The use of technology in schools has provided students with a whole new way to connect and communicate with each other and their teachers, in addition to being a great source for learning. However, on the flipside, access to the wider internet may mean that there is a temptation for students to access websites with inappropriate content–or use it as a platform where negative behavior can escalate, such as for cyberbullying or other undesirable activities.
Just as technology plays its part in spreading such problems in schools, it also has a significant role to play in quashing them. The use of online filtering and monitoring tools to monitor students’ internet activity has been a requirement of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) for some time now, but it alone doesn’t provide the bigger picture of what’s really happening.
Big Brother vs Protection
In the past, some schools have simply blocked students’ access to all websites that were not lesson-specific. That certainly eliminates the issue, but it doesn’t allow students the opportunity to learn about the safe and responsible use of the internet (digital citizenship) in a controlled environment.
Additionally, it doesn’t provide the flexibility to allow specific websites to appear for particular age groups (i.e. Facebook access for older students studying marketing tools). Overall, blocking access does nothing to safeguard the student because, in the majority of cases, no one knew that access was being attempted.
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In the same way, internet monitoring on its own doesn’t provide context to the search, which could mean schools are faced with a backlog of false alerts or are missing the crucial details to understanding students’ behavior.
CIPA guidance highlights the need for schools to effectively monitor and control what students are doing online by certifying they have an adequate Internet Safety policy that includes technology protection measures. Such measures include blocking images that are obscene or harmful to minors, as well as, educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with others on social media and chat room type activities to help stem cyberbullying.
This brings with it a whole new set of requirements, such as monitoring online interaction with others, their personal conduct, and the content being accessed. So, in addition to monitoring internet access, schools should also be able to monitor search terms, what students are talking about on chat applications and what websites/content they are viewing (whether good or bad).