What are the Networks that Exist in Schools?
When parents send their students to school, how do their kids access the internet?
This is an important question. Much of school is conducted on the internet. But schools are required to provide some levels of safety for students. How students access the internet affects the way schools filter content.
Three Buckets of Access
I’m simplifying a bit, but there are three ways to access the internet at school.
- Wired (ethernet port)
- Cellular Network
A school’s wired and wireless network is technically the same in that they usually connect to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) through one central point. This allows a school to filter content to a certain degree.
Schools are required to filter content if they receive money through the federal government’s eRate program. As nearly every school gets some money from eRate, everyone is subject to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA requires protection measures be put in place by schools that filter:
- Obscene images and content
- Child pornography
- Content harmful to minors
How effective are such filters? This really depends on the type of filtering software purchased as well as a school’s decision for filtering levels. The more sensitive the filter, the more likely the content needed for education will get blocked. Filters can be fickle tools, causing frustration along with protection.
Cellular networks, conversely, bypass filtering as such networks are not part of the school. Unless parents put some kind of filtering app on their child’s phone, they will have access to the web at large.
How Should Schools Control Access to the Internet?
The idea that a school can prohibit, through technological means, adventurous students from accessing all corners of the internet is a fiction. Schools can create more friction with the likes of filtering software, but students can use their own devices (and share the devices with friends). Likewise, some smart students figure out ways to run VPN (virtual private networks) and bypass school filters. There are always ways.
But that doesn’t mean schools (or parents) are helpless.
A good Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), one that all stakeholders understand, is really vital. Educating students on the purpose of technology in education can go a long way in creating healthy habits. Additionally, being present as kids work on the internet is essential. “Working the room” by checking in on students prevents mischievous behaviors. Sitting behind a desk and expecting everything to be okay is not the best way to help kids stay on task. Creating engaging lessons (which can certainly be challenging) also helps direct the attention of students to academic goals.
How Can Parents Help Their Kids with Internet Content?
Nothing beats conversation and check-ins with kids. Learn, through engagement, what kids are doing with their schoolwork, their social life, and their browsing history. Kids are growing up in a very different world when it comes to technology and its effect on the human condition. Wisdom is something that comes with maturity and time. Some of the roles of parents are to teach, model, and protect. Don’t assume a school will capture all online behaviors.
As a practical matter, I always encourage parents to regularly check their child’s device and social networks (especially at the younger ages). This is the practice my wife and I have with our own children. We don’t hide the fact that we’ll be checking on them. We’re very clear why.
There are some technology tools that parents can buy that help with filtering. Most likely, the router used in a home has parental controls. This won’t help with accessing data via cellular plans. But many of the mobile phone operators offer solutions, usually as a native app, for monitoring use. My family has had some success with Disney’s Circle.
Most importantly, keep an open line of communication with the school. Teachers and administrators care about the children they teach. If parents see destructive behaviors with technology at home, educators will want to help.