Until recently, K-12 web filtering has been dominated by hardware solutions.
Prior to the enactment of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) nearly 15 years ago, schools had little need or opportunity to change a system that was considered to be acceptable and the norm.
However, given the shift towards cloud computing in the last few years, schools are finding more reason to abandon traditional web filtering options in favor of other, hardware-free solutions.
Here are the five reasons why appliance-based web filtering is dying in K-12:
1) They don’t have school-focused features
Yes, general enterprise solutions are built with plenty of add-ons that are intended to increase security – yet these services don’t address school-specific issues like classroom management, safe social media, and cyberbullying.
Some filtering solutions cast a blanket ban over video streaming sites like YouTube, which can be a very helpful educational resource. In an effort to protect students from the unsavory side of the site, they block all content instead of building upon features like YouTube Safety Mode or YouTube for Schools in order to create a safe YouTube.
2) They’re too expensive
These add-ons add up. Even though schools don’t need the extra features that enterprise solutions provide, they are required to pay the price.
A 2014 article by KQED showed that school web filters can cost as much as $40 per student. Large corporations are able to pay these fees, but schools often cannot.
Moreover, with hardware solutions, schools must pay for the web filtering box in addition to annual per user license costs. As their 1:1 take home programs scale, schools may need to purchase additional boxes to support their program’s expansion, as one appliance often can only support a few hundred devices at a time.
3) They’re not designed to filter students at home
One big distinction between businesses and schools is that the former has no interest or requirement to enforce off-site web filtering.
On the other hand, schools are increasingly adopting 1:1 take-home programs, an arrangement in which each student takes a school-provisioned device home to use for school assignments. Naturally, a big concern for schools is being able to manage what students are doing on the device when they are away from school.
This is an area in which appliance web filters once again come up short. When the 1:1 device is at home with the student, all traffic needs to be routed from the student’s home to the the appliance on school grounds and then back out to the Internet. This imposes limits on at-home browsing speeds, as the device is often limited by the school’s bandwidth uplink.
4) They require nontrivial setup and maintenance
So a school has decided to buy the service. Then what? With an appliance-centered web filtering approach, IT admins have to wait for the box to be shipped (days later) and then start the set-up process (days later).
These admins are also responsible for network uptime even outside of school hours. For instance, if the web filtering appliance is impacted by a storm, the admin needs to make an on-site visit to get everything back up and running, if they even can.
5) There are alternative solutions
With the advent of solutions like safe web browsers, Chrome extensions (for devices running Chrome OS and/or the Chrome browser), and cloud-based web filtering, schools now have the freedom to depart from traditional appliance-based solutions.
Typically used for iPads, schools can enforce the use of safe web browsers so that students can only access a subset of pre-approved content on the Internet.
For schools using Google Apps for Education (GAfE), IT Admins have the ability to manage devices and push out Chrome extensions from a central console.
Cloud-based web filtering allows schools to enjoy the granularity of an appliance while getting set up in minutes and managing all students’ devices and reporting in the cloud.
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