FCPS: All blocked up

MHS+senior+Julia+Kingsbury+attempts+to+access+YouTube%2C+however+FCPS+has+an+overreaching+block+on+it.+Student%E2%80%99s+often+have+to+watch+videos+%2C+that+are+beneficial+to+the+curriculum%2C+at+home+which+is+a+waste+of+time+in+school+and+out+of+school+.

Photo by Molly Spillman

MHS senior Julia Kingsbury attempts to access YouTube, however FCPS has an overreaching block on it. Student’s often have to watch videos , that are beneficial to the curriculum, at home which is a waste of time in school and out of school .

By Molly Spillman, Round Table photo editor

Internet blocks on the computers at school and the new Frederick County Public Schools-supplied Chromebooks may simply be a nuisance in the lives of teachers and students, but there is surely more than meets the eye on this ever-changing debate.

Kathleen Schlappal, the current principal at Tuscarora High School, said, “FCPS is bounded by CIPA,” and “it requires any school that receives federal funding, which we do (FCPS), to have certain filters.”

The CIPA is the Children’s Internet Protection Act, and its Internet safety policy requires schools to monitor “access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet, the safety and security of minors when using direct electronic communications,” which would include social media sites that have been recently blocked in the past few years, such as Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

CIPA also requires schools to “restrict minors’ access to materials that are harmful to them,” which leaves the question, what defines a website as harmful to the students?

The average person would most likely answer that question with illegal pirating sites, or websites that expose sexually explicit images, but FCPS’s definition is a little broader.

“We have a responsibility to maintain our commitment to our values in the school building,” Schlappal said. “There are plenty of resources out there that are not blocked that students can use.”

With the use of technology in schools growing every year, FCPS is becoming aware of more and more potential harmful or distractive sites that students could have access to. In 2012 Tumblr was blocked and Instagram followed in 2013, but a site that students and teachers alike are most irritated with is the video sharing website YouTube.

Middletown High School teacher Mike Malafarina, who teaches computer graphics and multiple social studies courses, is outspoken on the debate.

“There’s so much educational value in YouTube,” Malafarina said. “I feel as though every subject, or at least most subjects, have some incredibly clever people working on educational resources (on YouTube) at an increasingly high level.”

He listed a few in particular that he has used in his classes, such as Crash Course, which has total of eight series ranging from world history to chemistry, and MinutePhysics, which teaches physics-related topics in around one minute and on average get about 1 million views per video.

“We’re hitting this Renaissance education here through the Internet and we should be able to reach out and grab that,” Malafarina said.

From a student perspective, MHS senior Julianna Posey said that YouTube is the most prohibitive block to her, as well.

“Everyone knows YouTube can be bad in some areas if you go looking for it,” Posey said. “There are some great videos on YouTube that are educational and have great things in them, but there is an overreaching block on them.”

Schlappal sees these blocks as helping students “learn responsible digital citizenship,” but MHS junior John Evich disagrees.

“You know what your work is and you know what you have to get done. It’s not up to the school to regulate what you’re doing,” Evich said. “You have to learn how to manage your own time.”

Since students can’t access sites like social media on school computers, or even Wikipedia on the Chromebooks, will this push them to use the new policy of BYOD in a counter-productive way?

MHS senior Lyndsi Clabaugh said, “These blocks just make people go on their smartphones and use their own tablets. People have data plans they can use to go on those websites anyway.”

MHS senior Jack Littrell provides not only a unique insight to this debate as an art student but an interesting middle ground that could be reached.

“I’m an art student, so when I’m trying to do projects in my classes, a lot of times the images I’m trying to get are blocked so I can’t download them,” he said.

Littrell said a site called Deviantart.com is a common place for him to get his pictures and helps him with his projects, but since it is categorized as “adult,” it leaves him having more work to do at home.

However, he does see a need to have some blocks on the FCPS network. “Unblocking them (social media sites) would definitely let a lot more students be distracted, but it would be nice if teachers were able to just block it when they didn’t need it for learning time,” he said.

The newest addition with the inplemation of BYOD is Google Chromebooks, yet these convienent pieces of technology have a new website blocked.

“Wikipedia is blocked?” Posey asked after learning that Wikipedia, a common site used for starting research, is blocked on the FCPS Wi-Fi network.

Clabaugh said that she uses Wikipedia as a place to find new sources to include in her paper.

“It’s more of a responsibility of fact-checking for the student, which is also a good skill for students to have,” Clabaugh said. “You can go down to the sources and look in the footnotes for sources.”

From the perspective of an educator, Schlappal thinks that Wikipedia can help as well as hurt students in an academic setting.

“I am a historian, so while I can appreciate Wikipedia as an accessible site for everyone, I also know it can be modified by users,” she said.

A few years ago, editing pages on Wikipedia seemed simple and often was done as a joke. Now, Wikipedia requires certain credentials before people may edit the articles and also reliable sources to be included.

Although there may not be a compromise that students, teachers and administrators alike will agree on in the near future, there are great steps being taken to future intergrate technology into the school system.

“The Internet and technology is such a big part of today, which means the face of education is changing,” Posey said. “It has to include us learning for ourselves.”