Nov 092011

CommonCraftCommon Craft has a variety of ‘hand crafted’ videos on a range of topics including blogs, cloud computing, computer viruses, podcasting, RSS, secure passwords, social bookmarking, Twitter and wikis. These short, visually unusual, guides are likely to appeal to older children and adults.

The videos can be viewed online but if you want to embed them in your own site or get rid of the evaluation message, it can be quite expensive.


Jul 272011

AVG Family Safety is a program which protects children from inappropriate content on the Internet and allows parents to monitor Internet use.

Until recently, this program cost £13 per year. Now it is available (at least for the first year), for a 95p donation to the Red Cross.

AVG Family Safety can do much more than simply block unsuitable websites. It monitors all social networking and instant messaging activity, it can limit Internet use to specific times, it can be configured differently for each family member and it can even block sites which are accessed from mobile devices on a wireless network.

There is also a free booklet to download which uses a storybook format to teach youngsters about Internet safety.

A comprehensive review can be found here. This review includes a slideshow of the program screens which gives a good idea of what the program can do.

While education, not blocking and monitoring, is the only really effective way of developing responsible use, many parents of younger children will find this program extremely useful.

Apr 082011

RM Safetynet blocked

Internet filtering in schools is a difficult thing to get right. Everyone agrees that an element of filtering is required but there’s little agreement on the levelof filtering which should be applied.

Even ‘unfiltered’ access is filtered. All major UK ISPs adhere to a voluntary code to block child pornography sites and the EU and Australia are currently considering laws to enforce the blocking of illegal sites by ISPs.

So what do we actually want to block in schools? Very few teachers would want youngsters to have unrestricted access but very few teachers would agree on what should actually be restricted.

RM’s Filtering Policy, a fairly typical ‘black list’, details the following as the kind of sites to be blocked:

IWF Child Abuse Images database
Pornography and illegal or age-restricted activity
Drugs and substance abuse
Web-based chat
Web-based Social Networking
Proxy Bypass

This kind of filtering causes problems for schools, particularly with older pupils. For example, youngsters are taught about drugs and substance abuse but teachers may find some sites tat they want to use are blocked. We need to teach youngsters how to use social networking sites safely but how can we do that if we can’t show a social networking site?

There is no doubt that indiscriminate blocking of all sites which fit a particular category prevents many teachers using potentially useful online resources so flexible filtering which allows schools to open up sites as required would appear to be the answer.

Using a flexible filtering system would allow a school to make a YouTube video available for a particular purpose, to look at Facebook for a lesson on Internet Safety and Responsible Use or look at at site promoting religious intolerance as part of a Social Studies course.

For most teachers, this would be the ideal solution – the background filtering would protect children while the flexibility would allow teachers to use the online resources they want to use.


With school filtering which is controlled by a central body like RM or the Local Authority, individual teachers don’t have to worry about the efficiency of the filtering – it’s not their problem. When teachers have the ability to control the filtering, the responsibility becomes the school’s. When this responsibility is in the hands of individuals, there will need to be clear guidelines about what can and can’t be opened up to children. Who develops these guidelines?

We’re back to the argument about who controls access – a central body or the individual teacher?

Generally, local authorities have guidelines about Internet Safety and Responsible Use based on Scottish Government recommendations. If individual teachers can make any Internet site available to youngsters, clear procedures should be in place to prevent problems. I’m sure that 99% of the time, professional judgement would ensure that flexibility would be used wisely but what happens if a teacher makes available a site which is clearly inappropriate and parents complain? Without clear procedures to follow, teachers could find themselves facing disciplinary proceedings.

So far we have assumed that it is up to teachers to protect children from offensive materials on the Internet but this is only half the picture. This is the Internet Safety part of ISRU, but there is also Responsible Use, where we have expectations of how youngsters will behave online.

If we also factor in the supervision of Internet use, it should be perfectly possible to have flexible filtering and associated guidelines which protects both children and staff.

Here is advice from JANET which I’ve copied in full as I think it outlines a very sensible approach. This extract is taken from this document.

It is suggested that organisations concerned about blocking access to Internet content should adopt a multi-faceted approach to the problem, combining administrative, educational and technical elements.
They should:
• Agree a policy about what Internet content is suitable and what is unsuitable.
• Publicise that policy and incorporate its aims into an AUP.
• Ensure that all staff, students and visitors agree to comply with the AUP when first granted computer and network access, and make clear what the penalties are for non-compliance.
• Educate users in how to deal with inappropriate material they may find: in particular, encouraging them to report, rather than conceal, any accidental discovery of unsuitable material.
• Locate public access computers in open, supervised areas; if appropriate, requiring Internet use to be accompanied or supervised.
• Implement technical measures where appropriate (for example, a proxy server) to enforce the policy on acceptable use. Such measures must be accompanied by appropriate configuration of the local network routers or firewalls, or they will be ineffective.
• Use the monitoring capabilities of content blocking software to log network activity, and review the logs on a regular basis. Such monitoring must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and in particular, users must be informed that their use will be monitored.
• Take appropriate action against any instances of non-compliance with the AUP.

In conclusion an ISRU regime which protects youngsters and staff alike without interfering with teaching requires

  • flexible filtering which allows teachers to create exceptions to general filtering rules
  • clear guidelines for staff and young people on Internet use
  • acceptable Use Policies which are agreed by all users
  • monitoring of computer use to enforce the AUP

Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole story as many children have mobile devices which bypass school filtering. This is for another post.

Mar 262011

Internet Safety and Responsible Use thinking seems to be at a crossroads. We’re moving away from an approach that focussed on protection (keeping the more unsavoury aspects of the away from youngsters ) to education (teaching them how to deal with the realities of the online world).

Filtering the Internet in schools is no longer feasible. There’s no need for youngsters to play the ‘find the unfltered proxy site’ game in a bid to defeat the ongoing efforts of the school technician. All they need is the smartphone in their pocket.

But just because we can’t completely control Internet access in schools, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should give up the effort. Teachers have child protection responsibilities and parental pressures and these can be difficult to reconcile with a ‘riskier’ approach which would expose youngsters to online dangers so that they might learn to deal with them effectively.

ISRU is an important topic which I’ll return to again. In the meantime, here’s a link to a recent conference in Stirling in which many innovative and exciting ideas were discussed. If you only have time to watch one presentation, I’d recommend Ollie Brae.

Ollie Brae at the ISRU Conference Stirling March 2011

Ollie Brae at the ISRU Conference Stirling March 2011


Conference Stirling March 2011