We Need to Stop Blocking Digital and Social Media Websites in Schools

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By Andrew Pillow

Most schools around the country are attempting to bring more technology to their students. This is undoubtedly the correct move. Technology is going to be essential to daily living for the rest of our students lives so it only makes sense to expose students to technology as early as possible. However, something has always perplexed me about this initiative. This effort to bring more technology into schools for some reason doesn’t include the most common sites and apps that our kids come in contact with.

Go to a school. Go to the library and log on to one of the desktop computers. Guaranteed these websites will be blocked:

  • Digital Media sites like YouTube and Vimeo
  • Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter

It makes no sense to block these types of websites.

The traditional wisdom around blocking digital and social media sites is the “distraction” argument.

“Students will spend all their time posting and commenting on Facebook and Instagram unless we block social media.”

My favorite excuse is the “it's unnecessary” excuse.

“There is no reason to let students go to non-academic sites. There is no purpose."

While some of these excuses have merit, schools should still consider lifting the ban on digital and social media. There are a number of good reasons, but I will share only a few:

1.       Digital media has an academic purpose.

YouTube doesn’t have to just be that website where you go to look at cat videos. There is a ton of academic material on YouTube. Not only does it make sense to let students access it but it also makes my job as a teacher easier as I often find myself using it in class.

2.       It’s only a distraction if you don’t actively manage.

In full transparency, I taught a class where every student was on a computer for the entire period. Unauthorized access of social media never really became a problem because I managed the classroom. When you have students on computers you have to manage them the same way you do in a regular class. Walk around circulate and check in. Too many teachers use computer lap time as a chance to zone out which leads to students doing what they want which in turn, feeds the narrative of distracted students.

3.       Students can get around your web-filters.

Just because you block a site doesn’t mean students won’t get to it. Ask any student that attends a school with web-filters that block social-media sites; they know how to get to Facebook. They will run you off a list of hacks and proxy sites that allow them to bypass the filters with ease. These hacks and proxy sites change often and no administrator can reasonably stay on top of all of them.  

4.       Students need to learn how to manage social media too.

Given how ubiquitous social media has become, I’m not sure it makes sense to attempt to try and keep kids off of it all the time. I actually taught an internet safety lesson where I taught students how to add privacy settings to their Facebook profile. I taught another lesson where students got practice identifying satire and fake news during the election. I’m not saying everyone has to teach a class on social media… but it couldn’t hurt... and again they can get on it anyway so you might as well teach them to use it right.

Social and digital media are becoming an increasingly large part of life. Maybe schools should be on the frontlines of adapting to that trend instead of fighting it.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.