Across schools, students use devices like Chromebooks for learning because it has many advantages. But how do we protect learners while they are working online? It’s essential for schools to keep private information secure and block content that gets in the way of learning. Let’s take a look at how to safeguard students and block websites in K-12 schools.
What blocking websites or URLs means
To block websites in K-12 schools you need a web filter. Its job is to keep learners from seeing harmful, inappropriate or distracting websites or webpages. Whether students type keywords into a Google search box or enter a URL (uniform resource locator) into the search engine address bar, your web filter should block unwanted content from reaching learners.
Why it’s important to block websites in K-12 schools
As educators, we have an obligation to create safe environments no matter where students learn. That’s why it’s crucial to block websites in schools and choose a web filter that’s powerful enough for your school or district. Here are some of the top reasons why you should use a web filter.
Abide by internet safety laws
Schools need to keep their students safe, while following federal and state student privacy laws. The federal Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was enacted in 2000 and requires schools to have an internet safety policy in place to receive E-rate program discounts. The discounts give schools financial assistance for internet connectivity.
Under CIPA, schools must:
- block websites or filter learners’ internet access to inappropriate and harmful pictures
- protect their personal information
- monitor learners’ online activities
- educate them about digital citizenship
Keep student information private and secure
Malicious sites steal online information, mine for data and install viruses, so it’s essential to filter out those related to phishing and malware. It’s also critical to stop hackers or online predators from interacting with students or their online activity. Schools may choose to block certain online discussion boards, blogs or website categories to protect students.
Create environments focused on learning
There are many sites and webpages that entertain students but stop them from focusing on their school work. Gaming sites, the latest social media sites and online forums can be distracting for kids. On top of that, when they browse the internet, they can come across violent messaging or inappropriate text, pictures or videos. Blocking this type of content ensures that students are able to focus on learning when using the internet.
How to manually block URLs
Web filters offer a few ways for your school IT department to manually block (or allow) content:
Some web filters rely on category filtering to block types of websites. Instead of adding specific URLs, the web filter will include categories for you to select to create a blocked/allowed list. You need to update these categories often, though some web filters come with databases that the company updates periodically.
In this type of manual setup, you select or type in keywords associated with websites that you want to block. The problem, though, is that these keywords often block websites that are actually useful for instruction and learning.
Some web filters use DNS web filtering, which means that you select websites to block. This filtering blocks entire websites without the ability to allow specific webpages. In this case, unfortunately, some webpages that could be helpful for student research or class activities are not accessible.
You can also manually enter URLs into your blocked or allowed list. For example, you can block a website but add a specific webpage within that site to your allowed list. Then students can access the webpage for learning exercises. URL filtering gives you the chance to customize students’ online experience, but some inappropriate or dangerous content may still make it through.
How Hāpara Filter uses AI to block websites in K-12 schools
Why Hāpara Filter is more powerful than other web filters
As mentioned, sometimes sites that can help with instruction and learning are blocked by web filters. Also, some web filters aren’t made specifically for education and aren’t built to understand the nuances of learning and student work in the K-12 setting.
Hāpara Filter is a web filter designed specifically to block websites in K-12 schools and understand context online. This cloud-based web filter uses artificial intelligence (AI) to filter text, images and video in real time as students navigate online. It works on Chromebooks, Mac OS, Windows, tablets and mobile devices anytime students are learning.
How Hāpara Filter’s real-time AI works
How do you block websites on Chrome, for example? To customize your students’ online experience, you can set up blocked and allowed lists in Hāpara Filter. This works by blocking or allowing domains, entire hosts or specific parts of websites. You can also block or allow specific webpages found on sites.
Hāpara Filter’s AI, though, understands context on a page. Filtering at the browser level, it analyzes individual webpages and blurs content that students shouldn’t see. It doesn’t just zero in on certain words — it actually looks at the context around how the words are used. As a result, this smarter web filter allows students to access more information online for learning than they would with any other web filter on the market.
Games, YouTube, video conferencing and ads
There are some websites that many web filters don’t detect as games, such as those on Google Sites. Kids are savvy and able to find these to play games when they should be focused on learning. But because Hāpara Filter can intelligently analyze context, it recognizes them as games when other web filters don’t and blocks the websites.
Another way Hāpara Filter is unique is that it allows students to safely use YouTube for learning. You can block or allow categories, channels, individual videos, suggested videos, comments and ads. No matter how you customize YouTube, though, the AI capabilities of the filter will continue to analyze content and immediately blur and mute anything inappropriate or harmful to learners.
The ad blocker in the web filter also blocks all ads as learners work online. It even shows you which websites are trying to track their browsing information and display ads, which could be part of a digital citizenship conversation teachers have with learners.
During Google Meet or Zoom class sessions, Hāpara Filter also blurs inappropriate content in real time when using the browser version of video conferencing.
How Hāpara Filter promotes digital citizenship
Hāpara Filter isn’t focused solely on what students can’t do online. It offers schools a feature that other web filters don’t — a feature that develops digital citizenship skills. When students come across a blocked website they want to use for learning, they can send their teacher an unblock request.
This feature gives students the chance to take control of their own learning and evaluate websites. Students need to practice evaluating internet sources and information. Most web filters don’t allow learners to develop this digital citizenship skill, but Hāpara Filter does.
Once the student sends their unblock request, the teacher can go ahead and approve it or have a digital citizenship conversation with the student. That conversation can determine whether or not the website can truly be used for learning.
Giving students the ability to make choices and be part of the conversation gives them real-world digital citizenship practice. Overall, this Hāpara Filter feature allows for flexibility in how teachers and students decide what’s appropriate for learning — without needing to go through the tech department first.
How Hāpara Filter protects student mental health
Students of all ages deal with a lot emotionally and may be struggling. As educators we can check in with them day to day, but it’s not always possible to know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. Students also deal with serious issues such as cyberbullying, which take place through social media, email, messaging, online forums or online gaming communities.
That’s why Hāpara Filter offers a Student Wellness Monitoring add-on feature for schools and districts to give students the support they may not otherwise get.
The Student Wellness Monitoring feature scans student emails and student website activity. If there are signs of suicide and self harm, cyberbullying or toxic language, the Student Wellness Monitoring feature immediately alerts school staff.
In Hāpara Filter, technology administrators can give specific school staff members authorization to receive the wellness alerts. Whether it’s teachers, counselors, administrators or school nurses, the appropriate educators are able to provide immediate interventions when they receive wellness alerts.
The alerts appear in an educator or staff member’s Student Wellness tab. From there they can see an overview of a student’s recent activities, including blocked websites, as well as case reviewers’ notes. Educators can then open a screenshot of the student activity that created the wellness alert, while flagging a student as high risk, if needed. As a result, they can take the necessary action to help the student.