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Keeping Remote Students Safe While Learning Online

Brian Thomas

(Image credit: Lightspeed)

Tech & Learning editors spoke with Brian Thomas, Lightspeed Systems President and CEO, for advice on how schools can better ensure online safety as they face long-term closures.

How can a district ensure their students are safe online?

Remote learning needs to start with remote filtering. Schools around the world are closed to keep students safe, and we need to make sure we’re still keeping them safe when we send them to learn online. 

For many schools, this is the first time they’re sending devices home with students at any scale. Even schools that have been 1:1 were typically only sending devices home to their middle and high school students. Now, elementary students have a school device at home for the first time. 

For all of these students, more time at home means more time online. And, suddenly, all of that time is spent off of the school network. 

For this new online learning environment to be effective and safe, schools need a filter that can support these remote devices, often with multiple operating systems, on or off the school network. Schools also need to be able to easily set different policies for these different groups because what’s acceptable for a teenager is different from what’s acceptable for a first grader to access. 

Keeping students safe online is what we’ve been doing for more than 20 years. Lightspeed Systems can help keep this new learning environment safer for all ages with our Relay platform.

Screenshot of Lightspeed Systems Relay Analytics

(Image credit: Lightspeed Systems)

How can districts manage all of these devices remotely?

There are a few keys to effectively managing remote devices. 

First, districts need solutions that can support multiple operating systems. One of the things we’re seeing is that, in order to ensure every remote student has a device, many schools are sending home older devices and additional OSes that had not been used as part of their 1:1 programs before. 

They also need solutions that don’t route traffic through the school network since devices are at home now and that just creates bottlenecks. 

Another factor is the safety of the IT teams, so management solutions that are cloud-based and don’t require management of hardware on the network are desirable. 

Schools are also deploying these devices quickly, so management solutions need to be easy to set up over the air–without touching all the student devices. 

Finally, a management solution needs to just work and be easy. Features such as single sign on and one-click settings are important for administrators who are doing so much right now.  

Relay Filter addresses these factors with the following benefits:

  • Support for every OS.
  • Smart Agents that are installed on any device and work anytime, anywhere.
  • Ease of set up and ongoing management with no hardware.
  • Powerful YouTube protections that block inappropriate content and comments while allowing teachers to provide access to their own educational  channels.
  • Granular controls and the ability to differentiate policies by group, age, user, and time of day.. 
  • Detailed reports on user activity and safety.

In Polk County Schools, for example, the Smart Agent was deployed to Windows machines via Group Policy, and to MacOS and iOS devices via Jamf to get multi-OS protection quickly. 

“During these unprecedented times, Lightspeed was able to quickly provide us a filtering solution that our current provider could not,” said Tina Barrios, Assistant Superintendent of Information Systems and Technology for Polk County Schools. “From the time Lightspeed activated our licenses, we had our filter policies in place in under a day.”

How do schools know if the many free resources being used by their teachers and students come from trusted partners? 

This is a big concern. Teachers are dealing with a completely new world of online instruction and looking for tools that can help. Unscrupulous companies are taking advantage of the situation to push products that are not compliant. Even common and trusted products like Zoom can be a concern when it comes to student data privacy. 

And all of it is happening off the school network and outside of normal visibility. 

So the key is providing four layers of protection:

  1. Working with vendors you trust.
  2. Having visibility into tools being used–actionable information on what apps, applications, and web sites are being used and by whom.
  3. Information on which of those tools are not compliant with data privacy and security regulations.
  4. The ability to block access to things that violate policies.

Relay Analytics addresses all four layers of protection, giving schools the reports they need to identify tools in use (including what we call “rogue” apps that haven’t been vetted), maintain compliance, and drive adoption and ROI. 

Osseo Area Schools, for example, is seeing these benefits. “During distance learning, Relay has been a vital tool for our school district to provide safe web-browsing off of campus with our district-issued technology,” said Anthony Padrnos, Executive Director of Technology for Osseo Area Schools. “Relay has also been valuable for us to collect daily statistics on how students are engaging with our remote learning and evaluate ROI on the digital learning resources we are investing in.”

How can schools manage Social Emotional Learning remotely? 

Another concern when it comes to keeping students safe is their social and emotional well-being. This pandemic and the changes in routine it brings can be scary–and students are isolated and may be depressed. A holistic safety solution doesn’t just block inappropriate content; it needs to monitor and alert staff about students who may be depressed and considering self-harm. 

We do this with a feature of the Relay Filter called Safety Check. It monitors activity and sends real-time alerts when a student is in crisis. We’ve heard from many schools that this feature has helped them save lives -- both before and during this pandemic. 

What’s ahead for schools? 

Even as schools rush to get remote learning off the ground quickly, they’re recognizing that this isn’t just a band-aid through the end of the year. Solutions need to be scalable and long-term–not just because we have no idea when this virus will pass but also because there’s a realization that remote learning is an essential back-up to the physical school building for natural disasters, extended illnesses, periods of social distancing, or whatever comes next.

During COVID-19 and always, we’re here to help schools and to protect students. We’re proud that Relay has been able to make this challenging situation easier for schools and safer for students.

To help schools through this difficult time and keep students safe during remote learning, Lightspeed Systems is offering free extended trials of its Relay Filter and Relay Classroom solutions. 

Visit www.lightspeedsystems.com to learn more.