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A digital learning environment offers students all kinds of options for research, class projects, collaboration, activities and assessments. But some online searches could turn out to be harmful to our K-12 learners, and that’s where a web filter comes in. So how do you manage web filtering so that it protects students but doesn’t restrict learning?
Should schools have web filters?
In order to protect learners, it’s essential for a K-12 district or school to use web filtering software. It allows learners to use the internet safely so they don’t come across content that’s inappropriate or dangerous. Web filters may also secure learners’ information so that it’s not targeted online.
In 2000, Congress enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to address student safety when learning online. Schools that receive E-rate program discounts for broadband access are required to have internet safety policies with “technology protection measures.” This includes implementing web filtering in schools to block or filter out content that is obscene or harmful to children and teens.
What do schools use to filter websites?
There are numerous web filtering examples available for school districts to consider, but the web filters on the market don’t all work the same way.
Hāpara Filter is specifically designed for K-12 digital learning environments. This AI-powered web filter intelligently understands context. On top of blocked and allowed lists, its artificial intelligence works in real-time to provide extra safeguarding for learners. As students visit web pages, Hāpara Filter’s AI blurs inappropriate or harmful text and video.
Discover how a South Carolina school district supports SEL with browser monitoring
Watch the video to hear why Highlights helps educators like Kathryn combine monitoring with social and emotional learning.
What are web filtering best practices using Hāpara Filter?
Carrie Whalen, Hāpara Implementation Specialist, was a K-12 technical director before joining Hāpara. With her years of experience, she’s able to provide invaluable insight to districts, schools and technical teams when setting up and managing their web filtering software.
Hāpara’s content filtering solution for schools only takes a few minutes for technology administrators to set up. Consider Carrie’s best practices when implementing your web filter.
Map educators and learners separately
If you don’t already, it’s a good idea to keep educators and learners separate in your Google organizational unit (OU) structure. You’ll likely want more safeguards in place for learners, and you’ll be able to customize that easily with separate OUs. Once you pull the OU structure over to Hāpara Filter during setup, you’ll be able to create unique filtering rules.
Many technology administrators even prefer to create several student OUs by building or grade level to further customize their web filtering rules.
Choose to sync your web filter directory daily
You can choose how often to sync your directory through the web filter. It’s a good idea to sync it daily. That way if you add a learner who just arrived to the district, for instance, it will pull their information over and resync your directory that day.
If your district only uses Chromebooks, turn on the Chromebook setting
Hāpara Filter works on any device across operating systems. But if your district only uses Chromebooks, there’s a setting you can turn on. The “filter Chromebooks only” setting is a good way to give parents more peace of mind about the use of school web filtering. If kids are on a family Windows device or a Mac device at home, for example, and they’re signed into their school account, it won’t filter their online activity when the Chromebook setting is turned on.
But if you have teachers on different devices or your learners use a variety of devices across classrooms, you don’t need this setting.
Start with the least restrictive rule — then get more granular
In the Policy Manager, you’ll create your rules for web filtering. You’ll first create a default rule, which applies to anyone that has the filter extension pushed out to them.
A best practice is to make this rule the least restrictive with the least amount of filtering. Then you can copy the default rule and start adding conditions. These include setting a rule for a specific OU, user, IP address, time of day, or date range. For instance, your elementary learners may have different web filtering needs than your high school learners. Or you may want to create specific rules for school hours versus after school.
The more rules you create, the better because you can set up the content filter to work precisely the way you want to best support learning.
Turn on privacy protection settings
You’ll also want to be sure to turn on the web content filtering setting that blocks ads. When you turn this setting on, Hāpara Filter will block any ads that try to display on a web page. Remember that even a website dedicated to K-12 education may have ads that pop up.
Hāpara Filter will block ads, even those on educational websites. If you click on the Hāpara Filter extension on a learner’s device, you can see how many websites were trying to track the learner’s activity or display ads to them on that page. You can also see a list of those websites. By turning on the ad-blocking setting, you’ll instantly start protecting learners’ privacy, and they’ll be able to safely visit those websites for class activities.
Also, be sure to turn on the setting to block third-party tracking. And if you don’t have safe mode turned on in your Google Admin Console, be sure to turn on the setting to block Google search tracking.
Add keywords to block for unique circumstances
Hāpara Filter intelligently restricts the content on a page that is harmful or inappropriate. So you don’t have to take time to input a long list of keywords to block content. But let’s say there’s a harmful online topic or social media hoax that’s gone viral, and you don’t want kids to search for it at all. You can add a related keyword to block that search term and keep students focused on learning.
Strike a balance with blocked website categories
There are several categories that you can choose from to restrict specific types of content that could hinder learning or interfere with students’ safety or well-being. But also think about the big picture and consider instances when educators may want learners to access websites in certain categories.
Remember that with Hāpara Filter, the AI understands context and blurs content on a page that learners shouldn’t see, even if you don’t block a category of websites. So be sure to pick the right balance when selecting categories to block.
Turn on the video conferencing option for remote learning
If your district or school has remote or hybrid learning happening, turn on the setting for video conferencing. This setting allows Hāpara Filter to analyze webcam feeds and screen sharing for Zoom and Google Meet class sessions. The real-time video analysis can identify inappropriate content and put a stop to “Zoom bombings.” That means learning time won’t be disrupted.
Take advantage of policy templates
In addition to setting up web filtering rules, you can also use policy templates on top of rules. Creating a template allows you to allow or block a category for a specific period of time. For example, during one class period, a teacher may want to use websites in a certain category for instruction in health class. You can create a template to allow the category during the class period. Simply save the template and apply it to a web filtering rule, such as one for your high school students.
Allow teachers to approve student requests to unblock websites for learning
By turning on the Teacher Portal setting, you give teachers the ability to unblock websites during class if a learner sends them a request. A learner might be performing research online for a class activity and come across a blocked website that would actually be helpful. In that case, they can click to send their teacher a request to unblock the website. This is a great way for learners to practice responsible digital citizenship skills.
Teachers will see this request immediately appear via email and in their Teacher Portal. If your school or district also uses Highlights, teachers can view and approve a request directly from their Highlights screen.
There may be certain categories that you want to ensure stay blocked, such as proxy and VPN services, and you can add those to the teacher portal. In these cases, teachers can’t unblock websites in those categories without additional approval. Some school districts prefer to give their teachers total control over approvals, but if you’d like an extra level of safety added, you can add the categories.
You can also view a list of blocked websites that teachers approve, so you’ll still be aware of what’s happening within the web filter. And from the list, with one click, you can add a website to your “Approved” list to always be available to an OU from that point forward.
Another web filtering best practice is to check the reports that are available to you because they give you valuable data. With Hāpara Filter reports, you get visibility into all visited websites. You can also view the websites learners tried to visit in either your blocked or allowed lists. Additionally, you can select an individual OU or student to drill down to their activity. Data includes when the website was visited, the duration and which rule was applied.
You can also use this data to revise your policy if needed. In fact, with just one click, you can add a blocked URL to your “Allowed” list. You can also see when a URL had content that was detected by Hāpara Filter’s AI versus URLs that were blocked by a category.
Pin the extension
During setup, it’s helpful to select the option to pin the web filter extension in browsers. If you or your team needs to provide support, you can then quickly access the extension on a device. Fewer clicks for you means more time for the student to spend on learning.
Add staff members who should receive student wellness alerts
If your district or school decides to add on the Student Wellness feature in Hāpara Filter, enter the staff members who should be subscribed to instant alerts. The Student Wellness feature alerts you to website and email activity related to critical issues such as suicide and self-harm, cyberbullying and toxic language. You can add counselors, teachers, or other staff members who can provide support to the learners.
Those staff members will receive immediate alerts so they can provide timely interventions. They can also add notes and clear alerts after they’ve provided the necessary support. As a technology administrator, you will still be able to see the list of alerts after they’ve been cleared.
Which web filtering best practices does your team use? Within just a few minutes, you can set up Hāpara Filter exactly the way you need. With the ability to customize, your district or school can protect students online while also fully supporting teaching and learning opportunities.