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Some people question why schools install web filters and restrict online content. The bottom line is that a school can’t provide unfiltered internet access to minors. The Children’s Internet Protection Act, a federal law, requires schools to have internet filtering in place to block content that is obscene and harmful to minors. Web filter software’s main goal then is to create a safe online environment for students. More than that, though, if you choose the right web filter, it should also support learning. Let’s explore the ways web filter software benefits learning in K-12.
Benefit 1: Allows learners to use research skills and collaborate in a safe environment
It’s important for learners to develop research skills so they can plan and design goals, evaluate sources, gather evidence, problem-solve and communicate their findings. Not only are research skills necessary across subjects and grade levels, but learners will also need these 21st-century skills in college and their careers.
A web filter enables learners to perform research in a safe digital setting. Schools can add block lists to their content filter to make sure learners don’t come across websites that are harmful or inappropriate. Hāpara Filter goes a step further. It uses artificial intelligence to understand the context of a webpage. It blurs or mutes just the content a learner shouldn’t see or hear. In this case, without needing to block a long list of websites or keywords, schools can provide an environment for learners to safely research online.
A powerful web filter also ensures that learners can collaborate safely on digital presentations and research, without a teacher needing to walk around the room.
Benefit 2: Helps learners stay focused
Another benefit of web filtering is that it helps learners stay focused during class time. We all get distracted online, so just imagine how easy it is for kids to veer off course. There are social media games and shopping websites, just to start. Many cloud-based web filters allow you to restrict these categories so that if kids search for them, the web filter software blocks any related websites.
Have you ever had a learner find games on Google Sites, though? Most web filters don’t recognize these as game sites, so kids can easily access them. Hāpara Filter, though, understands context and restricts those games.
Amy Traynor, the Educational Technology Specialist at the Briarwood School, explained that teachers may come across other websites that are distracting. In this case, she can quickly add those sites to their school blocked list in Hāpara Filter.
Jean O’Brien, the Technology Integration Specialist at Tarrytown Schools in New York said that their school district tried two web filters before Hāpara Filter. She feels that Hāpara Filter is the best.
For example, it made it easy for them to deal with a particular online distraction, a program called Scratch. A coding class at the middle school was using it, but social studies teacher Alyson Caloras-Nawrocki noticed that kids were using it in her class when they should have been focused on other activities. She shared this challenge with Jean who was able to instantly add it to the blocked list just for Alyson’s grade level.
Hāpara Filter also keys administrators into what educational sites learners are visiting. Amy Traynor uses the reports in Hāpara Filter to share weekly statistics with the administrative team. She can view the number of websites that were blocked to see exactly how the web filter is restricting content.
Benefit 3: Provides students with mental wellness support so they can learn
Mental wellness challenges such as depression, anxiety or issues related to cyberbullying can affect learners’ ability to problem solve, focus, complete activities and make academic progress. Some web filters send mental wellness alerts to administrators or educators. Hāpara Filter offers a mental wellness add-on that analyzes student online searches and their school email. If cyberbullying or self-harm content is found, it alerts designated staff members.
“For me, this is a life or death situation for our kids,” Jean O’Brien explained. “I’ve been able to get kids to the counselor to get them the help that they need.”
“Our counselors are appreciating the opportunity to be able to have conversations they weren’t able to have previously,” Amy Traynor said.
For Toni La’Zurs, the Middle-Upper School Counselor at the Briarwood School, those alerts provide her with direct insight. “I don’t have to depend solely on someone telling me that something’s off with a student.”
Toni also explained, “Our kids have learning differences. They’re more at risk and competing with kids who don’t have those learning differences, so it can be exhausting and defeating,” Toni explained.
When Hāpara Filter alerts the counselors, they reach out to parents. “The parents have been very receptive,” Toni continued. “As a parent, I would want to know that something’s wrong.”
At Tarrytowns Schools, when Jean O’Brien and the district team receive an urgent alert from Hāpara Filter, they also reach out to parents immediately. One Saturday, for example, the team contacted a parent about a self-harm alert. The parent was thankful they had reached out right away, even outside of school hours.
Benefit 4: Allows learners to explore online without their privacy or devices being compromised
Another advantage of web filtering in schools is that it stops malware attacks. What is malware? Malware is malicious software or scams such as viruses, ransomware, phishing or spyware. A malware attack gets covertly installed on a device. Without a web filter installed across a school or district network, learners (or staff members) could unknowingly visit a website that has malware.
Once it’s installed on a device, the people behind the malware can steal personal information, display ads, ruin devices or even demand that a school district pay them. Protecting learners’ privacy is critical, so your school needs to keep malware away from your learning environment.
Benefit 5: Supports digital citizenship practice
The best internet filtering software for schools also supports digital citizenship. Hāpara Filter gives educators and learners the chance to have real-time conversations about digital citizenship. A learner may come across a website that is blocked, but they might want to use it for a class project or activity. By practicing their digital citizenship skills, they can send their teacher an unblock request, along with an explanation about why it could help with learning.
The teacher can then view the website and approve the request. It saves time because the teacher doesn’t have to wait for approval from the IT department. Plus, they give students the chance to make digital citizenship decisions as learning is happening.
Benefit 6: Helps students work remotely without learning being disrupted
Web filter software that works in school and outside of school ensures that learning continues no matter where a student is. Not all web filters work outside of a school network, though. Hāpara Filter keeps students safe anywhere they are learning. If a student is logged into their school Google account, the web filter protects them on the device they are currently using. That could be their Chromebook, a family tablet or their phone. This is helpful, too, if students are learning remotely due to school closure.
Does your school or district web filter software do enough to help digital learning? While a web filter should block and restrict content, it also needs to support your learning environment. Your web filter should allow learners to explore, make digital citizenship decisions and keep their devices protected. Selecting a powerful web filter will permit your team to create safe but meaningful learning opportunities.