The purpose of this study
was to identify the effects of Internet filtering and restricted Internet
access in a school system and its effects on teaching and learning.
A total of 120 middle and high school teachers and support and administrative
staff completed a questionnaire with 14 Likert-type items and one open-ended
response question about their perceptions of Internet filtering in their
school. A chi-square test between middle and high school respondents
revealed no significant differences. The majority (N=87) reported they
accessed the Internet on a daily basis. Nearly all agreed that technology
support was available (N=118), but 117 respondents felt legitimate sites
had been blocked. Although user agreements were in place, results indicated
that some felt students were not always punished for downloading offensive
material. Some admitted they themselves used techniques to get around
the filter or block to complete their tasks.
A majority of the respondents reported e-mail as a critical function.
Most felt the restrictions imposed in this county school system were
designed to be more of a ban on Internet access. Teachers who used the
Internet to develop lesson plans must show how the web sites will be
used to support the lesson, and get approval to access the Internet.
Sites must be bookmarked for the students’ use, and teachers are
responsible for students accessing only those pre-approved sites. Frequent
comments regarded the “filtering” system as essentially
a block that: hampered their duties, created an inconvenience, reduced
student autonomy, lowered morale, and decreased the likelihood they
would create lessons integrating technology.
The Internet has been touted
as a tool that encourages learning and communication. As a new way of
processing information, the Internet can encourage learners not only
to view themselves as being in charge of their own learning, but also
to perceive teachers as facilitators in their learning process (Yumuk,
2002). The Internet is interactive and engages the learner. Unlike resources
such as textbooks, journals, and other materials used in traditional
teaching and learning; the Internet can stimulate learners to find the
most updated information in a short amount of time (Yumuk, 2003). Since
the Internet has become so ingrained in our culture, schools now have
the added responsibility to protect students from inappropriate Internet
Since 1996, Congress has worked to pass Internet legislation that would
protect the nation’s school-aged children from inappropriate content
and punish violators of those laws. However, many laws passed by Congress
violated constitutional rights and failed at the Supreme Court levels.
One example was The Communications Decency Act of 1996. This act prohibited
the sending or posting of obscene or indecent material via the Internet
to persons under the age of 18. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional
in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) because it
violated free speech under the First Amendment.
With the Child Online Protection Act (1998), Congress passed a more
narrowly written law to protect children from inappropriate online content.
Later, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act
(2000) which required schools and libraries that received federal funds
for discounted telecommunications, Internet access, or internal connection
services to adopt an Internet safety policy. The safety plan had to
include technological protections that blocked or filtered access to
visual depictions that were obscene, pornographic, or harmful to minors.
Educators recognize that because the Internet crosses every facet of
life, it tends to model society at large, and this can pose a problem
for content that crosses into the classroom. The information on the
Internet is often times faulty or inaccurate, and some suggest that
if left unchecked may expose children to pedophiles, pornography, and
other lascivious materials. State and national legislatures have attempted
to insulate people from indecent materials found on the web (Rumbough,
2001). School systems look for ways to counter the harmful association
that Internet access can bring through software designed to filter inappropriate
information. However, when filters or other restrictive measures are
enforced, teachers and administrators must contend with the effects
that Internet filtering or blocking has upon their use of the Internet.
Whether or not students, teachers, or administrators should have full
Internet access in a school is debatable. Rather than allowing students,
teachers, and administrators full Internet access, some schools monitor
accessed web content, controlling how and when teachers and students
can access sites based on a formalized lesson plan that must accompany
the request to access the Internet. This control works contrary to research
about how students learn. Shofield and Davidson (2002) suggest that
student learning is enhanced when students are allowed to try out their
own procedures for solving problems, to pursue their personal interests,
to contribute to the assessment of their own work, and to help plan
classroom activities. It is not surprising that they also found educators
frequently implemented policies and practices specifically designed
to direct and control students’ behavior online.
Mehlinger (1996) contends that technology has been an important part
of our schooling in America. Initially, technology was slow and relatively
non-threatening. When viewed from this simplistic standpoint it is easy
to see how the Internet now is met with resistance, when with one click,
today’s students can obtain questionable information such as how
to build a bomb. This instantaneous, limitless access has prompted the
Internet filtering debate across a variety of fields.
In the health industry, some believe that filtering significantly hampers
the quality and quantity of online health information. In a study conducted
by the Kaiser Family Foundation (2003), researchers examined six filters
that are used mostly by schools and libraries. They found that filters
can effectively block pornography without significantly impeding access
to online health information, but only if they are not set at the most
restrictive levels. The study showed that when filters were set at lower
levels of restricted access, user activity remained unchanged. While
no substantial increase in accessing pornography websites was indicated,
access to health care information was greatly impeded.
The Internet is a valid tool for research, communication, and education.
Educators want an effective way to use it while ensuring a safe environment
for students. Since 1994, according to Mehlinger (1996), computer usage
in school has grown steadily from fewer than 50,000 computers in 1983
to nearly 5.5 million in 1994. Since then, computer access to the Internet
has also grown in public schools. The National Center for Education
Statistics (2002) reported Internet access in schools had grown to nearly
99% of all public schools. Also, access to the Internet had expanded
in instructional rooms,1-3% in 1994 to 77% in 2000 and 87% in 2001.
When data was first collected in 1994, only 35% of public schools had
With a computer and access to a server at an Internet node, anyone can
distribute any information on the Web, regardless of the validity of
the information (Shiveley and VanFossen 1999). Shiveley and VanFossen
(1999) researched critical thinking and the Internet, and suggested
questions that students should consider before using information on
the Internet, such as: (1) Who is providing the information, (2) What
is the author’s authority to write on this topic, and (3) Does
the author provide detailed background information that supports his
or her authority?
Teachers commonly expressed concern about the possible negative consequences
of student autonomy on the Internet, and implemented procedures designed
to control and circumscribe students' online activities (Schofield and
Davidson, 2003). Schofield and Davidson found that teachers were in
agreement that they did not want students to access sexual content from
school, nor did they want them to use the Internet as a recreational
vehicle, to engage in chat rooms, or to e-mail friends. They also found
that high school students engaged in this behavior more frequently than
other students. They questioned 42 high school students who used the
Internet for academic activities about whether they drifted off task
and to what extent this occurred while working online during classroom
time. Over half, 27, (64%) admitted that they had drifted off task.
According to a report released by the Department of Commerce’s
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) (August,
2003), a “one size fits all” mentality is not the solution.
While the educational community has had success with technology measures,
it also recognizes that comprehensive child protection solutions do
not rest solely with technology. This report emphasized a customized
approach where teachers and educational institutions combine technology
protection measures along with other strategies and tools to afford
better Internet protection for children.
A growing number of people including children now rely on the Internet.
By the fall of 2001, 99%of the public schools in the United States had
access to the Internet, and public schools had expanded Internet access
into 87% of instructional rooms (The National Center for Education Statistics,
Those who argue for less control and those who seek full control acknowledge
that controls are necessary, but disagree about the form. However, children
are at potentially greater risk with access to the Internet when they
can roam freely without control mechanisms. The Commission on Online
Child Protection Act (2000) established that the Internet potentially
exposed children to indecent material, pornography, hate sites, violent
sites, and online predators. However, Schofield and Davidson (2002)
found that Internet usage produced independent feelings in students
as they engaged in interactive learning. Teacher assessments described
students as functioning in an independent and self-directed manner using
the Internet, even with the adoption of surveillance strategies such
as placing Internet connected computers so that screens were readily
The public school system studied in this project modified its Internet
policy and service in computer labs. In December 2004, the school system
blocked Internet access to all computer labs in all its high schools.
Later, it restricted access system-wide. Afterwards, Internet service
was turned back on for students to access specific sites. This study
sought to define the perceptions and beliefs about the revised Internet
policy and its effects in a middle school and high school setting.