Open Access Graduate Research Paper
The goal of this research paper was to describe one Waterloo Community School District elementary school librarian's experiences in dealing with a District-imposed Internet filter. An Internet filter was imposed on public schools and their library media programs in the Waterloo Community School District (WCSD). The population of this study consisted of various administrators, School Board members, District facilitators, coordinators, principals, computer technicians, teachers, and secretaries. Data collection methods for this descriptive research included notation, description, analysis, and questioning. The researcher gathered articles from newspapers and periodicals, videotaped and audiotaped meetings, communicated with and kept records of personal email messages with key informants, attended meetings, held conversations, conducted informal interviews, and used the Internet. The most prevalent technique to record data was journaling in notation and description to document incidents as they happened. After data were collected from August of 1999 through September of 2001, they were presented in descriptive narrative form in chronological order by month.
Five research questions were investigated. The first question concerned why the District administration felt the need for an Internet filter on all school computers. Although interviewing the Superintendent might have helped answer this question, the researcher was reluctant to do that because of possibly being perceived as a threat to the peaceful acceptance of the decision to filter. Instead, the researcher heard at a meeting that the Superintendent believed a filter would protect the District's students online, and therefore convinced the School Board to formally approve the installation of filtering hardware and software. The second research question asked what filter the District chose and why it was chosen. After the researcher attended meetings, it was found that the filter Bess by N2H2 was chosen because it was offered to the WCSD free and was highly rated by its accompanying literature. Near the end of the data collection period for this project, however, the District was testing the filter X-Stop, but had not decided whether to switch permanently to X-Stop. How the filter worked was the next research question. The researcher obtained literature about Bess and X-Stop and learned that they both worked at the District server level by blocking within several different selected categories and by blocking certain keywords and URLs. Through informal questioning, it was discovered that the filter settings were applied in the same configuration for all computers in the WCSD; district computer technicians were being filtered in the same way as students of all ages. Through email messages and personal conversations, it was learned that only two people in the District knew and were authorized to use the override password. By personal experience, it was found that both filters inadvertently blocked many appropriate sites and failed to block some inappropriate sites for users, regardless of the age level of students.
The fourth research question concerned the cognitive and affective results of filter use on the learning experiences of children in the District. The results were obvious and discovered through analysis of personal communication, questioning, and general observation. Because the filter's parameters were applied in the same configuration for all students regardless of age, Internet sites deemed inappropriate for kindergartners were also deemed inappropriate for the District's college-bound, advanced placement eighteenyear-old seniors. Students of all ages were blocked from pertinent information they needed that was readily available on the Internet, sometimes influencing whether the synthesis and evaluation stages of higher level thinking skills could develop adequately in their learning. Even elementary students voiced frustration when they were blocked from sites at school that they wanted to access for information. They openly asked teachers why they could not access certain sites. High school students unequivocally declared their frustrations with being blocked, and many asserted that they would conduct research at home instead of at school in order to access information from all available online resources. Students who did not have access to the Internet at home were left with no recourse but to seek unfiltered computers elsewhere or to use filtered computers at school.
The fifth and final research question of this study examined the alternatives to filtering in the Waterloo Community School District. Viable alternatives were found through reading and studying journal articles and research papers. Alternatives include educating students and staff about becoming efficient, evaluative, and effective searchers for information on the Internet; refining and enforcing the District's Acceptable Use Policy; having available lists of appropriate Internet sites that are preselected by teachers or librarians; integrating selected websites into electronic catalogs, and monitoring student use of the Internet more effectively.
During the span of this study, nineteen useful sites were documented as blocked by the District's Internet filter. Some were eventually unblocked by one of the two people in the District who were authorized to use the override password. Two inappropriate sites were documented as not blocked by the District's Internet filter and were therefore accessible to students of all ages. One site was eventually blocked after it was reported to the District by a librarian. The other inappropriate site was not reported by the same librarian for fear that even more blocking restrictions would result.
Year of Submission
Master of Arts
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Division of School Library Studies
Barbara R. Safford
1 PDF file (vi, 137 pages)
©2001 Christine H. Murphy
Murphy, Christine H., "Civic Courage: One Librarian’s Protest Against Web Filtering" (2001). Graduate Research Papers. 3942.