Opinion: Why are so many website blocked?

Limiting student access to online content makes sense to an extent, but when it proves counter-educational, it’s time to make a change.

Connor Smith, Staff Writer

It has happened to all of us.  You’re online doing research for a school assignment and discover that a site you need access to is blocked.  While it’s understandable that a school district needs to take precautions with students’ web searches, the question is whether blocked websites do more harm than good.

A large number of YouTube videos are blocked, in addition to a wide array of websites, some which are educational in nature.

But perhaps the greatest frustration comes when students are researching images.  When trying to get an image for a project or just to add to a presentation, rarely do we have access to relevant images.

When doing research for a recent Spanish project, I wanted to use images dealing with certain foods in Spanish culture. The problem was that whenever I searched them up, only one or two images of the actual food would appear.  The images were generic stock photos that didn’t truly represent the food or photograph it well.  I ultimately had to settle for choosing images on my phone and emailing them to my school account to use for my project.

The most recent website to go was ted.com, the homepage for TED talks, a well-respected series of educational speeches on a wide array of topics. Teachers often use TED talks in class when introducing a topic or supplementing a unit curriculum.  But the site is blocked on student computers.

There have been thousands of TED talks over the year, and I’m sure that a few could be deemed controversial. But considering the educational value of the vast majority of TED presentations, it’s hard to understand why students can’t access them.

Of course, a school district is responsible for the content they allow students to access, and there are obvious risks with unlimited access to online content.  But the question is whether the blockages have gone so far that they are having a negative effect on students’ ability to complete their work.

Additionally, with Adobe Flash Player expiring this year, some interactive STEM games have switched to websites. Even though they are educational interactives, their categorization as “games” often means they’re blocked.

There must be a more sensible middle ground between blocking too many and too few websites, even if it requires more work on the part of district officials tasked with online oversight.  Monitoring the websites would be hard work, but in the pursuit of education it would be a worthwhile change that would be very popular with the student body.