Monday, November 14, 2011


Cyberbullying is "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phone, and other electronic devices" (Hinduja). In other words, for some bullying no longer stops when you leave the school grounds, it's no longer enough to get inside your own home, now bullies can follow you basically wherever you go. They are on your facebook page, they are texting your phone, it seems like they are everywhere. 

So what can you do? 

As part of our reading for class this week we read about several strategies. Both parents and teachers need to stay alert, know what technologies, website and platforms the kids/students are using. A lot of it seemed to boil down to making yourself visible and available if someone needs help. Another aspect of dealing with cyberbullying revolved around education. Make sure everyone knows what the signs are and what to do if something is going on. This can be based on the schools anti-bullying rules, which should also include cyberbullying. We also need to make sure the students know how to behave online. They should understand how public spaces online work, how discussion boards and social networking sites function. They need to be taught how to keep their information private and how to keep themselves protected from potential bullying. It will serve the students in the long run if we teach them to be responsible users of the internet and all it has to offer.  

For me the biggest piece of the puzzle with not only cyberbullying, but bullying in general is that there needs to be swift and consistent consequences. There should be no grey area. If you are bullying someone, physically or emotionally, in person or in cyberspace, there needs to be consequences. The consequences need to be clearly outlined in the student handbooks and students need to be reminded of them at the start of the year, and maybe a few more times along the way. Parents need to be informed of what the procedures are in cases of bullying. If a student is being bullied then there needs to be a procedure that everyone follows. A person they can turn to and trust that they will be taken seriously, a plan of action to investigate any claims in a timely manner, a consistent set of punishments that will be handed down to anyone who is doing the bullying. One thing I've found is that there is a huge lack of respect from many children. They don't respect each other and they don't respect the teachers. This obviously doesn't apply to every kid at every school, but it is an observation I've made at several schools I've visited. They do not fear that there will be consequences for their actions and therefore are not afraid to act, this makes it easy or the bully to do so. The victims have the same feeling, that there will not be consequences, so what is to be gained from seeking help? All it serves to do  is to tick the bully off more. By having a clear and consistent plan of action, by being visible and available, by responding quickly and fairly you can create an environment where your students know that they are heard and that they will be protected. They also will know that bullying of any sort will not be tolerated. 

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2007).   Offline consequences of online victimization: School violence and delinquency.  Journal of School Violence, 6(3), 89­112.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dear Schools- blocking YouTube makes my life difficult.

Earlier in the week I posted a general post about internet filters in schools. Today I'm going to share how filters are making my life difficult by blocking YouTube. 

The Scene: Library student (me) is working on a collaborative project with a local high school. Part of the project is that I and my teammates are making short tutorials about the library commons website. We are then going to embed those videos into the schools website. 

The Problem: Seems SUPER easy right? A little Screen Cast-o-Matic, some YouTube, a little cut and paste of the embed code and voila... a series of tutorials on the website. Of course it would be way too easy if it really were that easy. This week we hit our first road block, and by road block I mean we ran right up against the schools filter system, which blocks YouTube. We can't very well embed videos using a site the students and teachers can't even access at school. 

The Solution!: Teacher Tube. Excellent, a back up plan that will allow me to upload the videos and have them be available at the school. The thing is, people use YouTube for a reason. It's easy. It's quick. It gives you lots of options. I don't claim to be a Web2.0 guru, but I'm also not a novice. I made a profile on TeacherTube, and then did it again because it didn't work the first time. Then I uploaded my video... ERROR... uploaded again.... more try....ERROR. This was followed by my yelling at the computer, then going and getting my husband who is, in fact, a tech guru. He couldn't make it work either. We tried IE, we tried Chrome, we tried changing the file type. No. Dice. 

The Problem is back: So now I have no YouTube and no Teacher Tube. How am I going to get these videos on the website?!?!

We have a solution part 2: I took to twitter and begged for ideas. Mary (@bkbiblio) was nice enough to chime in with Vimeo as a potential solution. I was all over it. I created an account (it worked on the first try!) uploaded my HD even! Then I waited.... and waited.... because I'm not a paying Vimeo customer my video kept getting bumped to the back of the line. Finally, 45 minutes later, we were ready to go! 

Where we are now: Now I'm just waiting to see if the Vimeo is blocked or not. If it isn't then we are in business. If not then we may be back to square one. 

So What?: In case you are wondering (you're not) this is my favorite part of my posts. The "So What?" section. A professor of mine, Oakleaf in case any one is interested, asked me that question on my papers constantly. Apparently I was missing that crucial part. I know I can ramble on about any given subject... but what exactly is the point. In other words, "So what?". 

I decided to share this on the blog because it tied in so perfectly to this week's discussions. This whole mess started because the one website I needed is blocked at the school. So I can't share the new resources with the students in any thing resembling a timely manner.  I have a week to figure it out, thank goodness I went in now to test it out and didn't wait until the last minute. Why do we block YouTube? Well, because there is bad stuff on there. Instead of teaching kids to conduct effective searches on YouTube or to ignore the bad stuff and focus on the relevant videos, it's easier to simply block the site all together. There are alternatives, but they are not as well organized or quick to use. The actual posting of the videos should have taken an afternoon. Now we are on day 3 and the videos are still not up. All because of the filter. This might just be a case of restrictive overkill....

Monday, November 7, 2011

Internet Filters

This week in school we are reading about, thinking about and talking about internet filters in schools. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with filters. I know from past classes that many people are passionately on one side of this debate or the other, and I've found myself in the position of being the wishy-washy flip-flopper in the middle of the debate saying things like "Wow, that's an excellent point!" and "Yes, I totally see where you are coming from on this issue." That isn't to say that I don't have my own opinion on this one, it just highlights the fact that I think there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the debate and I'm not sure that there is one good answer that will work for every school and every library. With that bit of rambling out of the way, let's get into what I do think on this issue. In other words- read on, I'm going to basically debate myself.

Point 1. Filters keep our kids safe from dangerous websites and people and also keep them from visiting sites that are not school related. 

Sure, I'll buy that line of thinking... but only to an extent. We want to keep our kids safe. This is a given. Keeping them from accessing sites that they really don't need to be on is a valid point. Do I want my students stumbling their way into some porn? Of course not.  As a matter of fact I distinctly remember stumbling my way into particularly unsavory sites a time or two while looking for normal stuff. For instance, I took a guess at the website for Dick's Sporting Goods one time and was greeted by something drastically different then sporting goods. The same happened when I was trying to get to the White House website (who knew that going .com instead of .gov would make such a difference?). I also buy into the idea that limiting access to certain social media sites will allow students to use the library for work and not for updating their facebook status. Many school libraries include in their mission statement that they are there to support the curriculum and learning. There is an argument that can be made that allowing sites like facebook and twitter or even personal emails is a distraction from the mission of the library. 

Point 2: Filters limit access to websites students need. Students need to learn to focus on their own, without filters to do it for them. This point is also known as "Everything I just said in point 1 is wrong"

In our reading this week one idea that was brought up was the idea that filters are "restrictive overkill". I think that this can certainly be true. For every site that we don't want them to get to, there are others that are blocked that are worthwhile and should be allowed. For instance, some filters block access to LGBTQ websites. By doing so not only are you restricting access to information that is valuable and pertinent, but you are also sending a very clear message that to be LGBTQ you are something that needs to be filtered out, something that must be kept away from the masses. That is a very powerful message and it's one that I wouldn't want my library to send out there. (read more about this issue here

Regarding the focusing issue. Like I said, I get that there are sites that don't really need to be accessed during the school day. Still, aren't we really doing a disservice to our students by simply blocking these sites instead of teaching them how to manage their time and multitask? When they walk out the doors and head into the real world, either in jobs or at college, they will not always have filters to do the job for them. In a sense we are sending them out there totally unprepared for the real world. 

Point 1... again.: But what about the school's liability? (aka "You're living in a dream world point 2")

Ahhh... liability. This is a huge chunk of what it boils down to isn't it? It's the all important "what if?" of filtering. What if something bad happens? What if the students have unfiltered access and are watching adult movies in the back corner of the library? What if one or two students is accessing their facebook account and they are bullying another student? What if this happens, what is the liability for the school? 

I don't profess to know all the answers on this one, but it is something that school need to take into account when making decisions. If things happen on school property, using the schools computers, what are the ramifications? One way the school can limit the possible problem is to simply limit the access to the potential issues. Block the sites, keep the kids off them while they are in school, limit the opportunities for the issues to occur. It makes sense. 

And back to Point 2: Why should you make those decisions? Who says those sites are inappropriate?

For me this is the clincher. Who makes these decisions? As a librarian, my job is to look at the resources and make a decision as to whether they are good or not. It's not to impose my personal views on anyone else. It's also not to limit the access to resources that students may need, for school work or for personal research. There is the argument that students can access these resources elsewhere, either at home or at the public library, but is a mistake to assume that all students have that option. For some, the school library might be their only chance to get on the internet. In a sense that makes us the great equalizer. Within our walls students are all the same. Who am I (or the tech staff or the administration) to say that our students don't need to access PFLAG  or WebMD's breast cancer page? When we limit access to certain websites we are limiting access to knowledge and information and when we do that we are failing at our job as a library. 

So what?

In short, this is a really controversial and heated topic. There are arguments to be made on both sides and I honestly don't think either side is 100% right. So what would I do? 

Well to start I'd take a good hard look at my library, my school and my students. What are they using the library for, what age are they and what is their level of knowledge regarding internet safety? Then I'd propose a combination of internet filters (as required by CIPA in order to get funding) and internet safety education. After long discussions in other classes I began thinking about the best way to teach students safety and how to reduce the number of sites that are filtered. My suggestion was that at the lower grades filters remain somewhat strict and that internet safety be something that is taught throughout the year. As students learn more about internet safety and how to use the internet in a responsible manner filters would be reduced significantly. By high school only the absolute minimum would remain filtered out. I would imagine that adult sites would be restricted, but most everything else would be open. By this point, student will have years of internet safety under their belts and will have learned strategies for using the internet responsibly and also how to focus while doing online work. Do I think we definitely need filters in the high school? Not really, but I also understand that they are not likely to go away. So what I would strive to do is find away to get my students access to the best resources while preparing them to leave school and be responsible internet users. 

I'm guessing that this won't be the last you hear from me this week on this issue. I'm still very much forming a final opinion on it all and over the course of the week I will get a chance to hear from all my classmates and I'll be taking all their thoughts into account. So check back here or catch up with me on Twitter as the internal debate over internet filters rages on.