Wednesday, 01 February 2023 16:00

How can schools use web content filtering to secure online learning?

By  Abhinandan Ghosh

Today’s children are digital natives, and the internet has become their second home. With students more online than ever in physical and virtual classrooms, their safety and protection have become more urgent and complicated for schools. This has prompted many schools to use web content filtering technologies to block inappropriate and harmful content categories. In this article, we articulate the need and benefits of using web content filtering for schools.

What is Web Content Filtering?

Web content filtering software screens and blocks access to inappropriate websites or unsafe web content. Web content filtering enables schools to track and regulate website access based on their content category. It works by website links, specific keywords, file types, malware correlations, or contextual themes of content resources. Certain websites, even if they are not malicious, need to be restricted because of compliance regulations, bandwidth usage, or other concerns.

Why is Web Content Filtering Important?

There are leading threats that impact student safety. School web filtering solutions prevent students from consuming unsafe content, getting scammed, or downloading malicious programs.

Phishing Attacks

School administrators and IT leaders say phishing attacks are one of the greatest risks to network security. Bad actors create realistic but fake websites that mimic legitimate businesses. Students and teachers don’t have the time or expertise to differentiate between these imitation websites. Unfortunately, students end up sharing their usernames and passwords. Once cybercriminals have login credentials, they go after data or money. 

More Devices Make Monitoring More Difficult

Over a decade ago, monitoring the online activities of students was simple enough: Teachers looked over the shoulders in the computer lab. With the advent of digital learning, many school districts now provide mobile devices, such as tablets, to encourage digital learning. In such cases, mobile device management (MDM) for schools can be a handful for their IT admins.  Additionally, with the unplanned and rapid move to hybrid learning, physical monitoring of students is no longer possible. They can access websites anytime and anywhere with no administrative oversight.

Access to Inappropriate Content

Nearly a quarter of teenagers said they had viewed pornography at school, according to a report released by Common Sense Media, a non-profit that studies the impact of technology on youth. Students can also be targeted by predators and trolls on platforms such as social media, message boards, and chat rooms. 

Why Do Schools Need Web Filtering?

Web content filtering makes it possible to block websites that pose any threat to schools. It offers schools many benefits, including:

Curb Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a significant problem for schools. Nearly half of US teenagers, 46%, have experienced cyberbullying, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. Research ties bullying to depression, suicide attempts, feeling unsafe at school, absenteeism, and other worries. Schools can put web content filtering in place to block public blogs, chat clients, and forums where cyberbullying occurs. In situations where students are allowed to take home a school-issued device, web content filtering also protects students after school hours.

Keep Students Focused

One of the biggest concerns with open internet access at schools is cyberloafing. The heavy use of the Internet for entertainment could change students’ behavior in reading, writing, and attention to completing academic tasks. Such academic distraction can have a ripple effect on students from achieving their academic goals. While electronic devices are classroom staples, they easily steal attention for long periods. 

Students might open a new tab to watch a video or scroll through social media threads. Content filtering can block entertainment, gaming, and online streaming websites that students might browse during classroom hours. Schools can also schedule content filtering policies so that students can browse allowed websites after school hours. 

Protect Minors

Minors lack the maturity to safely process content that’s violet, hateful, or hows obscenity. Minors can be targeted by online predators where they can be persuaded to share personal information such as their name and location. Schools can identify minors at risk and get details about their online activities—what they are posting or what sites they are visiting—with context-aware keyword filtering.

Stay Compliant

In the US, schools must be CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) compliant to be eligible for federal funding and discounts. Schools must enforce internet protection policies, including implementing technology solutions to safeguard students from inappropriate content. Web content filtering can help schools establish a CIPA-compliant Internet Safety Policy. 

How to Use Web Content Filtering at Schools?

Setting up content filtering policies involves multiple aspects. Schools should start by identifying their goals and the type of content they want to filter. IT leaders and school administrators should evaluate suitable options and set the relevant parameters. There are three popular methods of blocking websites using web content filtering software:

  1. Category Filtering - This option can filter millions of websites over hundreds of categories, including pornography, social media, and virus-infected websites.
  2. Blacklisting - Any website, malicious or otherwise, added to a blacklist will be blocked. A Black List allows school administrators to block specific websites based on URL, domain, or IP address. 
  3. Whitelisting - Schools can block access to a content category using the category filter option while still allowing students access to specific websites that would normally be blocked. For example, schools can block all video streaming websites except YouTube for Schools for students to access educational videos. Schools can keep it simple by blocking all websites except those on the White List.

When students try to visit a blocked website, schools can use the web filtering software to present a custom warning sign or direct them to another website, such as a webpage with a reminder of the school’s internet usage policy. 

Wrapping Up

In today's digital environment, it is impossible for schools to manage threats from web traffic without using the right technology. School web filtering solutions will help schools stay compliant and keep students and their information safe. 

Reference of Common Sense Media Report

Blog: https://scalefusion.com/

Bio:  Abhinandan is a Senior Content Editor at ProMobi Technologies, an Indian SaaS products company headquartered in Pune. Over more than a decade, he has donned many content hats with a cute focus on the technology landscape and how its shaping businesses. He believes that good content is all about the right insights coupled with engaging storytelling for it to have a true impact.

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