Jul 18 2008

Smart Safety

An Internet monitoring upgrade helps keep these western Ohio students safe without restricting their learning.

For dozens of school districts in western Ohio, the Internet focus is more on security than productivity. The districts, through technology management provider Western Ohio Computer Organization (WOCO), is making a switch this summer from an aging legacy Internet filtering system to 8e6’s R3000 and Enterprise Reporter tool.

The original system simply couldn’t keep up with today’s net-savvy students, who found every way possible to circumvent the system to access sites such as MySpace and gaming sites, says Mike Wagner, WOCO’s network administrator. Wagner is part of a team implementing the 8e6 system to dozens of Ohio school districts comprising about 23,000 students.

“We didn’t even know how big the problem was until we started transitioning to the new system,” he says. “The other system wasn’t doing a good job at all of blocking secure sites, and students were finding ways to use proxy sites to get around the filtering system. And it was a constant battle; there is always another MySpace unblock site or proxy out there that allows kids to get onto MySpace.”

When it is fully implemented in July 2008, the 8e6 system will be centrally managed and maintained by WOCO, while individual districts will retain control of which sites they want to block and what parameters to set.

Flexibility is important to every school, and something all administrators look for in an Internet filtering system. The ability to set parameters by age group, make exceptions for school projects, or develop different levels of access for teachers, administrators and students, is critical.

With this type of flexibility, it’s possible to avoid the unimaginable: creating a system so tightly controlled that the Web becomes less useful in a learning context to the very students it is trying to help.

“There is a fine line between trying to keep students safe and restricting them so much that they can’t be productive at all,” Wagner says. “You have to find the product that’s right for your situation, spend time testing it, go through the categories to choose what and what not to block, and spend time monitoring what categories are being highly used.”