Tuesday, April 3, 2012

iBoss Content Filter: A Perspective Based on Recent Observations

Since we switched to iBoss (our district's content filtering solution) a few months ago, I have heard some frustrations from both teachers and students. I will be the first to admit that change is often inconvenient.  So, I thought I would share three perception issues that I frequently have to explain in emails or during hallway meetings regarding iBoss.  Hopefully it will shed some light for others too.

1) Perception Problem #1: “iBoss is worse than the old filter!”  False.  The new content filter, iBoss, actually does a better job of blocking problem websites and filtering problem web content; and there lies our problem – teachers and students miss the old days when less was blocked.  Unfortunately, due to growing problems with old content filter we had to make a change.

2) Perception Problem #2: “Everything is blocked!”  False.  I think the highly visible yellow triangle (that shows up when an image is blocked) adds to the perception that “everything is blocked.”  I hear this often but rarely see a case when more is blocked than permitted.  In fact, I have yet to see a situation when a student is completely unsuccessful in finding data or images for their projects.  I will agree that it may take longer than the past since fewer images are available – and fewer display on the screen at once.  Also, it may require some trial and error to work around some problems.
Suggestion #1: Find a web site in advance that contains a good deal of the desired content (topics, images, etc.), ensure that the site is unblocked before going to the computer lab, and then point students to it when they go to the lab.  This suggestion is particularly good for classes dealing with topics like drugs and sexuality since the filter will block many of these key word searches.
Suggestion #2: Instruct students to pull some reference books off the shelf in the library.  I suspect books still offer relevant content but not as easy to find as a web browser.
Suggestion #3: Have students research their topic on a home computer where web filtering is usually non-existent.

3) Perception Problem #3: “The tech guys (or technology) are too controlling!”  False.  I hear this occasionally from frustrated students (less from staff since they know better).  Student attitude towards filtering is part of the problem…AND it affects their motivation to do what it takes to be successful.  Teacher frustration can add to this so we need to watch out for that.  I have walked into labs and felt the tension as a room full of people complaint about the yellow triangles.  If I could change anything about iBoss it would be removing the yellow triangle and replacing it with a gray x (anything that doesn’t shout louder than the content that is visible on the web page).  To be clear, the content filter is set according to campus level; meaning that Tivy is set for high school content.   We consistently adjust the filter as we hear about problems and needs.  We need your help to improve it!  If there are web sites that have educational value and don't violate district policies, then let technology know about it.  Simply use the iBoss dialog box to request a site to be unblocked or use the Help Desk if you don't see the request box on a web page.

Hope this helps!

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