Web Filtering: equally beneficial for your 5-year-old & 15-year-old

student, web filter, school, block

Web filtering is required by law, as long as schools wish to receive e-rate funding to supply their digital classrooms. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that schools “block Internet access to pictures that are (a) obscene (b) child pornography or (c) harmful to minors.” CIPA also requires schools to monitor student online activity and provide training for responsible technology use.

The general sentiment: students –especially teens– hate web filtering*. Most students find web filtering to be unnecessarily inhibitive, citing that it blocks perfectly acceptable web pages due to one keyword or denies access to social media pages. One argument goes that filtering prevents exploration and blocks students from using tools like Facebook for academic causes. Another, that it is a breach of student privacy.


*Misdirected blame: Web filtering is different at each school. Federal law doesn’t specifically require schools to block Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your web filtering provider doesn’t dictate that X, Y, or Z website needs to be blocked. Besides fundamental protection against pornography and similar graphic content, it’s at the discretion of each school district to whitelist or blacklist the specific sites that students take issue with. Some schools leave social media open, some schools restrict access, etc. Web filtering, when used correctly, can be utilized to help –not hurt–the student experience.


Web filtering applies to all schools, which means the measure applies to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Older students are particularly irked by filtering and feel that although filtering content is necessary to shield younger kids, it is gratuitous for those close to adulthood. Web filtering does vary dramatically from elementary, middle, to high school – however, it offers additional aspects often forgotten that are equally optimal for students of any age.

1. Cyberbullying & Self-Harm Detection

Particular web filters can screen for instances of bullying and self-harm in social media posts. From 2007-2016, the number of students who experienced bullying roughly doubled from 18.8% to 33.8% according to a Cyberbullying Research Center report.  The CDC analyzed cyberbullying by age group and found that 15.5% percent of high school students are cyberbullied, as are 24% of middle school students. Technology is now integrated into daily life at a very young age, leaving even elementary school students at risk for cyberbullying.

37% of cyberbullying cases go unreported; often, students are fearful that 1) the bullying will get worse 2) they’ll be considered a “rat” 3) no one will listen if they seek help. Given bullying’s devastating consequences, detection of bullying and negative sentiment can allow schools/parents to give students the proper care. And even save lives.

2. Productivity and screen time management

In our recent international survey, 53% of students aged 9-18 reported being productive only half of the total time spent working on school assignments. Blocking sites like social media and gaming (especially for younger children) keeps students focused on learning. Some filtering services even allow the admin to establish time restrictions on certain sites (social media, gaming, entertainment, etc.) to create a good balance between recreational and study time.

Also, overexposure to screens may have harmful consequences for cognitive development. Although 5-year-olds may not have research papers to write and assignments to finish, web filtering can help parents and educators manage healthy levels of device usage.

3. Defense against malware and phishing

We asked students their take on web filtering. One student responded, “You don’t get rude ads or viruses.” Pop-ups and pseudo-content are not only annoying but also often dangerous.  Online aggressors specifically target children, enticing them to click on attractive advertisements or links leading to viruses.  

A web filter screens the origin and content of a web page, checking for objectionable content, spyware, and viruses that may compromise your network. It helps keep students safe online and protects from intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware.

4. Helps teachers understand students

On his blog, an IT admin expressed how web filtering helped school staff understand student preferences: ”…you can see stats for student web access. Not blocked pages, which they have a view for too, but sites kids are using. In our case, as we begin having discussions about whether Newsela is a service we want to pursue as a district standard, we now have compelling data telling us that it’s already being widely used and is, in fact, our most accessed website on a weekly basis.”

Teachers can use these insights to create engaging lesson plans and foster a collaborative learning environment, while best-integrating technology into their classroom.

 

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Securly’s Year in Review

As 2016 comes to an end, here’s a brief summary detailing just some of our accomplishments this year.  2017, here we come!

SPRING

We receive the Tech & Learning Stellar Service Award for “Sales Support You Can Believe In”With a first response time of 12 minutes and a median ticket solve time of 1.5 hrs, pre- and post-sales, Securly was recognized by Tech & Learning for excellent sales support. We give prospects a white-glove onboarding experience which includes network configuration changes and an end-to-end UI walkthrough and training.


We start serving 1 in 4 schools in the San Francisco Bay AreaMany school districts –including Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, Campbell, Milpitas, Portola Valley, Dublin, Healdsburg– made the switch to Securly given our cloud-based platform and unique features:

  • Ability to secure a heterogeneous mix of devices including iPads, laptops, and Chromebooks both in school and at home.
  • Bullying and self-harm detection on social media using natural language processing.
  • Free e-mail reports and parent portal that offer the promise of boosting parental engagement.

We also serve our nation’s leading Charter networks – Aspire Public Schools, Summit Public Schools, KIPP and Rocketship.

SUMMER

Delegated Administration – our “set-and-forget” Solution for District IT . You asked, we listened. Support tickets for web-filtering in K-12 districts generally fall into two large buckets: 1) requests for unblock websites 2) requests for pulling user reports for disciplinary purposes. In addition, IT admins are responsible for timely response to detection of self-harm or cyberbullying.  This feature unburdens district IT and provides Principals, Guidance Counselors, and Parents access to student activity reports.

Seamless logins for our parent portal.  Parents can get access to the Securly portal by simply clicking through their weekly email reports. The portal gives parents a bird’s eye view of their child’s activity on school owned devices. They also have the ability to set policies at home

Auditor by Securlya free tool to monitor Google Mail and Chat for bullying and self-harmThis tool uses Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms to detect harmful sentiment in messages on Gmail, Drafts, and Chat without relying solely on keywords that require human audits. Keeping this tool free forever is our commitment to K-12 schools.


We become the first web filtering company to receive the iKeepSafe California Privacy Badge. To achieve this badge, companies must meet all requirements outlined in primary federal and California laws. This program helps educators and parents in the state of California identify edtech tools and services that protect student data privacy.

“We congratulate Securly on successfully completing a careful privacy review by iKeepSafe.  In the past few years, a large amount of legislation has emerged protecting and governing student data. By receiving the iKeepSafe privacy badge, Securly has taken an essential step in helping educators navigate this new terrain and keep student information safe.” Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of iKeepSafe


Securly @ ISTE Denver.  Securly rocked the floor at the 2016 ISTE Conference & Expo where 16,000 educators gathered for four days of ed-tech immersion.


We release Can Social Media Save Lives? –a quantified study on cyberbullying Through analysis of over a half million social media posts from over 300 school districts in 2016, Securly found that the average school district faces the threat of teen suicide about every two weeks. Our research centered around student online behavior and its tendencies towards suicide, self-harm, and depression.


We become the first self-servable web filterTo save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush, we streamlined our setup process to be independently completed through a web browser session – without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, we eliminated the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

FALL

We raise $4M in Series A funding. In the new year, we will extend beyond B2B software solutions for schools by engaging parents through a consumer application that allows parents to easily monitor and guide their child’s online activity.

Funding was led by Owl Ventures, a fund that invests in the world’s top Ed-tech startups. Amit Patel, a Partner at Owl Ventures, said, “Securly’s vision of what the future should look like for online student safety combined with the team’s deep expertise with information security and impressive execution is what made Owl Ventures excited to be part of their journey.”   


We are chosen as a SC Media 2017 Excellence Award FinalistOur unique approach to student safety that goes beyond basic CIPA compliance sets itself apart in the web filtering industry, and the SC Awards has taken notice – recognizing us as one of the finalists for Excellence Awards: Best Compliance Solution Category. We see this as recognition of the fact that Securly has made it easier and cheaper than ever for K-12 IT admins to be CIPA compliant.

“Ransomware, nation-state cyber attacks, IoT vulnerabilities, data privacy issues and more are dominating the headlines right now, and it’s critical that we amplify the importance of these problems and highlight the actions organizations can take to safeguard their organizations and their critical data assets,” said Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Media. “As bad actors are constantly changing strategy, so too are the men, women, and companies endeavoring to stop them in their tracks. These finalists have shown that they are the best at what they do.”


We are selected for Tech & Learning’s Award of ExcellenceWe are honored to have been recognized by Tech & Learning under the “Best Upgraded Product” category. This year alone, we have announced new features that are first-in-industry. We will continue to work towards student safety in 2017!

 

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Now you can install Securly from a web browser

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We’re not only the leading cloud-based provider of Internet security for K-12 schools, but also the industry’s first self-servable web filter.  “With our self-serve update, Securly is realizing its long-held vision of giving IT Admins a product that can be set up in minutes,” says Paul Katcher, UI developer at Securly.

Since the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, web filtering has been required for schools that seek e-rate funding. Customarily, the industry has been heavily dominated by appliance hardware players.  Their products need to be shipped, painstakingly setup and often end up as bandwidth bottlenecks on K-12 networks that are increasingly turning to bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming media.

By contrast, we have been cloud-based from day one. With no need for a hardware appliance, customers can deploy Securly with a few simple network configuration changes and benefit from functionality such as granular auditing and policies that they are familiar with. In doing so, they are assisted by our award winning support team based in Charlotte.

Setup can be independently completed through a web browser session without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, Securly eliminates the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

We hope self-serve will save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush.  For more information, contact support@securly.com.

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Introducing “Dr.House” – Our New Debug Tool to Automate Network Troubleshooting

tool, web filter, network, debugThe back-to-school rush is fast approaching, and we have just the tool to ease IT admins and school administrators back into the swing of things…

Meet Dr. House, our new tool that allows customers to certify that their networks are up and running correctly. Dr. House launches a series of automated checks meant to detect the most common network misconfigurations. It performs a variety of tests including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Checks for the presence of a caching server that could be impending filtering.
  • Makes sure that there are no rogue DNS servers without securly DNS configured.
  • Verifies that the Securly certificate is installed.
  • Confirms that all outbound IPs are registered.
  • Ensures that critical Securly services are reachable from the network.

 

Securly was founded on the premise of a quick deployment – the antithesis to the customary web filter setup experience. While other web filtering products require a physical appliance (that still needs to be shipped and laboriously setup), we have been cloud-based from the start.

In the weeks ahead, we will also become the industry’s first self-servable web filter; setup can be completed through a web browser session. Our own Jayesh Agrawal, a software engineer who was instrumental in implementing this tool, says, “The release of Dr. House is a huge leap forward in automating network misconfiguration detection. We hope that this tool will save customers time and frustration while easing the deployment experience.

For more information, contact support@securly.com.

 

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Can Social Media Save Kids’ Lives?

The following is taken from our new whitepaper Can social media save kids’ lives?. We analyzed over a half million social media posts from over 300 school districts in 2016 to amass the data included in this paper.

social media, cyberbullying, school, suicide, parent

The majority of research centered around cyberbullying & teen emotional distress occurs after the fact, relying on student anecdotes and surveys.  By contrast, we are able to gather information in real time.  Our position as a network-based filter gives us unique access to such data, allowing us to find truths embedded within students’ own social media posts alone.

Our data shows that 30% of all flagged posts are a direct form of cyberbullying. From our previous study, we found that at least ⅓ of all students have been harassed online.  This is a growing problem that parents and schools cannot ignore, especially given its fatal consequences.  

Across the country, teen suicide numbers have soared.  An American Public Health Association study actually coined the term “cyberbullicide” to explain the causal relationship and correlated death toll.  Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among middle school children, and the second am
ong young adults ages 15-24.  

As social media is the prime avenue for cyberbullying, it’s reasonable for schools to wish to block social media as a preventative measure.  However, after extensive research, we believe social media can actually serve as the tool to save a child’s life.   

 Nowadays, teens increasingly turn to social media to seek counsel or vent emotional distress.  This includes warning sides of high-risk behavior like suicide and self-harm.  In fact, the average school district faces the threat of teen suicide about every two weeks.

Actual student posts:

  • “Life sucks and i wanna jump off a bridge.”
  • “If i kill myself no one would notice.”
  • “I am legitimately contemplating suicide and i legitimately want to kill myself.”

Using Machine Learning techniques, we are able to detect negative sentiment like the above in social media posts.  We then send high confidence alerts to the 1) school district IT admin 2) guidance counselors and 3) parents of the child, so that students receive the proper care and attention.

Already, our technology has helped schools prevent potential tragedy. Mark Nelson, IT Admin of Romeo Community schools, says: “Of the many features distinguishing Securly, none are so important as Sentiment Analysis.  We have contacted school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers, so they could intervene with students and parents.  The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students makes Sentiment Analysis invaluable.”

This same technology can also detect for instances of cyberbullying, a major cause of suicide and depression.  Through social media, we plan to not only stop tragedy – but also eliminate the causes of such emotional distress.

For access to the full whitepaper including more information on student online behavior trends, click here.

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Introducing PageScan – our Blacklist that Learns

content, blacklist, PageScan, schools, web filtering

 

Today, we are announcing that we are Beta test complete on PageScan – our proprietary approach to building a “Blacklist that Learns.”  As any user of a web filter is aware, these products have two different ways by which they maintain their blacklists:

  1. Maintain a static list of websites that are updated periodically.
  2. HTTP response parsing to infer unknown bad content.

The first approach leaves you vulnerable to newer websites that may not be part of your blacklist. The second approach has severe performance limitations.

About PageScan

PageScan is able to accurately block new content and meet the strict performance constraints of modern K-12 networks. We accomplish this using the following approach:

  • The first time we come across  a site that is not in our database, we let it through.
  • We then fetch it offline and scan the response content for keywords indicative of inappropriate content.
  • Our first pass is designed to produce False Positives. We narrow things down with a second pass done with an API call to a third-party service that we have identified as “best-of-breed”.
  • If the site is identified to be inappropriate for kids, we add it to our blacklist.

With this approach, we can recognize an inappropriate site accessed from a school in the UK and use that intelligence to benefit a school in Texas. We are able to identify –with high accuracy– sites belonging to the following categories: porn, drugs, gambling and proxys. Our beta tests have shown an extremely low False Positive rate.

We have decided to release this at the end of September for the following simple reason: we would like to get through the start of school, making only minimal changes to our core system in the interim. Changing the way we handle our blacklist is fundamental to how our system works and the risks of releasing early may outweigh the benefits. As always, should you have any questions, please reach out to support@securly.com.

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Meet Our New Partners: iKeepSafe & the Internet Watch Foundation

 

We are excited to announce our partnership with two organizations at the forefront of online child safety initiatives: iKeepSafe and the Internet Watch Foundation! The mission of each respective organization aligns perfectly with our own commitment to keeping kids safe online.

iKeepsafe has also awarded us the California Privacy Badge.  We are the first web filtering company to receive this distinction.  

 

About iKeepSafe & the California Privacy Badge

“iKeepSafe is a 501(c)3 non-profit international alliance of more than 100 policy leaders, educators, law enforcement members, technology experts, public health experts and advocates.”  They provide positive resources for parents and educators to teach youth how to use technology safely and productively.

iKeepSafe’s California Privacy Badge is the first independent assessment program specifically tailored to student data privacy legislation, including the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) among others.  To achieve this badge, companies must meet all requirements outlined in primary federal and California laws. This program helps educators and parents in the state of California identify edtech tools and services that protect student data privacy.

Much controversy surrounds cloud-based services and data privacy; however, this certification confirms our promise to protect student data.  It’s our way of letting customers know that student data is safe in our hands.

“We congratulate Securly on successfully completing a careful privacy review by iKeepSafe.  In the past few years, a large amount of legislation has emerged protecting and governing student data. By receiving the iKeepSafe privacy badge, Securly has taken an essential step in helping educators navigate this new terrain and keep student information safe.” Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of iKeepSafe

 

About the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

The IWF is a UK-based charity whose goal is to eradicate child pornography.  They tirelessly work to remove child sexual abuse images and videos.  

Tracking these websites is especially hard since they’re seldom hosted on static domains. To compensate, IWF has full time staff tracing these sites; and in many cases, they have brought the creators of the material to justice.

This partnership achieves two goals for Securly:

  • By supporting the IWF in their mission, Securly reaffirms its commitment to online child safety.
  • With each daily IWF list release, Securly is able to update its own  blacklist URLs, allowing schools to pre-empt potential legal and PR perils that would result if child porn was accessed on their network.

 

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Securly’s Brand New Dashboard

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“Good design is as little design as possible” -Dieter Rams

To kick off the “Week of Innovation” –live from the ISTE floor– we are excited to unveil our brand new Dashboard! At Securly, we follow a simple rule of thumb for all product design decisions:

Useful > Usable > Attractive

Useful: Does a customer find a feature useful in the way one finds an automobile useful? Does it serve a basic purpose?

Usable: Is the feature designed to be self-explanatory? Will a customer need to file a support ticket to understand what we have built?

Attractive: Does the design evoke an aesthetic that has instant appeal?

We realized that in the previous version of the Dashboard we built, we had flipped this thinking on its head. Our Dashboard had visual pop, but there was very little about it that was useful OR usable. Hence, we set about redesigning it – adhering to the quote from Dieter Rams at the beginning of this post.

First, we enumerated the stats and graphs supported by our old dashboard and classified each into “useful” and “useless”. Next, we went over customer feedback through support tickets and surveys. We picked a couple of key asks that were worthy of the “front page of the Securly UI”.

The new dashboard has the following new sections:

  • Securly System Health: In the spirit of full transparency, we will at all times provide you an overview of System Health. On those rare occasions when there is a systemic issue, we want you to know that we’re working to bring things back to normal.
  • Recent Releases: All of our regularly scheduled releases (including bug fixes) will now show up as a live feed.

Our new dashboard is scheduled for release on Tuesday 28th of June. Should you have any questions, please reach out to support@securly.com.

 

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13 Steps to Shape & Secure Your 1:1 Chromebook Program

chromebooks, web filtering chromebooks, 1:1 chromebook, filter chromebooks at home, chromebook filter

The following tips will help maximize the online safety and productivity of your students.  We will demystify the Google Apps for Education Admin Console, providing you with the tools to successfully optimize your school’s 1:1 program and edtech experience.  Taken from Best Practices to Shape & Secure Your 1:1 Program for Chromebooks.

The Google Apps cloud-based policy, simplified:

  1. Device Settings (Steps 1-3)
  2. User Settings (Steps 4-13)

>Chrome Device Settings

1. Enroll Your Device

To enroll a Chromebook into the school policy, make sure the device is first enrolled into the enterprise policy by keeping the “Allow devices to enroll automatically” setting turned ON for organizational units requiring admin management.  Students can then login without admins needing to individually login to each of these devices.  

chromebooks

 

2. Deactivate Guest Mode

Restrict Guest Mode to better audit student activity.  Otherwise, through a guest account, students can use the Chromebook without the district user policy in place.

chromebooks, 1:1 chromebook

 

3. Limit Sign-in Access

This allows students to use only their given school account for browsing the web, ensuring thorough auditing.

chromebooks

 

>Chrome User Settings

4. Display Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) Upon Startup

Via “Pages to Load on Startup” in settings, schools can set their Acceptable Use Policy  as the first thing students see upon opening a browser.  This serves to remind students of proper online conduct, digital citizenship best practices, and any other school policies they are bound by.

acceptable use policy, chromebooks, digital citizenship

 

5. Set Policy Refresh Rate to 30 Minutes

Select the minimum 30 minutes for time between policy refreshes to guarantee your students’ Chromebooks are updating with each new admin console change.
1:1 chromebook web filter

 

6. Enable Safe Browsing & Malicious Sites Protection

Choose “Always enable Safe Browsing” and “Prevent user from proceeding anyway to malicious sites” to protect your students from phishing and sites that involve platform independent vulnerabilities (identity theft, financial theft, password theft, etc).

chromebooks, online safety

 

Take Home Policy –  If the Chromebooks leave school with the students, there are two ways to secure the devices: a web filter proxy or a Chromebook extension.  Both solutions intercept and police network traffic to and from the devices.

 

7a. Change Proxy Settings for Take Home Policies

Arrange settings to point to your filter’s Proxy Autoconfiguration (PAC) file.  The PAC files allow you to control what traffic should be proxied.

home web filter, chromebook filtering at home

 

7b. Deploy Pre-installed Apps and Extensions

Using the “Manage pre-installed apps” wizard, search for the filtering extension of your choice on the Chrome Web Store, and deploy it to the organizational units that will take the devices home.

chromebooks, filter chromebooks

 

8. Block Apps and Extensions

Blocking all apps and extensions will prevent students from later installing games and other time-sinks.

chromebooks

 

9. Auto-authorize Plugins

Certain plugins require authorization from the students before they install or initialize.  However, in accordance with the whitelisting approach of only letting admin-installed plugins run, admins can auto-authorize requests so they are never presented to students.

chromebooks

 

10. Save Browser History and Disable Incognito Mode

Keep browser history turned ON for a complete report of online student activity.  Disallow incognito mode – it bypasses pre-installed security apps and can be used to evade the district filtering policy.

chromebooks, safe search

 

11. Turn Google Safe Search ON

If your district’s web filter does not support Safe Search for Google, apply this setting to enforce safe search directly via the Chrome policy.  Note: this safe search setting only applies to Google.  However, a variety of safe search websites are available for student use and some web filters are capable of enforcing safe search on multiple platforms.

chromebooks, google safe search, safe search, google image search

 

12. Disable Developer Tools

Developer tools can be used to circumvent district policy or gain unfair advantage over other students by reverse engineering of edtech applications that transmit insecure data or have confidential information hidden away in the code.chromebooks

 

13. Restrict Chrome:// URLs

Disable chrome://extensions and chrome://settings.  Chrome://extensions allow students to start/stop extensions.  Chrome://settings and other chrome://addresses provide settings or information unnecessary to students.

chromebooks

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6 Student Suggestions to Improve Web Filtering

 

web filtering, web filtering for schools, edtech, online student safety, safe search

 

The following are real student responses from an international survey we conducted during Summer 2015.  We asked students what changes would improve the web filtering experience.  Note: our survey participants included both Securly and non-Securly users.

1. Quick Whitelisting

“At school, I would appreciate the ability for teachers or someone to quickly unblock a website for us if it was blocked wrongly or if it was needed for schoolwork. It usually just says, ‘see an administrator’, which isn’t helpful at all.”

School districts are allowed to use any web filter, as long as it complies with the FCC Children Internet Protection Act.  Thus, each web filter has different functionalities and protocol for unblocking sites.  Securly allows teachers to immediately whitelist a blocked site, making the site available to the entire classroom (temporarily, or not, depending on the school district’s chosen master settings).

 

2. Image vs. Text

“The filter should see if the page has any learning stuff on it. If it is blocked because of pictures, they should only block the pictures and not the entire page.”

Students often feel that some pages are unnecessarily restricted; this hinders their academic research, leaving them frustrated.  In the meantime, students can use safe image search sites and databases to find credible information.

 

3. Balance

“Have a certain amount of time set for being on a particular website (games, social media, entertainment sites). This would be a good change because students would be able to play games but still focus on school. And not worry about trying to get around the filter anymore.”

A quick game break may refresh students from their afternoon stupor, allowing them to refocus on the topic at hand.  In addition, teachers can utilize technology and social media to their advantage in lesson planning.

 

4. More Than Keywords

“It filters any websites with drugs which is annoying. For dance class, I’ve needed to research them as part of my coursework. I would like to see a more specific filtering system that doesn’t filter a whole site because of one word.”

Many of the comments we received had similar sentiment.  Securly supports customizable user policies, focusing on a handful of filtering categories that matter most for the K-12 environment.

 

5. Stricter Filtering 

“Web filtering also doesn’t filter everything it should. Only the things that are more popular.”

Seems like some students feel web filtering is not strict enough.  Students with siblings in younger grades were particularly concerned about the availability of inappropriate information online.

 

6. Digital Citizenship Education

“I feel like web filtering at school is definitely necessary, however, this type of filtering is not usually used at home and therefore they [students] are not really being taught to use the Internet safely. They are just restricted from content that is seen as inappropriate that could be accessed easily at home.”

Many of the students we interviewed felt that their school did not clearly outline an Internet Safety policy or teach digital citizenship practices.  Check out these tips to successfully integrate technology into your 1:1 classroom.  

 

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