6 steps to ensuring safety and preserving bandwidth through web filtering
Internet filtering in schools allows districts to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires students to be restricted from accessing inappropriate online content. Filtering also helps districts manage limited bandwidth. Here are six school web filtering solutions that leaders should use when developing filtering practices and policies.
1. Identify a decision-making team.
This team usually includes IT staffers and instructional leaders who can provide insight on community standards and how to keep students focused on learning. Teachers can assist in tiering access and offer feedback when sites are blocked unnecessarily.
2. Establish parameters.
Define exactly how and what you want to filter. For example, many districts:
- block inappropriate categories, such as gambling, drugs, violence and pornography
- set higher restrictions for younger students
- block streaming services during the school day but not after school
- filter access to certain content based on staff’s role
- allow Facebook but block other social media sites
3. Select the right technology.
Is your district large? If so, you will most likely need on-premise equipment and configuration. Smaller districts usually find cloud-based solutions to be effective.
Consider whether your filter only needs to function on campus or should extend to district-owned devices that students take home. For example, many 1-to-1 districts that allow students to take devices home have an in-house filter that monitors users on campus and software installed on laptops that points users back to the on-site filter when students are off campus.
Also consider choosing products that:
- easily provide reports
- can handle SSL decryption since many sites, including Google, communicate exclusively through SSL
- have human staffers, rather than automated systems, who validate new URLs since people can be more reliable in identifying site content
4. Provide ongoing maintenance.
Alert your IT department that staff will receive many teacher requests to block or unblock content after a filter is installed. Some districts also allow students to submit requests to unblock sites.
District leaders also need to be aware that app developers are constantly introducing new web proxies to help students circumvent their filters. But rather than taking on the impossible task of keeping up with these proxies, edtech leaders recommend introducing digital citizenship curricula that include responsible technology use. For example, consider a digital citizenship course that all incoming high school freshmen must complete before they can install any apps.
5. Establish consequences for misuse.
Internet usage policy infractions are often handled on a case-by-case basis. Some infractions result in students losing their devices for a period of time. Sometimes schools send out warnings first and call parents before handing out detentions. Developing a clear written policy beforehand can help resolve disputes later.
6. Communicate openly and regularly.
Districts achieve success when they communicate their policies with students, parents, teachers and community members.
Start by creating a section on your website that explains filtering, lists the reasons why you are filtering, and clarifies how filtering decisions are made.
Ongoing collaboration among teachers, librarians, instructional experts and IT staff is important for evaluating changes to the filter and any impacts on instruction. The filter should not be viewed as just IT’s resource to manage.
Steven Blackburn is associate editor.
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