From Blocking to Access: An Evolution in Web Filtering

AccessImagine a classroom where a student sits at a single computer in the back, innocently types a phrase in the search engine, and gets a “Blocked!” screen. Imagine a computer lab full of monitors with a big red X on them.

And all the while, the adults (in the classroom, or in the IT office, or in our Lightspeed Systems offices) are nodding their heads and saying, “Phew! We’re keeping them safe.”

That was our world fewer than ten years ago. As a web filtering and security company, our job was to help schools block anything inappropriate (or questionable, or uncertain, or off-task, or…well, a lot of things) on the Internet. And we were good at it!

Kids sent us scathing emails (from their home computers, of course) and hand-drawn comic strips showing frustrated students on computers unable to access most of the Web and still we thought: Good job, us!

The times have changed, the use of technology for learning in schools has changed, content filtering has changed, and we’ve changed to adapt to it.

Though we’re parents and school volunteers and school board members and ed-tech advocates, we don’t spend every day actually inside a classroom — so it was our customers who helped us understand the changing world around us. We get a lot of our product development ideas by listening to customers, and this was no exception. “We need a way to share YouTube videos with students!” they told us. “We need a way to allow blocked sites for certain lessons without bothering IT,” they said.

They needed safe access, not overblocking. And we listened.

Technology was moving from being just a tool a student or teacher could use for small, approved tasks to being a bridge that connects the classroom to the world. That meant it could disconnect the classroom from learning if it wasn’t allowing access to content. “No more overblocking!” became our new rally cry. And though we still get an occasional email from a disgruntled student, now we often start looking at new, safe ways to help him accomplish the task he currently can’t. Because we’re still listening.

Today, technology in schools isn’t just a brief reward; it’s an integral part of teaching and learning. So over-blocking isn’t just a nuisance; it’s an impediment.

What this means to us, and our Web Filter and other solutions:

  • Blocking by default only adult content and security risks (but giving schools the ability to adjust policies)
  • Providing safe and easy ways to access YouTube videos and other dynamic content
  • Providing a platform to help teach students about digital citizenship and Internet safety and web-based research
  • Giving teachers a share in the management of Web Filter policies for their classes
  • Making mobile devices safe (and useable!) at school or at home
  • And still providing IT with policies and CIPA compliance and reporting

Now imagine a class of students in a classroom, moving between offline projects and their mobile devices, accessing content, communicating, collaborating, creating — engaged rather than frustrated and empowered rather than constricted.

Rather than blocking students from the Web, today our mission is to connect them to it — to resources, technology, and other people. (Still safely, of course!)

A Web Filter about access. Because the Internet isn’t scary; what’s scary is not teaching students how to use it.

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