School Web Filtering ALREADY GOT an Extreme Makeover

I haven’t blogged in a while but as I was reading this article, “School Web Filtering Needs an Extreme Makeover,” I found myself nearly jumping up and down yelling “Yes!” and “What about us?” and “Hey! We do that!”

Lightspeed Systems has long been preaching the need to balance safety and learning when it comes to web filtering in schools. Though we are a vendor, we certainly don’t think that we should be dictating the specific filtering policies schools need to follow. Instead, we aim to give schools a platform that makes it easy (and affordable) for them to be CIPA compliant, and then to create their own policies beyond that. After all, it seems evident different schools, ages, and users all need different policies — and only the individual school knows what those should be.

We advocate for schools to have IT, curriculum, administrators, school boards, parents and even students be part of a conversation about content filtering policies. We’ve campaigned for “No more overblocking!” (See Kevin Honeycutt with our “No more overblocking” t-shirt.) And we’ve sought to redefine web filtering with a focus on safe access instead of blocking.

Just as some examples of how our filter meets the 21st-century learning needs described in the article:

  • Our filter by default blocks only the categories (adult content and security threats) defined by CIPA. Anything other than that is up to schools.
  • We give schools granular controls over filtering, including the ability to apply different levels of access based on grade, title, individual, and more.
  • We have features in our filter, such as Web Zones, that let IT push to teachers the authority to adjust filtering for specific classes or projects, giving teachers the ability to teach without being held back by the filter and without needing to go to IT every time they have a special request.
  • We created a resource library and social platform (My Big Campus) as a feature of our filter so that even if a school chooses to block something like YouTube or forums, teachers can easily (and safely) provide students with access to appropriate videos or posts.
  • We promote rather than block social collaboration, because we too recognize that is critical to engagement and student achievement.
  • We’ve created materials and guides to help teachers use our filter and My Big Campus to teach students digital citizenship and responsible student use of technology.
  • We use our training and marketing departments to educate our users on CIPA requirements, best practices, and how to engage students in learning without the filtering getting in the way.
  • We utilize a database that our thousands of customers contribute to, effectively crowd-sourcing filtering – but that is visible to anyone and that can be easily customized to an individual school’s needs.
  • We make it easy to submit sites you think we got wrong for re-categorization.
  • We have teams of developers and database engineers constantly updating our database, our features, and our messages to ensure that we are meeting the changing needs of schools.
  • Our web filter is even named “Collaborative Filter!”

Our only agenda as a vendor is to empower schools to create safe, mobile, collaborative learning environments. We provide a filtering platform that is extremely configurable and that gives schools the ability to determine what’s right for them.

I guess a lot of the frustration this article reflects likely comes from using filtering vendors that aren’t specifically focused on schools. Since K12 is our only focus, all of the things this article advocates are things we’ve known for a long time — and have been doing for a long time.

The article says, “These filters and policies are chaining us to the past instead of creating competitive, creative people.” Perhaps with other filters, or with mis-managed filters. But what we hear again and again from our customers is more like this:

“Our over-reaction to filtering is one of the biggest problems. Which is why I happen to love Lightspeed.” Alan November, November Learning

“With Lightspeed Systems, we can control the filtering and can give users access to the good educational content they need without allowing access to adult or inappropriate sites.” Steven Frey, School District of Cambridge

“Lightspeed Systems gets Education! They understand it’s a bigger picture than just blocking sites. Building around the web 2.0 explosion, Lightspeed developed My Big Campus to bring these educational experiences to us in a safe environment!” Tricia Interrante, William Floyd School District

Here are some ads we ran back in 2011:

No-OverblockingWebFilterLikeThis-adRedefine-WebFiltering

So, yes, old content filtering doesn’t work in 21st-century learning environments. (As we said, “Today’s students can’t learn with yesterday’s filter.”) And we’ll keep enhancing our solution along with technology and the market and the needs of schools. But it seems to me the “extreme makeover” already happened. We did it.

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