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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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May242006

Students Outsmarting Filters for Sport

BoingBoing, arguably the most popular blog in the United States, just posted a link to an April news story from C|NET News on how kids are engaging in a cat-and-mouse game with schools to successfully get around Internet filters. If schools think they’re winning this battle, they’re wrong.

Some highlights from the article:

Last November, Ryan, a high-school sophomore, figured out a way to outsmart the Web filters on a school PC in order to visit the off-limits MySpace.com while doing “homework” in the computer lab.

A teacher eventually spotted the social network on the screen in front of “Ryan,” a fictitious name for a real student attending school in Phoenix, Ore., a small town with a population of about 5,000. The teacher flagged the activity for the school’s technology expert, who then followed Ryan’s tracks online through the school network.

Ryan had apparently set up a so-called Web proxy from his home computer so that when he was at school, he could direct requests for banned sites like MySpace through a Web address at home, thereby tricking the school’s filter. (Web, or CGI, proxies can be Web sites or applications that allow users to access other sites through them.)

“I eventually tracked down the (Internet Protocol) address, so that it doesn’t work for him anymore,” said Don Wolff, tech coordinator in the Phoenix-Talent School District, adding that Ryan didn’t face disciplinary action. “It’s against our acceptable-use policy, but he’s not going to quit trying, (and this way) we can keep learning.”

“This is a hot new trend among kids for getting around Web filters,” Wolff said….

Proxies are just one of many tricks that kids use to break locks put on forbidden material—a pursuit of almost any young generation. As more schools place tight controls on PCs to stop kids from file-sharing, instant messaging, social networking or looking at undesirable material online, the kids are getting more clever, tech experts say….

“It’s going to be the constant battle. No matter what you put up, kids are going to work around it,” said Lynn Beebe, a school counselor in Scotts Valley, Calif. Her school, for example, uses filters to block all sites with the word or subject “blog,” in addition to other sites.

But there’s no foolproof solution. Beebe said that a small population of boys at the school use their free time to play games online. Sometimes they’ve shared with her that when they mistakenly type in a URL, an undesirable site appears, she said.

As the article demonstrates, filters often fail to do the job they were intended to do - protect kids from inappropriate sites. Meanwhile, literally millions of perfectly appropriate, educationally relevant sites get blocked. It seems like this is a losing battle - on so many levels…. -andy

Filed under : Policy, Safety

Responses

I this a very important battle that is happening in schools everywhere. The internet is going to become a bigger and bigger part of K12 education. I work with high school across the state of Texas that use online courses that I help develop. One of the biggest complaints I get from teachers is that their students get off task and go other places on the internet that they should not be. I don’t think filtering is a good solution to this problem. We need to come up with another method, or combination of methods to keep students from accessing inappropriate material on the internet.

Web filtering is always going to be a constant battle. I am a Technology Specialist for a K-12 public school in the state of VA. There are to many sites to keep track of and to many new sites that are posted everyday. In my opinion web filtering is a must, but the lack of supervision and teacher feed back does not help the situation. The supervision in a classroom is where it starts and web filtering software is the second phase.

I teach in a school district where all high school students have wireless laptop computers. Our school district uses Websense to attempt to block “inappropriate” content, but all the filters seem to do is block legitimate sites from use in the classroom because students always figure out a way to get around the filters to view the sites they want to see. Let’s face it… “we” are outnumbered by the students, so if “they” want to access Myspace and other such sites, they are going to find away to do so. Instead of channeling all of our energy in to blocking sites, I wish we would spend time educating students, parents and teachers about the Internet - benefits, perils, ethics, netiquette, grammar and all. We can’t shield our students forever, so isn’t better to educate them about what is out there and how to deal with it effectively?

One thing that I don’t understand is if educators are so concerned with where students are going online, then why don’t they set the system up so that the student needs to login to the computer. That way the history can easily be tracked, and if a violation of whatever IUA is in place, then the student gets banned.

I’m sure students will find workarounds to this as well (logging in as other students, finding secret ways to do proxies, etc.) but this would certainly put them on alert.

Of course, the best way to keep students off of inappropriate sites would be to give them enough interesting work to do with creative sites in the first place. Personally, I feel that the drill and kill work that much computer time has become feeds into student boredom and misbehavior.

As an online teacher for high school students in Colorado I can attest to the fact that some schools’ restrictions actually hinder my ability to teach an online class.

For example, some students have problems getting software installed which is needed to view media files. Some districts prohibit the download of media files as well. Naturally, being a teacher of German language, audio and video factor in pretty highly.

I use quite a bit of content that is linked to other sites around the web. Sometimes these sites get blocked because of other content that may exist somewhere else on the site which my students are not linked to.

I have schools that will not allow students to access tools that would make them more successful in my online class. These include instant messaging to contact me for live and direct help with homework (because they often waste too much time IMing friends), and emails from Hotmail/Yahoo/Gmail (I use Gmail and some students do not receive my emails). I even have a school where an administrator prints out the emails I send to the students because they are not allowed to receive email from outside the school.

Although I welcome the protection of students from harmful information, we may end up doing them a disservice if they are not able to access tools they need and are also not able to develop the ability to discern between information which is needed and valuable and that which is not.

Whomever thinks it is a good idea to just teach students right from wrong as far as what sites they visit, and take off all content filters is crazy. This is like a public school distict library subscribing to Playboy magazine, putting it on the shelf along with the rest of the periodicals, and telling students not to open it.

Reality check, the web has on it hard core sex sites, sites with sex between animals and people, sites where people urinate on each other, sites where people are shown in the throws of S&M, sites that show actual torture and beheadings. Do you really think it is a good idea to have no filters and just trust hundreds of students (mostly boys) between the ages of 10 and 17 not to visit any of them just because an educator said so?

I have worked in schools for 15 years as a teacher, administrator, and in IT. Filters are a must even if some students attempt to bypass them.

As an IT Pro for a school system, I am on the front lines of this battle. My greatest concern is the notion that a filter (or any technology) can replace a vigilant Teacher and a strong AUP. CIPA regulations require us to have a filter and to fight the battle, but Teachers with keen eyes and an administration with a strong backbone can do more in this area than any technology.

Unfortunately they can easy access banned websites from school and use myspace.com from online proxy servers like http://www.msproxy.net Unfortunately it is easy to bypass filters and teachers have no way in stoping them to access myspace. It is addictive to them!

I do audits on K-12 network traffic activity quite often. On schools with networks as big a 100,000 computers to as small as 100. Many users (not always students) successfully get around content filters via proxy. This is a huge frustration to IT departments. The tool we use in our audits monitors all TCP/IP traffic (Email, attachments, IM/Chat, Internet, Intranet, Peer-to-Peer, Bulletin Board Postings/Blogs, Hacking, Telnet, FTP, and more) and shows us far more than just what sites a user has gone to – it can show a users intent. This tool recreates the exact same screen image of the violation. For instance, if little Johnny was viewing porn we can see how he got there. Most often is because a user uses a search engine to find porn. He types in ‘boobs’ into the browser and then goes to the sites listed. The same thing can be said for hackers. We see there research, downloads, and unfortunately their successes (however short lived this may be). We see all of this in real time. This tool recreates the exact email, instant message, or blog session of a student talking about brings a gun to school or talk of hurting someone. I have found numerous staff operating EBay businesses during school hours (one teacher was operating a very lucrative weapons resale business from his classroom). Even if a user gets by the content filter via proxy the violating traffic is automatically captured and alerts are sent out. We see what user is violating AUP via IP addresses (to and from), user names, and tons of supporting Meta data.

I understand all the frustrations with the school and the filters and all. But when it comes down to the facts, I am amazed at what people come up with to get around filters or to prevent that from happening! To me, the answer to this is simple! Don’t use the internet. That’s it. If there are no computers in the school, a student can’t access illegal sites. Do you need computers for research projects? Do you need computers to help teach lessons?

No, you don’t! Books are better sources for materials considering that about 60% of the internet is false. Students can go to the library if they don’t have the books they need at school!

Also, if you’re goin to teach a class, you should know what your teaching. Do your studies before class. This way, not only do you not depend on computers, you understand the subject better and can better answer students’ questions!

Not having computers in a school helps students stay on track and learn what they’re supposed to learn. It will also save the school the hastle of trying to block websites, and save some money for the school!

I find it amusing that everyone views this as a technology issue. IT staff can put appropriate measures in place but this does not relieve teachers and administration of the responsibility to police their own classrooms. If a student is violating school policy by defacing a textbook, etc. the teachers/admins should punish them appropriately, right? Why is it any different if they violate the AUP with a computer. Teachers and administrators just want to be tooooooooollllllerant and they want to be friends with the students. If they reprimand the student for abusing technology, little Johnny might not like them anymore. If a student is not afraid of the punishment they will receive (usually nothing significant), then what deterrent is there for them? As soon as teachers and administrators grow a sack, this issue will be resolved.

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