Making my case for unfiltration: Images

I'm trying to convince my district to lax their filtration policies. Currently all blogs, social media sites, image hosting or searching sites, and many other online tools are blocked. I've met with and sent out emails to our tech directors and principals explaining my concerns. So far I haven't received any response to my emails and my face to face meetings haven't yielded any progress. I've decided to send out one email a week to the tech directors and principals explaining why various online tools should be unblocked. I'm also trying to work other angles (Curriculum directors, School Improvement Team) as well.  Here's this week's episode.

Image Hosting and Searching

Reasons for images being blocked (as I understand it)

Many image hosting (Flickr, Picasa, etc.) and searching applications (Google Images, Yahoo Images), even with a “Safe Search” setting turned on, will still occasionally turn up  inappropriate images. As a district, we want to prevent these images from being accessible to our students.

Reasons for unblocking image hosting sites and searching

Humans, by nature, are visually oriented. As a species we’ve been honed to analyze visual information for as long as there have been humanoids on the planet. Written language and text is a much more recent invention than sight. While it is an effective method of communication, visual stimuli trumps text-based stimuli in our brains. Therefore, students pay more attention (and generally learn better) when they are visually engaged or are able to exhibit their knowledge through visual modalities.

The ability to search for Creative Commons licensed or other fair use images allows students and staff to publish their work online. One major hurdle that has to be overcome to legally publish content online are copyright laws. However Flickr allows people to publish their image under Creative Commons (CC) licenses (here’s my photostream). These CC licenses can allow third parties to legally use and republish their images in any format. There are several web sites that allow you to easily search the content on Flickr for CC-licensed images (Flickr’s own, Blue Mountain, Comp-Fight). As a result, I can publish presentations online for students and other teachers to access from anywhere without having to worry about copyright infringement. Students can publish projects and other works online; accessing a global audience for feedback on their work. Research is heavy with studies showing how authentic publication of student work increases student performance.

Students can create high quality projects. Previously, I have had students create artifacts of their learning to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts being covered in class. Invariably, high quality projects include images. What good is a text-based description of a stratovolcano when you can have images of real stratovolcanoes? Why simply have a description of what the element lead looks like when you can also have a picture of lead.

Filters generally won’t be an obstacle in any other environment. I am not suggesting we unblock everything and let students do whatever they’d like online. However, most students are accessing the unfiltered internet at home. When students graduate from Fitch they will go on to educational and professional settings that will more likely that not either not have filters or have very lax filtration. In many of those places, student computer use is unsupervised. In school, all student computer use is supervised. This provides us with a wonderful opportunity to teach students how to work with sites where they may run into objectionable content. As a school, we should be jumping at the chance to teach students skills they’ll be using the rest of their lives. Instead, we’re running away from one of the best lessons we can teach our students.

Again, I thank you for your time. I feel that we need to have an open discussion concerning filtering policies concerning what is best for our students.