June 22, 2016

Gaming

Students play too many games on their Chromebook.  Why doesn’t the district just block all games?
Blocking all of anything online is not an easy task.  Its important for anyone reading this to understand how a school district blocks sites in the first place.  Read this post first before reading on.

Now that you understand how the content filtering works, lets look at why we can’t just block all the games by filtering out all the sites in the “gaming” category.  For starters, there are too many new website launched every day making it virtually impossible to keep up with blocking them all.  In this post from 2013, they estimate that 571 new websites are launched every single minute.  It can take weeks or even months before the major content filtering providers categorize these new sites.  At any one time, there are millions of sites that are not categorized.  While not every one of those sites are gaming websites, there are enough out that to confidentially say a student could find one.

The other problem with trying to block all gaming sites is that some of them are hosted on sites that are not categorized as a “gaming” site.  They are loaded onto websites that can be appropriate for education use.   A fantastic example of this is the site below.

https://sites.google.com/site/newstudyhall/games/

Sites.google.com is not a gaming website.  Sites.google.com is tool that Google created to host to millions of web sites on just about every topic imaginable.  If I were to block sites.google.com, I’d be blocking out too many perfectly acceptable sites including student created projects.  I could block this particular site, but ten more would pop up to take its place.

The district could take an entirely different approach and could choose to block ALL websites except a small list of sites that are pre-approved.  While this would work at blocking games, it would ruin the education experience for everyone.  Every single site that teachers want to use would have to be hand entered into that list.  Assuming the district took the time to gather the thousands of sites that are used, we’d still be adding new ones to the list every day.  The district personnel would spend so much time dealing with filtering issues that I believe many teachers would just choose to abandon technology use out of frustration.  It would be an absolute nightmare for everyone involved: students, teachers, IT…everyone.

Another aspect to consider is that blocking games doesn’t address the root problem.  In the education profession, we always talk about giving students an authentic learning experience.  Blocking out gaming sites is representative of what they’ll see in the real world.  Blocking is not teaching.

So filtering out all of those sites isn’t the best option.  What is then?
The best way to get students off gaming websites in the classroom is to figure out why they are on those sites in the first place. Aside from the quick answer of “they just love games”, there are a variety of reasons why a child might choose to be off task in your classroom.   I spoke with a class full of Chagrin high school students in November 2015 about this very issue.   There were two big glaring take aways from those conversations.

  • Disengaged – The content in the class was boring so the kids chose to take their attention elsewhere.  This was the most common response.  I believe it was phrased as “Well, if they teacher was more engaging, I wouldn’t be playing games in the first place.”  This is a hard truth for some educators to realize, but it may be time to rethink how they are teaching the material.
  • Consequences – The message that was clear from the students revolved around the consequences for being off task.  “I’ll play games is Mrs. Smith’s class, but I wouldn’t even think about it in Mr. Johnson’s class.”  All the students in the room agreed.  Why?  If you were caught on a gaming site in Mr. Johnson’s class, you lost credit for all the work you completed in class that day.

It became very obvious to me, after speaking with the students, that classroom management was the lynch pin in this equation.  The classrooms where the content was engaging and the consequences were clear had fewer issues related to in class gaming.

 

What about at home?  I can’t keep my student off games at home.
I understand that technology can be frustrating parents, especially if technology is not your “strong suit”.  For starters, the defining clear consequences and enforcing those is the best option in my opinion.  With that being said, every situation is different and there are times when you need to rely on something other than  You have quite a few options for limiting sites and games in your home.

  • One of my favorite suggestions is to simply change your WiFi password on a daily basis.  Have a tech savvy friend show you how (its not hard).  Change it before you leave for work.  Then, you decide when to give your child the password and allow access to the internet.  This is one of the easiest and most effective solutions.
  • Install a home filtering package like Net Nanny or K9.  Applications like these give parents some control over the sites and activities that are allowed on the network.
  • Purchase an internet filtering device like Circle.  Circle is designed to filter the internet, provide time restrictions, etc.  I have not tried Circle yet, but I do have one on order.  I’ll review it in an upcoming post.