These are my notes and reflections from today’s webinar, “Proxy Servers: How to Protect Your Students and Network” sponsored by DeepNine Technologies. DeepNine’s approach focusing on student behavior rather than merely blacklisting websites, as most content filtering schemes do, sounds like a promising approach to dealing with the chaotic informational environment in which we now live. Unfortunately I’m guessing eRate funding wouldn’t apply to their service, since eRate has a very specific definition of “content filtering” that is required by CIPA as an unfunded federal mandate.

One of the presenters today mentioned the Pennsylvania student last Spring, who got in trouble for passing out business cards at school to help other kids learn to use web proxy servers effectively to bypass the school’s content filter. According to the CNet article, “School filters vs. home proxies” from May 2006:

A teenager at a Pennsylvania school gets caught handing out business cards with instructions on how to circumvent his school’s Web filter. But instead of throwing the school discipline book at him, administrators offer a choice: They’ll give him a break if he lets the school’s tech people know how he beat the system… The student’s free “Anti-Skool Policy” cards offered two URLs to access Web sites banned by the school. And, unfortunately for the student, they also bore his name, which led to his getting caught.

Kudos to that Pennsylvania school district for recognizing that this student possessed some valuable skills, and his/her knowledge could be constructively leveraged rather than simply punished. I would guess responses like this across the United States are the exception rather than the rule, but I could be wrong. In the business world, those who use their hacking skills “for good” are known as “white hats.”

I thought this slide shared during the presentation was very interesting:

Representative

Clearly problems relating to students accessing objectionable or inappropriate content on school networks is a HUGE one and is likely common to all school districts– since my impression is that all schools are now “wired” in the United States. These are problems and issues that are NOT going to go away, and in fact are most likely to only get more complex.

One of my thoughts on this is that we’ve got to work toward finding mechanisms, systems, and processes which encourage individual accountability for behavior. In 1:1 laptop initiatives, there should be logging system in place for everywhere a particular students’ laptop goes on the Internet. That log should be accessible by the student, his/her parents, teachers and the administrator. We’ve got to focus more on preparing students for responsible and ethical behavior in LIFE– not just banning websites. I am glad to learn about DeepNines Technologies and their approaches to objectionable student network access, which differ from traditional content filters. I am going to be focusing more in the months ahead on network security issues, I think, because the computing environment continues to grow more hostile– and if the traffic on the highway is too clogged with malware, the “good stuff” that we want to encourage students and teachers to do with their bandwith can’t happen.

I had a related idea for a bumpersticker yesterday that I think would be rather appropriate: “I don’t do Windows, unless I have to.” It is rather horrific to witness firsthand how infected most school and business Windows-based networks are today with a wide range of malware threats. The issues of network security are many– and student objectionable access to network resources is just one. The bottom line to all of this should get down to the human level– and human choice. Technology solutions and ways to address issues will continue to change like shifting sand, but in the final analysis we’ve got to focus on helping people make good choices. That’s non-tech, but I think it is the bottom line when it comes to a lot of this stuff.

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