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EdTech Update




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Informing parents - how much info is good for kids?


Our school is in the process of reviewing Internet filters. Since the last time I engaged in this process, the feature set offered by many filters has increased dramatically. If you think all your filter does is keep users from getting to bad websites, you might be surprised.

Today's filters, besides blocking, can also monitor and track individual user's Internet access. If so configured, the program will alert an "authority" if it detects someone spending too much time looking for information about suicide or firearms or radical organizations - places that might indicate some form of adult intervention is needed to prevent a young person harming her/himself or others. I understand the intent, but I also wonder about the accuracy and privacy implications.

Impacting an even larger percentage of our students is the ability of a filter to analyze, summarize, and report Internet use by students. A weekly report can be sent to parents that tells the most often used search terms, most often used websites, and the amount of time spent online. All stuff a "good" parent* to should know and be able to use to help guide their children.

Getting realtime information about one's children from data kept by the school has been around for what, 15 years? Most student information systems have a "parent view" portal that allows parents to see attendance, grades, assignment completion, etc. (We enabled it in my previous district in 2005.) Access to test scores, bus location, hot lunch purchases and other data are increasing as well. At the time, I saw both the advantages and the abuses in real time monitoring of student performance by parents. (Parent portals - are we encouraging helicopter parenting?) Parent access to student data has become such a common expectation now that I doubt any district could seriously discuss turning it off. 

My primary concern about filter reporting is that students will figure out how to bypass the filter (they are very, very good at that) or simply limit their use of the school Internet to school uses. (Which is, I suppose, what many educators would like to see happen.) For our students who may not have a second, less monitored, means of accessing the Internet, a new inequity will be created. Exploring interests about which one wishes to be remain private (sexual identity, careers, religions, diets, etc) will be much more difficult for these kids.

I find it somewhat ironic that we as adults tend to make a very big deal about our personal data privacy yet we do not honor it for our youth. Yes, we need to guide and we need to restrict or monitor when needed. But we also need to give kids some independence and the chance to make some choices on their own. Mistakes will be made, for sure, but often it is the mistakes from which we learn the most.

* I've been asking myself what the definition of a "good" parent might be. Who writes that definition? On what is it based? Do any parents who have children who productive members of society qualify as "good" parents? Can you be a "good" parent but still have children who make mistakes or may not live up to societal expectations of success? 

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