To raise awareness of how school districts block web access for its students, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated Wednesday, Oct. 3 as Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD). As a part of the second annual Banned Books Week, the AASL is asking school librarians and educators to share how overly restrictive filtering web sites negatively affects student learning.
Susan Ballard, president of the AASL, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), explained that New Canaan (Conn.) High School Librarian Michelle Luhtala had the idea for BWAD after hearing stories from other schools. “She saw that where there were restrictions, students were not seeing the benefit of having the opportunity to practice those skills in a real time environment,” Ballard recalls.
Luhtala, who is also AASL’s Region I Director-elect, says restricting access to online communication is a missed learning opportunity to prepare students for life beyond high school and that few educational software programs can help fill the void of learning online research skills and using social media professionally. Blogging and e-mail are blocked in many districts, Luhtala says. “Having those tools available raises the stakes for students and makes them feel like they are a part of a larger conversation”—and reveals the importance of digital citizenship.
In its first year, BWAD was well received among educators and librarians, Ballard says. “It also helped lead to conversations within school communities about what can be modified to allow for improved opportunities and for students to engage and learn them successfully,” Ballard says.
But students are also savvy about getting around web filters, which can lead to ineffective learning and distractions, Ballard adds. “We’d rather be with them and guiding them in the use of the content rather than them experience it without us,” Ballard says. “This is an opportunity to help them learn to be good digital citizens and we’re denying that lesson by blocking it.”
To learn more, visit ALA.org/advocacy.
Lauren Williams is products editor.