When it comes to most web filtering systems the philosophy seems to be to try and find all the evil stuff on the web and then block it from being delivered to computers used by students.
“Evil”, of course, is a subjective qualifier and almost all the electronic nannies I’ve been subjected to adopt a sledgehammer, all-or-nothing “solution” to the process.
However, what if you approached the problem from another, smarter direction?
That’s seems to be what some schools in England are trying when it comes to YouTube, one of the web resources most frequently blocked by schools despite offering a rapidly-expanding amount of great teaching content.
Instead of blocking everything on a page, this particular filter screens out objectionable fluff around the edges of a video while letting the teacher-selected material show through.
Teachers say that they would use YouTube to access videos of scientific experiments that are too dangerous or complex to perform in the classroom, scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and footage of other cultures or foreign landscapes. The system is dependent on teachers submitting videos for approval. It then filters out content surrounding the footage and links to other films. A selection of suitable material is then created for other staff to use and for pupils to look at.
The article plays up the fact that this system will cost the schools up to Â£10,000 (about $16,000US) depending on the number of computers using the system, but that shouldn’t be the point.
We already pay large sums of money for the heavy-handed approach. Is there any good reason the all-purpose filters we use now couldn’t be configured to do the same thing?
Obviously, it’s simpler (and cheaper) for filtering companies to just block every site containing any material that might possibly offend someone, somewhere – and then unblock some pages when they get complaints.
But for the amount we already turn over to these “services”, we should be able to get intelligent electronic gates, programmed to be responsive to the needs of the people who should be trusted to differentiate good from bad when it comes to instruction, namely teachers.