The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has created a web site that provides objective guidelines for choosing from among the many filtering solutions marketed to the school and library communities.
The guidelines, which do not favor any one particular product or approach, include this checklist of questions you can use to decide what level of protection students need when surfing the web:
1. How will students use the internet? Supervised or unsupervised? For specific projects or general web-surfing? How many computers are in classrooms, as compared to media labs and media centers?
2. Will student projects be self-directed? Some schools encourage independent, self-paced learning, and some don’t. More independence might require more aggressive filtering programs.
3. What are the ages of users? If purchases are being made system-wide, it makes sense to buy software that can be tailored to different age groups.
4. What are the rules for school staff and teachers? Are adults subject to the same filtering programs and restrictions on use? What if they are working before or after school, but using the school network?
5. Filtering vs. monitoring. Today, many schools monitor student activity, either by having teachers or media specialists work with students or by purchasing tracking software. Consider whether this less intrusive approach is sufficient to meet the demands of parents and the culture of your school system. If you choose monitoring instead of filtering, how will violators be disciplined?
6. Creating whole-system solutions. Purchasing filtering software should be considered in the context of other network overhauls, such as software additions to improve system security and utility. Will a certain approach provide a cost-effective solution to more than one problem?
7. How will students and staff be educated about computer use? Creating an acceptable-use policy and then explaining it to all computer users is essential to any successful program, whether filters are used or not.
Additional guidelines can be found on CoSN’s “Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse” web site (http://www.safewiredschools.org).