PLAYBACK: The Freedom to Read, Research and Explore


9.30.11 | Banned Websites Awareness Day, why collaborating on Facebook might be an integral part of a contemporary education, badges for learning, and transliteracy and children, all in this week’s Playback.

Don’t Filter Me: The American Association of School Librarians is calling attention to what it terms “overly restrictive” filtering policies of websites in schools and school libraries this week with the first ever Banned Websites Awareness Day, an offshoot of Banned Books Week.


Photo by DML East Branch.

“Many schools filter far beyond the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, because they wish to protect students,” Carl Harvey, AASL president, said in a press release. “Students must develop skills to evaluate information from all types of sources in multiple formats, including the Internet. Relying solely on filters does not teach young citizens how to be savvy searchers or how to evaluate the accuracy of information.”

Harvey notes that research from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, finds that kids today use online media not just as social tools, but to engage in peer-based, self-directed learning through digital media on their own time.

He continued:

School librarians understand that learning is enhanced by opportunities to share and learn with others. The use of social media in education, then, is an ideal way to engage students. In order to make school more relevant to students and enhance their learning experiences, we need to incorporate those same social interactions that are successful outside of school into authentic assignments in the school setting.

Among the resources provided to educators and librarians to commemorate Sept. 28 is a “Don’t Filter Me” activity from the ACLU that asks high school students to try to access selected websites with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-related content, which are often blocked by filters.

The ACLU notes that blocking access to this content while still allowing access to anti-LGBT sites violates students’ First Amendment rights and, at schools that have gay-straight alliance clubs, the federal Equal Access Act which “requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups.” Read more at the ACLU.

An Integral Part of Education: The New York Times reports on how schools are commemorating Banned Websites Awareness Day with a call to open up web access, which some schools have already done. 

Phil Goerner, a librarian at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colo., told the Times his school unblocked many social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, two years ago after recognizing that they could provide learning opportunities.

“It just got to the point that it became hard to conduct research,” Judy Gressel, a librarian at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., said.

Deven Black, a librarian at Middle School 127 in the Bronx, also said that filters had blocked a range of useful websites. YouTube and personal blogs where educators share resources can have value, he said. “Our job is to teach students the safe use of the Internet. And it’s hard to do that if we can’t get to the sites.”

One 17-year-old student interviewed by the Times, Michael DeMattia from New Canaan High School in Connecticut, is using Facebook in his advanced placement biology class to collaborate and share data and YouTube in his literature class presentations. DeMattia told the Times the internet has “made cooperation and collaboration inside and outside of class much better and faster,” adding, “It really has become an integral part of education.”

Curriculum Ideas: The Times also has lesson ideas on how to celebrate Banned Books Week and Banned Website Awareness Day. Helpful curricular suggestions for educators include everything from blogging on books commonly taught in secondary schools that are still banned in the United States, to reading about websites commonly blocked abroad in countries like China and Saudi Arabia.

The Times also asked students to weigh in on what sites are blocked at their schools and how that has affected their learning, leading to some really insightful comments about how filtering is impacting the ability to access information.

YouTube EDU: Last week, YouTube launched a new channel for teachers with information on how to use videos in the classroom. The site has lesson plan suggestions, tutorials on how to create your own channel, and suggestions for using videos to spark discussions and even review for exams.

In a post over at MindShift, Tina Barseghian says that YouTube is planning another big announcement in several weeks that “will address many of the concerns teachers have had about using YouTube videos (you know what they are).” We’ll keep you posted.

Badges for Learning: Since the launch of the 2012 Digital Media and Learning Competition, it seems like there has been a buzz in the blogosphere and on Twitter about an open badges system and its potential to open up new kinds of learning opportunities and show off skills. 

Sheryl Grant has a thoughtful piece on the discussion over at HASTAC or check out her collection on You can join the conversation here.

Transliteracy & the Young Child: For a nuanced discussion of using media with young children, here’s a great slideshare from EdTechInsight. Librarians Laura Flemming, Buffy Hamilton, and Andy Plemmons were panelists at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit, and they ask the important question: What does a transliterate learner look like?

We’ve written about transliteracy before – this idea that today’s students need to be able to read and write across multiple platforms. And this presentation gives some great examples from the virtual worlds of Pottermore and Inanimate Alice. It explores how students can experience a story across multiple media platforms and tools and why this matters, and it helps to bring these rather abstract ideas into the classroom.

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