In the modern educational world, the term “student-centered” has become common and typically refers to instruction. A student-centered approach is pitched as a replacement to teacher-centered instruction. Instruction is either one or the other—student-centered or teacher-centered. However, this is not quite the case when it comes to digital tools such as a K-12 web filter or learning management systems (LMS). Digital tools for learning must take into account both the teacher and learner perspectives.
For example, when using an LMS, teachers must be able to easily create learning materials, as well as provide quick feedback to learners. When it comes to students using them, they need to be able to access learning materials with as few clicks as possible from multiple devices. In order for an LMS to be successful, it must be teacher and student-centered.
What is a K-12 web filter?
A K-12 web filter is another example of a digital tool that schools use. Web filters prevent users from viewing certain websites. They ensure learner safety when navigating the internet. Because of this, they are an essential tool for every school. In fact, the United States requires that schools have a web filter in order to even be considered for E-rate funding.
Who makes content filtering decisions?
In the past, web filtering has typically been handled solely by a school’s technology department. The technology department chose the K-12 web filter, completed setup and identified the websites that would be blocked. In this scenario, the web filter is affecting the learning process, yet teachers and students have little to no voice. This approach to content filtering can lead to the following negative consequences:
- Blocking access to needed educational sites
- Preventing students from learning how to use the internet responsibly
- Discouraging learner agency
- Hindering student learning
A different approach to K-12 web filtering
Teachers can add allowed websites
The Hāpara Filter is a K-12 web filter that paves the trail to real learning with a student and teacher-centered approach. Teachers have a voice in content filtering via a teacher portal. In the teacher portal, websites can be added to the “Allowed Websites” list for a specific class. Any websites added to the “Allowed Website” list will be accessible to learners in that class for only the designated class time. For example, the health teacher can add specific websites that discuss addiction to the “Allowed Websites” list for the advanced health class. The learners in advanced health can then complete the addiction unit and the research paper on addiction treatment during that class period.
Teachers can temporarily disable class restrictions
Another teacher-centered feature of the Hāpara Filter is the ability to temporarily disable class restrictions in the teacher portal. Teachers enter the number of minutes desired to disable class restrictions. Once that time has elapsed, the class restrictions will be reenabled. Learners will only have access to the site(s) permitted for the current class.
Learners can submit websites for review
In order to develop authentic learner agency, students need to be able to conduct internet research. As of this writing, there are almost two billion websites. It is virtually impossible to ensure that needed educational websites are not blocked by the K-12 web filter. Therefore, the Hāpara Filter gives learners a voice by allowing them to challenge a blocked website. For example, imagine a student is taking anatomy and physiology. She is learning about the reproductive system but finds most websites around this topic are blocked. The learner can submit a website for review by choosing “Send Unblock Request” as shown in the image below.
Then the learner can write an explanation of why access to the site is needed.
The selected teacher receives an email stating, “Your student is requesting you to unblock access to a website.” The teacher can approve or reject the site and even has the ability to determine the scope of the filtering and an expiration date. The student receives an email notification of the decision, and if approved, must refresh the website in order for it to load.
Benefits of a student and teacher-centered web filter
Giving learners and teachers a voice in the content filtering process has benefits. Both safety and learning are prioritized, while increasing efficiency and saving time. Members of school technology departments are stretched thin. In addition to the learning benefits, empowering teachers to approve or reject sites needed for learning creates an efficient workflow. Plus, it saves the technology department time. They no longer have to wade through sites to determine what should and should not be approved.
The benefits of a student and teacher-centered K-12 web filter are plenty:
- Ensure access to needed educational sites by placing learning decisions in the hands of teachers
- Create an efficient workflow and save time for all stakeholders
- Teach students authentic internet responsibility
- Encourage learner agency
- Empower student learning
Not all K-12 web filters are created equal. Consider reevaluating your school’s web filter and choose one that paves the trail to real learning.