School filters & students’ workarounds

Not surprisingly, students seem to agree with Ofsted – though perhaps sometimes for different reasons 😉 – that “locked down” filtering at school isn’t the best (see this about Ofsted’s report). “Many young people are using ‘proxy servers’ to get round their schools’ internet security systems, ” the BBC reports, adding that students’ use of these free school-filtering workarounds is on the rise. “It sounds like an obscure, techy area of computing that only geeks would know about. But when we asked pupils in one secondary school classroom who had heard of proxy servers, every hand went up.” School filters can block access to known proxy sites, but there are so many and new ones pop up so constantly that it’s almost impossible for the school systems to keep up. What most students aren’t aware of, the BBC reports, is the security risks associated with some of these proxy sites. Some of them send Trojan software that installs monitoring applications on the computer a student’s using which captures passwords and other keystrokes. For a US version of this story, see a commentary in the Washington Post last summer. Of course, the ultimate workaround is a mobile phone or wi-fi-equipped handheld device like the iPod Touch with a Web browser, and – despite school bans – their numbers are growing probably proportionately to overall smart-phone market growth. Banning phones in school is about as effective as the Ofsted report found rigid or “locked down” filtering to be. Instead, schools should embrace and teach with these devices and technologies so students can learn and practice wise use (see “From digital disconnect to mobile learning”). That helps develop the 24/7 cognitive “filter” in their heads that improves with practice and is as flexible as their use of technology is (see this).

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