Online Filtering and Monitoring for Districts

online filtering and monitoring
(Image credit: Future)

As schools plan on including at least some distance learning in their offerings this school year, safety must be a key part of this plan. In this Tech & Learning District Leadership Lunch ‘n Learn Roundtable, Dr. Kecia Ray talked with district thought leaders about why it is especially important to consider student safety for online learning, what tools can help with student safety in a distance learning environment, and how to support and engage the parent community through distance learning programs.

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Key Takeaways

Keep it simple. Filtering websites continues to be a very complex issue, said Anders Johnsson, SVP of Global Sales and co-founder of Charlotte Operations for Securly. Many districts are working with multiple platforms and devices, and finding filtering solutions that can accommodate it all is a challenge. Educators just need it to be simple and scalable. 

Parental partners. For years, the reporting and monitoring of safety of online activities has generally been available to school districts. Now during remote learning, students are online more than ever before, and visiting different sites while using school-issued devices. For example, Securly offers an app that allows parents to monitor their students’ activities. “Truly partnering with parents will help you to scale,” said Johnsson.

Cloud filtering. Olympia School District is going to full remote learning in fall, and is cloud-filtering everything so that it doesn’t overwhelm the bandwidth capacity. “Not having to stack another item on top of everything is a big relief,” said Marc Elliott, Chief Information Officer, Olympia School District in Washington. 

Supporting a hybrid approach. Steuben County Schools in Indiana is opening face-to-face, with a full virtual option for families who are not comfortable with sending back their students, said Chantell Manahan, Director of Technology, MSD of Steuben County in Indiana. Cloud filtering will allow a seamless transition for students when they do return to the classroom, which will make it easier for teachers. Having a parent portal allows parents to manage distance learning.

Staying connected. In a remote learning environment, being able to monitor online classrooms is critical, said Jarrett Volzer, General Manager, MDM and Classroom Technologies of Securly. That needs to be consistent between synchronous and asynchronous instruction. In addition to making sure communication is clear, students need to be kept on task. Being able to see when a student needs help is also important.

SEL concerns. Social-emotional learning continues to be at top of mind for everyone. Much of the focus for web filtering has been on blocking sites, but students are not using the web the way they used to, said Johnsson. Students are posting on social media, participating in cyberbullying, sharing suicidal thoughts, and being involved in other potentially harmful activities, all of which is being exacerbated by the pandemic and continued social isolation. Districts want to do something about it, and thankfully there’s monitoring platforms available to help. “Students never lie to Google,” Johnsson said, so knowing what searches are being done is critical.

Addressing trauma. Before using a monitoring platform, Olympia’s team was doing it all themselves. “And frankly it was overwhelming,” said Elliott. Having a solution that could monitor 24/7 was critical in being able to shift the focus to developing trauma-informed practices for back to school. “Regardless of the situation that a student is in, they are going through some sort of trauma during this pandemic and school closure--there’s just no way that they’re not,” Elliott said. “And their families as well.” Students often Google their feelings for myriad reasons, so being able to monitor that activity is important. Steuben County Schools is also seeing the same increase in students reaching out for social-emotional help during remote learning, Manahan said 

New normal concerns. Manahan said that students have been telling her that they’re eager to get back to school, but she is concerned that they are expecting things to be the way it was, which will not be the case and could cause deeper emotional distress. Indiana recently adopted SEL standards across the state, and the pandemic is just underscoring the need for those practices. In addition, the reality that students will test positive for COVID-19 means that a return to remote learning is always possible. “We’re telling our teachers to plan that every day could be a virtual learning day,” she said. Having students complete work digitally will help reduce infection risks. “I have no doubt what we’re going through is going to change education permanently,” added Elliott. “It could drag us out of an institutionalized world and into something different, and honestly, our school district is hoping for that.”

Fast forward. Schools have been forced into adopting new technology quickly, siad Johnsson. “Educators have been jumping off the cliff and seeing if they have the parachute later,” he said. Incorporating digital technology into learning has been a major and exciting shift.

Lunch 'n Learn with Tech & Learning 

This report is part of Tech & Learning's District Leadership Lunch ‘n Learn Roundtable series, hosted by Dr. Kecia Ray. In this series, districts from across the U.S. share their strategic plans, the challenges they are facing, and the creative solutions they are using to support students and teachers. Access previous webinars and register for our upcoming events here

More from T&L: Lunch 'n Learn roundtable recaps 

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.