In 1999, Congress created the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to address concerns about student internet access to information that is obscene, contains pornography or content that is seen as harmful to minors. Schools and libraries in the U.S. must certify they comply with CIPA by implementing a school web filter and enacting an internet safety policy before they can receive E-rate funding through the federal government.
However, since CIPA was enacted in 1999, the use of school web filters has become a very widely debated topic across the U.S.
Despite the debate, it’s becoming clear during the time of COVID-19 that kids are falling behind in their education. Smart uses of technology to keep students on-task, including using technology to filter content, is one way that schools are exploring to aid students in the time of COVID-19.
Here, we’ll go over a little of the debate about web filters in schools, how a school web filter applies to the current education landscape, and how Impero can help schools facilitate more effective remote learning.
The debate about web filters in schools
Much of the debate around the use of a school web filter revolves around student social media use. On one side, social media is increasingly seen to help students learn and as an important tool to facilitate communication. On the other hand, some people argue that students who use social media during the school day could be using it for personal uses rather than educational ones or use it for cyberbullying at school.
Arguments against using school web filtering solutions:
- CIPA is too restrictive, and potentially block sites with educational value.
- Simply filtering doesn’t teach students how to use the internet safely, and has an impact on students making decisions about what content to view on their own.
- Some blocked websites contain information useful for instruction (like human anatomy, etc.).
Arguments for using school web filtering solutions:
- Internet filters keep students on-task by restricting their access to personal websites that they could visit outside of school hours.
- Filters allow students to browse the internet without having constant supervision/overhead from teachers or administrators.
- Filters block viruses and spam, potentially extending the life of a school-issued or personal device.
- Filters protect students from inappropriate or malicious content.
Using a web filter in the time of COVID-19
As schools shift from in-person learning environments to more hybrid or remote ones in the time of COVID-19, we know that schools are relying on technology more to connect their students, teachers, parents and administrators on a daily or weekly basis and achieve better remote learning.
However a district connects with its students, it is important that they outline clear policies for how the internet is used for educational purposes.
This means that while a school internet filter is mandated by federal law, it should be paired with larger conversations with students about safe internet usage.
Schools and districts need to make sure that they’re also addressing why and how tools are being used to keep students on track, and how a filter enhances student learning potential.
Earlier this year, we published a few tips for perfecting your school’s internet safety policy.
Here are a few guidelines we recommend:
- Describe the roles and responsibilities of individuals and groups, including teachers, students and administrators using the internet during school hours.
- Require online safety and digital citizenship classes for all students.
- Clearly define inappropriate activity and describe how concerns and incidents are handled.
- Describe what school web filtering solutions are used.
- Share the school’s acceptable use policy and review it often.
On one hand, the internet can be a powerful distraction for students left alone to their own accord, especially if they are not physically in a school computer lab.
But on the other hand, access to internet sites like YouTube have powerful potential to teach students how to do things they may not have known how to do before – like play an instrument or share a project they developed.
Framing the internet as a powerful tool to enhance learning and communication, while also educating students about how to navigate malicious online content themselves and with a web content filter, is important.
Schools have a moral – and legal – obligation to block websites that contain malicious or inappropriate content. At the same time, filtering by itself isn’t enough.
It is also key for districts to outline clear policies for students on how to use the internet safely and effectively. Paired with an internet safety policy, a school web filter can help students learn to become smart digital citizens who are safe and aware on the internet.