• Adjustments to YouTube Access

    Posted by Tim Mangan on 9/27/2019

    This week the FSD145 Technology Department took steps to limit student access to YouTube.  Access for staff remains unchanged. These changes are in response to several recent events.

    The first and foremost is the ransomware attack targeting the Rockford Public Schools.  Anytime a crisis of this magnatude hits close to home, it triggers some reflection on our own policies and practices.  A second trigger was the release of a statement from the FTC summarizing the $17 million settlement against Google for COPPA violations on YouTube.  

    When looking at our own practices, we realized that YouTube was one of the most frequently used sites by our students.  YouTube access from August 23rd, 2019 to September 27th, 2019 resulted in over 130,000 videos viewed on our network.  Looking at just one day, (September 19th), we see that 6,000 videos were viewed by 740 users.  This doesn't include the 873 videos that were blocked by our Internet filter.


    With this data in mind, we looked at different options for better monitoring YouTube access during school hours.  One of the nice features of our Internet filter appliance is that we can restrict access to programs during school hours, but allow access for homework. For example, if a teacher shows a YouTube video during class, students should always be able to view that video after school. This feature has been in place since last year, but didn't seem to be having an impact on student use of YouTube. So we decided to take additional steps.

    First, we restricted YouTube access for K-8 students.  COPPA clearly spells out that Internet access for children 13 and under must be handled more carefully than access for students over 13.  The FTC settlement with Google shows that Google has been irresponsible in that regard.

    Next, we restricted YouTube access for high school students.  We are not under the same COPPA restrictions for high school students, since they are over the age of 13.  However, the initial data showed that students were spending a lot of time watching YouTube.  We even dived a little deeper into the data to see what students were watching.  It turns out that the none of the top videos were educational.  Students were spending most of their time watching music videos and memes. Our filter has another feature that lets us block YouTube videos according to category.  If you've ever searched for an educational video, you might have seen this toward the bottom of the screen.


    Turns out that a lot of the videos that our teachers were using are already categorized as "Education." Khan Academy is probably the most widely known educational video series on YouTube.  We didn't go so far as to ONLY allow educational videos.  Instead, we set the filter to allow any video that had been assigned to a category.  That way we can still allow students to view TED Talks, Nova documentaries, News, and more.  The key is that the video must have been categorized.  This means that the video can't "fly under the radar" and needs to have some peer reviewed merit.  Our filter also allows us to filter these categories and adjust as needed.  Currently most music sites and entertainment videos will be blocked.

    As a result of our first attmept at restrictions for YouTube, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of videos viewed.  A snapshot of the data one week later shows that 949 students watched aprpoximately 1,000 videos.


    Moving forward, we are open to suggestions that would support instruction.  We can unblock sites (like the Pretzel Pride Network) to make sure that all of our students have access to the sites they need.  If you have a suggestion for a site that is currently restricted, but should be allowed, please contact the Technology Department and we will look at the best way to make your request happen.


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