With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

After a wonderful day before half-term, running the Safeguarding Through Technology day for NetworkNorthants, I am brought home to the reality that there are many risks out their for people on the Internet, never mind children.

With the high profile news of Mac malware in the wild including variants coming in, that rely on users agree to stuff being installed (well, Macs are impervious to viruses, aren’t they?), more conversations about schools wanted raw Internet feeds because they don’t want to be dictated to about filtering policy by the LA (even though the provided solution *can* do what they want, they are happy to pay out for a perceived sense of control), lengthy discussions on online groups about legal liabilities … And believe me when I say that the idea of risk management around this can be a minefield!

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for people. With the right combination of tools you *can* make things more flexible and allow it to work for the school. Now, please note that I am not saying that by choosing certain products you can legally protect yourself about everything or that certain products are better than others but let us just run through some basic concepts and you can ask yourself what tools will fit you best.

And let us also not forget the NEN eSafety matrix to help you too .. And the CEOP resources … And Digizens … And ChildNet.

So … Ready to start?

Ok … Let us look at the safest option. No Internet at all! Well… it is the safest option … or you could say it is safest for the school. For this you are looking at a system which is, by default, set to only allow authenticating staff onto the internet. Some schools do have this and find it acceptable. Not many and it is as bad as the idea that by having a posy of flowers under your nose you will not get the plague when you step outside! Some schools can work like this though, with all interaction with the internet through staff accounts, on staff controlled devices and staff clicking the buttons. It’s doesn’t help that children that much when out in the real world, but is an approach which, educationally and technically, can be made to work. This all tends to be done using filtering technology, so that when the internet feed comes into a school it will have already gone through a filter which restricts things or a filter sat inside the school

Then you have the limited access options. First you can go down whitelists, having set of known, good websites. This can be delivered though filtering products or many of the classroom management tools. A teacher can set internet access only to particular sites and the client on the workstation will block everything else, or the filter will. The classroom tool is handier for the teacher, but the filter solution is less prone to errors.

Then you start into the controlled access options. The first one we can look at is the application of filtering solutions. This can be based on particular devices (classroom machines get one set of filters but staff laptops get another), it can be based on blocks of users (all year 5 pupils get one type of filtering but year 10 get something different), it can be based on individual users when they log in (so that two year 10 children can get slightly different access as one studies Art and needs access to some images of nudes yet the other doesn’t but studies Computing so needs access to sites containing scripting codes).

Some filtering options can have combinations of all of the above. Some solutions allow for control by time (give more access to online games during lunch), some can tie in with particular systems … such as groups within the Active Directory (whilst a child is in the ‘Art’ OU they get particular settings) … and some can be controlled by the choice of a teacher / administrator at a give time.

Then we can look at monitoring and reactive solutions. Some desktop solutions will monitor keywords and respond accordingly. They might take a screenshot and block access, they might send an alert to a member of staff, they might simply log what has gone of for review later. You can then take a more ‘classroom management’ approach.

Classroom management is always going to be the most effective way to ensure learning is taking place, as well as ensuring the safe use of computers. A member of staff with access to see and share the desktop of their pupils and students gives so much more control to the teacher. However, the most common use of this is to see if children are off task. This is a poor use of these tools. Sharing desktops, passing control around the class so that they can provide support to each other, demonstrating learning to their peers … these tools can do so much more that police the network!

And in reality, a combination of filtering and carefully chosen classroom management tools works best. For some schools you are looking for stuff that logs activity to deal with specific problems (bullying, abusive language, etc) and in others you are looking for tools to share and control desktops. Combined with flexible filtering solutions which can be targeted to support where needed, then you have a well covered school, which is managing the computer and internet usage by staff and students.

And this is before you get to some of the other benefits. Some classroom tools can support the management and maintenance of your computers. Rolling out software and patches. Monitoring your inventory. Deploying system changes. Print management. File management. Some of these you might already have, but look at all the functionality. It might be better to have the functions over a number of solutions, or it may be best to consolidate it all in one pot.

There is never going to be a single right or wrong answer. A school will have to look at the options and pick what works best for them. It has to be based on what provides the legally required protection of children, it has to provide a solution which is economically viable to produce and support, and it has to help children learn their boundaries, to give them the skills to look after themselves in the outside world.

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