Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Internet Safety – Homework for Summer

Internet safety is a subject that concerns us all.  Parents want to protect their kids at school as effectively as the parents can at home, and our teachers and schools want to protect our kids online just as they protect their physical safety.

This is an area where the schools are making very good progress.   I understand that for some time, the schools have invested in state-of-the-art filtering technology to limit student access to inappropriate material.  No filter works perfectly, but this is a key tool to help protect kids.   I’d like to suggest that the schools take on a few items of “homework” over the summer be improve what they are already doing.

First, the schools should implement different filtering regimes based on student age, at least.  That is, different standards should be applied to what can be viewed by, for example, kindergartners and twelfth graders.  I believe that the schools are developing the means to do this, and plan to at least be able to adjust filtering by school (elementary, middle, and high school) come the fall.  Doing so would make a big difference.

Second, the schools should implement a mandatory process to review the filtering regime periodically.  For example, some sites are “whitelisted” – that is, specifically allowed because they are necessary for an educational purpose although access to the site would otherwise be blocked by the filtering technology used.  I believe that the schools have a good process to review a site before it is put on the whitelist, and the schools should support that process by regularly reviewing the sites that have been previously whitelisted and blacklisted (that is, specifically blocked), as well as the general levels of filtering applied, at all grade levels.  Parent representatives should be included on the group that reviews the filtering rules.

Third, I know both the school system and the parents want to support the teachers.  I suspect we are asking our teachers and administrators to do too much monitoring in the classroom and otherwise.  We want our teachers teaching, and using technology to improve what they do, rather than having to watch screens to see what every student is doing.  Corporations don’t ask managers to walk the office looking to see if every person is using his or her computer for business purposes only.  If it can be afforded, I’d suggest that the schools hire a person for the information technology staff to monitor computer use by students.  This would allow more rapid identification of problems, such as an increase in traffic to a questionable site, and could even identify some issues, such as students finding ways to avoid the schools’ filtering technology, before they become a problem.  Such a person could work to produce more reporting about how computers are being used, providing greater transparency to teachers and parents.  This staff member could also perform more systems security monitoring, increasing the protection of school systems from attack.  Of course, money is always a concern.

And for parents, you might find this set of tips helpful: http://www.stopthinkconnect.org/resources/viewimageembed/?id=459

Let me know what you think of these ideas.  Enjoy the week.

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