Why we can’t forget the iPad

securly, iPad, education, schools, students, web filteringExperimentation with tablet computers first began in the mid 20th century; however, Apple is often credited with initializing the consumer market for the hand-held devices. The iPad also forged the path for a new wave of education technology, and many educators were hopeful for its positive impact on classroom engagement.

Soon after the first iPad was released in 2010, other players quickly entered the market with their own –cheaper, lighter, more durable – hardware deviations. Then, the Chromebook was released in 2011 and took the edtech world by storm. Fast-forward to present day, and you’ll find critics condemning the iPad, claiming that the iPad + education “fad” is coming to an end. In the meantime, Chromebooks are taking over the classroom; its keyboard, Google Apps integration, etc. are thought to be more suitable for the learning environment.

However, this recurring argument “tablets are dying” is a narrow viewpoint that considers only a small demographic of the entire population. In fact, the iPad and its variants continue to enable accessible education initiatives outside of a 1st-world, typical use case.

For students with developmental disabilities, the iPad revolutionized learning; the tapping and sliding motions used to control the touch screen are easier for students to interact with than a laptop. Hence, it is an integral tool for schools to improve inclusive education, especially since consideration given to special needs is fairly new.  iPads proved so beneficial for communicative, cognitive and motor improvement that the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation created the “iPad Program”:

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Testimonial featured by the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation.

As the iPad continued to prove its worth, (1) app developers began creating more content for the device and (2) competitors began creating cheaper hardware alternatives. Thus, tablet computers became accessible to a wider population and the breadth of information accessible through the device skyrocketed – solidifying its position as a learning tool. In the past month alone, the UN Refugee Agency announced that tablets would be provided to refugee students in Africa, the Jamaican government allocated $7 Million to purchase 17,500 tablets for schools, and the Delhi government announced that all teachers would be given tablets.

Tablets are not obsolete. Instead, they continue to be a valuable educational asset for a wider and more diverse population, one greater than the laptop’s reach ever was. Tablets revolutionized edtech, and Apple’s iPad planted the seed.

 

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Auditor has arrived – our free tool for bullying and self-harm detection on GMail!

auditor, school, student, safety, email, gmail, detectLast year, we introduced “Auditor by Securly” – a free tool that helps schools ensure the safety of their students by monitoring GMail for messages that are indicative of bullying or self-harm. Today, we are emerging from closed Beta after an extended period with 20 customers in which we scanned 70,000 emails daily for indicators of cyberbullying and self-harm.

Already, Principals and IT Admins are finding Auditor to be a powerful asset to student safety. Tom Walker, Massac Unit School District #1, remarked, “The ability to detect bullying, self harm, or other potential destructive behavior is something we’ve never had before. One Saturday evening, I received an email from the Auditor Safety Bot. The email contained wording about a video being uploaded to YouTube with a suicidal line. Upon further inspection, the video was not uploaded by one of our students, but was from a popular YouTube channel that the student had subscribed to. However, the fact that the Auditor was able to detect it gives us another tool to have in the struggle against bullying and self harm. From a legal perspective, it makes perfect sense that a school district would want the Auditor on their side.”

How Auditor Came to Be

As Google Mail became the chosen tool in thousands of schools across the world, we realized blocking these channels is no longer a productive solution. However, from conversations with our customers, we learned that these resources have opened up new avenues for students to vent negative emotions such as bullying and self-harm.

In general, we found that many schools did not have good solutions in place that address this issue due to the following:

  • By its very definition, “web-filtering” does not apply to emails. A lot of schools that we’ve spoken to use Google’s default compliance options to flag emails that contain a predefined set of keywords. This can be prone to lots of False Positives (False Alarms) and False Negatives (Missed Alerts) and does not scale well in a large District where IT becomes the bottleneck in sorting through these flagged messages.
  • Old school approaches to monitoring these channels involving human auditors are costly.
  • The CIPA law is vague about the need to cover this vector – “The policy proposed must address.. security and safety of minors using chat rooms, email, instant messaging, or any other types of online communications.” However, the meaning of “safety” is left too vague.

Auditor’s Unique Benefits – COMING SOON

Automated sentiment inference approach: While existing tools rely heavily on keyword matching to detect inappropriate behavior (e.g. by looking for words like “suicide” or “ugly”), Auditor will use our tried and tested machine learning techniques. For example, consider the following post that was flagged by our algorithm: “slowly i’m realizing i don’t really have a purpose here say good-bye cause Fryday it’s all over <3” It should be clear to the reader that a keyword-based approach would not have worked in detecting this.

911 Emergency Response Notifications to Parents and Guidance Counselors: We will extend our existing Delegated Administration and Parent Reports functionality from our flagship web-filtering product to Auditor. In the context of Auditor, these services will become 911 Emergency Response notifications to both guidance counselors and parents. Parents, principals and guidance counselors will receive an alert whenever our Auditor detects disturbing emails sent or received.

It’s free? What’s the catch?

No catch! Keeping Auditor free –forever – is our commitment to the pursuit of student safety. Given the lack of any compliance requirement, and cash-strapped schools already reluctant to spend on paid solutions, we felt it necessary to introduce a free tool to address this serious issue.

As with any other company that is trying to build a sustainable business, we need to charge a fee for our services and grow our revenues year over year. However, while achieving this somewhat “practical” goal, we aspire to make a dent in the universe. In our mind, that “dent” has always been (and likely always will be) ubiquitous child safety – both at school and at home.

 

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The first ever proxy-less browser-less DNS-based iPad filtering solution for K-12

securly, filtering, schools, ipad, proxy, filter, device, app

iPads have a prominent place in the K-12 ecosystem. While we often see the higher grades go with Chromebooks as the 1:1 device of choice, lower grades typically go with iPads due to its tactile interface. Educational apps minimize the need to type while fostering learning.

With many schools choosing to send these devices home, both the CIPA law and pressure from the local parent community forces schools to provision their iPads with some form of filtering. Apple’s architectural limitations have thus far allowed only 2 options. Both of these have their own limitations.

Safe browsers: This approach requires uninstalling Safari and installing a specialized browser that filters web traffic. The approach suffers from the following limitations:

  • App traffic is not filtered.
  • Hyperlinks on any webpage tend to use Safari as the default browser.
  • Removing Safari breaks a number of Edu critical apps such as docs and drive.

In other words, Safe Browsers are simply not an option for a school or district trying to ensure that their taxpayer dollars spent on devices will move the needle on student achievement.

Proxy: Apple provides the option to push out a global proxy setting via MDM. This would mean that every byte of data from the iPad would need to be routed through the designated proxy. This approach has the following downsides:

  • Most proxy solutions are hardware appliance based. When the device leaves the network, the traffic is forced back through the appliance which is usually installed on the school’s network. By definition, this requires the school to become a 24/7 ISP for at-home traffic!
  • Even those proxy solutions that are cloud based like Securly’s often see Apps “break” because many cloud based services simply do not like to see their App traffic be proxy-ed. These services need to be constantly exempted from PAC files as the school runs in to them.
  • Many Firewalls tend to block proxy traffic out of the box. To address this, schools often need to maintain a running proxy whitelist on their Firewall.

The holy grail of iPad filtering: Thanks to months of often time frustrating R&D + recent advances in iOS 10, Securly is able to introduce the first proxy-less off-site filtering solution for iPads that is not a safe browser. The solution involves provisioning the iPad with a lightweight DNS setting – as a result of which ~1% of the device’s traffic is selectively proxy-ed. This includes App traffic. Securly is also able to avoid proxy-ing all of the traffic.

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Your Digital Citizenship Resource Guide

digital citizenship, digital literacy, education, schools, cyberbullying

What is digital citizenship? Essentially, it is responsible technology use rooted in community awareness. In order to be practice good digital citizenship, you must consider how your actions online can compromise your safety, and also of those (virtually) around you. In recent years, many school districts have begun implementing digital citizenship education for educators and students. Why? Digital  Citizen training is not only essential for student online safety but also integral for cyberbullying prevention.

At the advent of personal computing, many focused mainly on digital literacy, the ability to understand and integrate into a digital society. However, understanding the technology is not enough. By contrast, digital citizenship is all encompassing. Common Sense Media defines multiple components of digital citizenship including awareness of Internet Safety, Privacy and Security, Relationships & Communication, Cyberbullying, Digital Footprint, Self Image & Identity, Information Literacy, and Copyright Laws.

digital citizenship, digital literacy

Google Trends search frequencies for “digital citizenship” vs “digital literacy” from 2012 – present.

Then, with personal computing came to the rise of social media and cyberbullying. However, though cyberbullying awareness has increased over the years, the numbers for digital citizenship queries are dismal – especially given the positive relationship between them. In fact, many schools require digital citizenship education as part of their 1:1 Acceptable Use Policy. Some states even mandate digital training for students and administrators for school districts to receive funding. Florida House Bill 5101, grants at least $250,000 for digital classroom development. To receive this funding, each district must submit a digital classroom plan which includes provisions for digital citizenship education.

digital citizenship, digital literacy

Search frequency for “cyberbullying” and “digital citizenship” (2012-2017) – we need to close this gap.

 

The following free education resources are intended to impart digital citizenship best practices in the everyday technology usage of parents, educators, and students:

> Teach InCtrl

The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) launched InCtrl to provide free lessons for both teachers and students on digital citizenship. InCtrl is unique from other online curriculums in two main ways:

  • it provides guides for teaching digital citizenship across different subject areas, giving specifics for how to integrate digital citizenship into English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Math, and Library/Media.
  • the curriculum is based heavily on collaboration and communication

> Common Sense Media Curriculum

Common Sense Media has crafted a Digital Citizenship curriculum intended to teach children how to make “safe, smart, and ethical decisions online”. Lesson plans come in a variety of formats (PDFS, iBooks, Nearpod, videos, interactive games, etc), segmented by grade (K-12) and subject. 76% of public schools across the US use these guides. However, it is not isolated only to the classroom. They also provide separate modules for professional development, teacher training, and family education.

> Microsoft Digital Citizenship Training

Last month, Microsoft released their “Digital Civility Index” in honor of the 5th anniversary of Safer Internet Day in the US. Despite their findings, Microsoft is still optimistic for a safer Internet and has started a new initiative The Digital Civility Campaign. This is an addition to their newly released training courses published for the public on their Microsoft Education platform.

Their 30 min Digital Citizenship course provides a toolkit for educators to use in their classrooms and is based on three pillars: (1) Digital Literacy, (2) Digital Civility, and (3) Information Literacy.

> iKeepSafe Generation Safe – New Media Mentor for Digital Citizenship

The iKeepSafe organization provides benchmark tests (ex: 360 Self Assessment) to help schools examine the school’s e-safety competence. They then break down Digital Citizenship Success into six tenets: each page devoted to an individual element provides (1) comprehensive definition (2) tips for schools (3) tips for youth and (4) guiding questions to assess readiness. iKeepSafe also breaks down concepts into three action items – Prevention, Detection & Intervention, and Incident Management & Response – accompanied by worksheets and themed curriculums for classrooms.

 

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