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Modernizing Web Filtering for K-12 Schools
In today's 24/7 internet access world, network administrators need next-generation web filtering to effectively allow access to the internet traffic they do want, and stop the traffic they don't want. How does this affect the education vertical, with students in K-12? Well, for starters, a lot has changed since the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was enacted in 2000. Adding on to dated Acts, let's not forget that almost two-decades later, the landscape in academics has shifted drastically. We are no longer working from computer labs on a single-network, we are in the world of various personal devices expecting consistent wi-fi and cloud access.
The internet is insurmountable - and as it continues to rapidly evolve, so should the filtering tactics used to keep students safe. But while the law requires schools and public libraries to block or filter obscene and harmful content, that still leaves room for interpretation.
How Much Web Filtering is Too Much?
A 2017 survey shows that 63% of K-12 teachers regularly use laptops and computers in the classroom, making the topic of web filtering in K-12 environments crucial. With the rise of tech-savvy students and classroom settings, precautions must be taken, however, there is such a thing as 'over-filtering' and 'over-blocking.'
Current laws and guidelines that prevent students from accessing crucial learning and research materials, have become a rising issue that schools and parents are constantly battling with the FCC. As mentioned on the Atlantic, excessive filtering can limit students research on topics that can be useful to, for example, debate teams or students seeking anti-bullying resources. Instead of enforcing the same rules across the entire school or district, network administrators need to develop a solution that offers flexibility and customizable options, pinpointing specific websites, applications and categories that each grade level may access.
Working Together to Clearly Define Web Access
In the past, schools practiced the over-zealous "block everything" approach. Now, it is important for school administrators and IT departments to collectively work together to define web-access by grade, age, project duration and keyword search. This allows students access to educational resources while administrators maintain acceptable parameters in-place - blocking inappropriate content from sites or applications
Assessing Network Necessities
Academic boards can take it one-step further putting access controls on all school networking, including wi-fi networks to control the use of personal devices during school hours.
In addition to Web Filtering, adding controls such as enforcing safe search on popular search engines, and using restricted mode on YouTube will increase productivity, limit cyberbullying, and deny access to students searching for ways to inflict self-harm or perform other acts of violence.
Why limit students education by blocking crucial learning and research materials? By custom-configuring a network to meet the needs of each grade-level and classroom, educators are encouraging students to become academically resourceful. IT departments and school administrators must form a partnership to generate a solution that will allow students, teachers, and administrators access to the educational tools they need.
It's time to break down the glass wall and acknowledge the presence of educational materials and information that is now available through various media channels and platforms. The internet which was once a luxury accessible to only a few, is now an amenity available to almost anyone - including young students - signifying the importance of fine-tuned web filters and content security across K-12 networks.
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