Limiting Internet access in a boarding school is a delicate affair that requires balance between the needs and care of young people. This week we have reviewed our provision of Internet access via network sockets and WiFi, and implemented a stricter schedule. Social media, shopping, audio and video and other site categories are now blocked during the daily 90 minute homework slot. Also, network accounts have been set to be disabled just after scheduled bedtimes.
My approach (documented here in 2008) has consistently been to keep the web as open as possible for pupils. In the past, I have faced many objections about the perils of access to social media, YouTube and the like, and had to negotiate compromises between the locked-down approach and the open-but-managed stance I prefer. My preference is based on the principle that if we cannot discuss the content of the web in a light airy classroom with peers and an adult present, then where can we? Educational opportunities arise to scrutinise choices (what was typed or clicked) and how we might improve these in future. Deliberate misuse is mostly a classroom management issue that might require sanctions as well as education. Since a boarding school affords 24/7 computer access, it has become apparent that many pupils might benefit from some encouragement to put their tech away when head has an appointment to meet pillow.
We use iBoss as a web filtering tool, having moved away from SmoothWall and SonicWall, for different reasons. We discovered that if you set timings for any of the filtering, you have to set timings for them all. So, year groups have been concatenated into similar clusters and restrictions put in place. The school packs in very busy days and time to do homework is protected, but still some pupils need a nudge, which is provided by certain entertainment or friendship sites being inaccessible. 24 hours in and I have received many emails requesting tweaks rather than broad brush objections. One example is a request for shopify to be unblocked during homework so that a young entrepreneur (Year 10) could access the admin panel of his e-commerce sites after he had completed his work, as this tended to be his busiest time of the day. How do you think I responded..?
Pupils have been informed and asked to make a case for any changes to their Housemasters/mistresses (Hsms), and in three weeks we will review how well the Internet access schedule is working. An early point of contention seems to be that YouTube is included in the filtering during homework slots, and teachers like to set YouTube material to be watched in preparation for the next lesson. We have Planet eStream installed but YouTube content cannot be transferred because of licensing restrictions. Therefore, we are looking to create a workaround for this – opening YouTubeEDU for example – but we will not be allowing access to YouTube because it contains unmeasurable amounts of off-task material. Remember, the block is only during the allocated homework slot of 90 minutes, and all none-age-restricted YT content is available during all the other waking hours. Another issue might be for our more senior pupils in the Upper Sixth, whose working practices will include the Internet and extend beyond the 23:00 curfew. The Sixth Form are allowed to use their computers beyond this time, but they will find the Internet asleep except for internally hosted services like school email and Intranet.
From my point of view, we are aiming to provide the best care we can for our pupils, whilst understanding that we must respect their needs and workflow. I would be very interested to hear how filtering is set up in other boarding schools, on here or twitter.
Image: Ava Randa.
Also published on Medium.