010 survey, students seem to realize that, even if schools and districts are reluctant to do so. As students’ access to Internet — for better or worse — may be unrestricted at home, they are increasingly frustrated to find the tools they use the most are unavailable at school. Not surprisingly, many students also listed restrictions on cellphones as a major barrier to their technology usage at school. And while cellphones offer a lot of things (including, of course, access to teens’ favorite communication platform, text-messaging), a data plan also means that a student can have access to sites that a school may block on its network.

Blocking and banning, Whitby argues, are just the “easy way out,” and schools need to do more to help teach kids how to behave and search responsibly online. How can schools navigate what seem to be very challenging waters, balancing the demands of students for more open access and fears from adults that they’re not ready for it?

  • I’ve experienced a lower-grade but similar frustration at my *university*, UC Santa Cruz – a fairly high-tech research university. Our residential internet access has an indiscriminate policy that discourages torrenting regardless of legality. For instance, I believe that the standard BitTorrent port is throttled way more than Web access is. The thing that irks me is that there’s no distinction made between illegal uses of BitTorrent, like torrenting copyrighted music/movies/whatever, and LEGAL uses, like torrenting Linux distros or a large 1 or 2 GB package of free (libre) icons I have.

  • The best internet supervision “software” is a teacher in the room. While I am still in favor of blocking programs for lower grades (one does not want the third grader to google picture of “bunnies” and get something sexual) in high school, the near ubiquitousness of smart phones has made school blocks laughable. Meanwhile, web 2.0 tools are difficult to impossible to use for tech-savy classes and teachers and many good sites are banned because of buzz words. For example, anti-homophobia sites are often blocked because of the use of “faggot” or “queer” as examples of slurs that the language blocker is not smart enough to understand in context.

    • d.ducksie

      What’ s more, filters can only block protocols and sites wholesale.

      Sites like Blogspot and their ever changing amount of blogs are hard to filter without taking a whole lot of non-offending blogs with them. Hatespeech usergroups on facebook? Youtube?

      Things are increasingly interconnected and you might end up with blocking all access in the end.

  • Unknown

    Students complaining about not being given unrestricted access to the Internet? Shocking!

    I wonder if you have any statistics on how much time or bandwidth students waste on non-educational content?

    Or here is another metric I’d like you to dig up: what percentage of IT directors feel that technology is purchased and implemented without any coherent strategies beyond “let’s give it a whirl and see what happens.”

    Lot’s of smart people in education, I’m hoping that this pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach matures to something sustainable.

    • Carl

      what’s your definition of wasting??? Are they actually learning about how to communicate? where is the teacher? its our job to teach them how to use the technology they like to learn!

      • Anonymous

        Watching videos of kids playing video games (not playing video games themselves, but WATCHING videos of other kids playing), compilations of best slam dunks in the NBA, jackass type videos, rap videos that glorify violence…I could go on and on.

        They consume bandwith to the detriment of other users with no discernible strategy for learning.

        Without a plan, teachers have little direction, training, or experience to capatilize on teachable tech moments.

        Dropping Internet filters, buying more tech toys, declaring social networking as the next big tech opportunity, etc, etc is not sustainable from an infrastructure perspective or an educational perspective.

    • “Let’s give it whirl and see what happens” is innovative teaching. That’s how we model curiosity and creativity. That’s how we buy engagement. I am not a fan of purchased technology – there is plenty of free tech out there (IF schools allow access to it!), but I a am an ardent believer in responsible experimentation in the classroom. I wonder how much longer we are going to have to explain the fundamental principles of education to non-educators before teachers and students are allowed to make productive use of their time together!

  • Softrains92

    I understand why they block sites like porn and FB but I’m in high school and they blocked my Email, they blocked Reddit, and even some sites that are just for fun like cleverbot and some good game sites. I’m a B grade student and when i’m done with my work i like to have somthing to do.

  • Mr. “K”

    i think web filtering is stupid. i’m glad my school ain’t that strict.
    if used slyly you can use Youtube,Facebook etc and not get caught by a teacher
    or Blocked.

    iTunes works too.

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