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A web filter is an essential tool for keeping students safe as they use the internet for learning. When your school district adopts a web filter, though, the focus shouldn’t solely be on what you’re blocking. Your K-12 web filter should support learning rather than disrupt it. But how do you choose the best web filter for digital learning? Consider these ways your web filter should support rather than restrict digital learning.
The best web filter should promote digital citizenship
According to ISTE, digital citizenship helps students understand how to use the internet in positive ways. The goal is to “create thoughtful, empathetic digital citizens who can wrestle with the important ethical questions at the intersection of technology and humanity.”
The best web filter will go hand in hand with digital citizenship. It will provide the structure and guidance for learners to responsibly use the internet. But it will also allow educators and learners to have conversations about digital citizenship and how to make safe choices online.
Your content filter should keep learners safe without blocking educational content
Some web filters work only by blocking categories or keywords, sometimes requiring technology administrators to select from a list of hundreds. But this often ends up blocking websites that teachers and students can actually use for digital learning. For example, YouTube has resources that can be helpful for lessons or for research. But some web filters completely block it, rather than blocking only the content that isn’t educational.
Hāpara Filter allows educators and learners to safely use YouTube for educational purposes. Rather than blocking it entirely, Hāpara Filter uses artificial intelligence (AI) to intelligently analyze the videos and text on a page. In real-time, it understands context and blurs or mutes parts of videos or text that are harmful or inappropriate. As soon as a learner starts viewing a YouTube page, the AI begins working in real time to analyze the content and restrict only the parts that learners shouldn’t view.
A web filter should help learners stay on task
According to a 2022 EdWeek Research Center survey, “60 percent of teachers, principals and district leaders flagged tech distractions as a big stumbling block to reaching deeper, more meaningful tech usage.”
Another way your web filter should support digital learning is by helping learners stay focused. One of the most distracting types of websites is those that have games. Some websites are not categorized as game sites, but there’s a game linked on one of its pages. In that case, some web filters won’t block the website and learners end up being able to access it.
The best web filter should restrict any distracting content on a page. It should also block content such as distracting Google Sites that have links to games. Many web filters don’t block Google Sites, so they slip through, and the games are accessible to learners. Because Hāpara Filter understands context, though, it automatically blocks these websites and pages.
It’s also easy for IT staff to add a URL to Hāpara Filter to start blocking content for a specific organizational unit. For example, an eighth grade teacher at Public Schools of the Tarrytowns noticed that her learners were preoccupied with a coding website. Sometimes, instead of working on their social studies activities, they were visiting the coding website during class time. Jean O’Brien, Technology Integration Specialist, was able to quickly add this website to the blocked list just for the eighth grade, which helped those learners focus.
Your web filter should continue safeguarding anywhere digital learning occurs
The best web filter will protect students anytime they are signed into their school accounts, even away from the school building. Learning shouldn’t be confined to campus. Today’s students need to use the internet for learning outside of school, too. They may even use a mobile device to access class announcements, email their teacher or a group member, or pull up an assignment from Google Classroom.
That means your web filter should support these learning activities remotely. Hāpara Filter works wherever and whenever learners have logged into their school Google accounts. During the quick setup process, you can even set up a unique filtering rule for learning outside of school hours. That way students can safely use their school or personal devices when logged into Chrome for a social studies project, a math assignment, a reading assessment or a scientific inquiry.
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Your web filter should be designed for K-12 school districts
Not all web filters on the market are focused specifically on K-12 school districts. Most web filters are made for a variety of corporate businesses and organizations to use. But a web filter that is designed for K-12, such as Hāpara Filter, understands instructional and learning needs. Because it is specifically made for schools and districts, it allows you to find the right balance in filtering for digital learning.
The best content filter option should give learners and educators a voice
Learners should be able to request to unblock websites
A web filter that is truly effective for digital learning gives students a voice in how they use the internet. As they research online for an essay, explore sources for an inquiry-based project or gather evidence for a presentation, they may come across blocked websites that could be useful for class.
Hāpara Filter provides the option for learners to send their teacher a request to unblock a website. They are able to practice evaluating online sources and making responsible decisions. As a result, this allows students to drive their own learning and develop their digital citizenship skills.
Teachers should be able to review and approve the websites for learning
While most web filters require the IT team to unblock websites, Hāpara Filter is built to make digital learning more meaningful. After a student submits a request to unblock a website, their teacher is able to approve it if it has an academic purpose. Educators don’t have to wait for IT staff to unblock websites, which means that learning can continue without any interruptions. They can also have those important digital citizenship conversations with learners in the moment.
A web filter should help your team stop cyberbullying
A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 46% of teens ages 13 to 17 had experienced cyberbullying. Cyberbullying causes negative emotions such as anxiety, anger and depression.
If a learner is struggling with negative thoughts from cyberbullying, they may have difficulty focusing in class, participating and completing assignments. Their grades may fall, and they may even avoid school.
Your web filter needs to be part of your team’s intervention plan. The best web filter will provide your team with immediate alerts related to cyberbullying so you can get kids the help they need right away. They need to be able to focus on learning without feeling unsafe. Hāpara Filter’s mental wellness add-on sends selected staff members instant alerts so they can provide interventions and reduce instances of cyberbullying.
Does your web filter support or restrict learning? Your school district needs a web filter that keeps students safe anywhere they are learning and protects them from cyberbullying. But your students also deserve the chance to practice digital citizenship skills, explore resources and have agency in how they learn. Choose the best web filter that will promote meaningful learning experiences with the appropriate amount of structure in place.