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Web Filtering Checklist

Tide takes dunes



When schools make web filtering and blocking decisions, they need to be sure that they are not also blocking learning, blocking productivity, blocking progress.  Shifts have occurred widely over the last couple of years in schools regarding the filtering question. Security still remains a top priority. However, the question of what content to block and not block is one where the winds of change are continually blowing.

Fighting the tide

Take the story of new dunes installed at a beach. I remember when new dunes were added at a beach near my home. They were tall and mighty. Surely they would serve their purpose. Two months and one very big storm later, something happened. The dunes were washed away to a great extend. Two full blocks worth were gone.  The powerful ocean overtook them.

I think in many ways this is what is happening with filters and web content. Though many schools and organizations block and carefully keep the web at bay, web technology and its ever changing nature continues to command attention. Nature takes it’s course. People find new ways to access web content. Students use proxy sites or their smartphone.  Teachers become frustrated in their attempts to access content. Valuable time can be spent working on solutions.

The topic of filtering is an important one. The web offers more and more educational content.   Having a proactive and collaborative strategy is essential when making decisions on filtering today. It will equip our students better in the long run.

Natural Shifts

Blocking was once a simple issue. Block inappropriate content such as hate sites, chat sites, instant messaging functions, inappropriate images and more and you were all set. Then came the proliferation of web 2.0 sites, the growth of collaborative technologies and impact of social tools.

What were once easy decisions have become sticky ones.  What was once black and white has become many shades of gray like the changing tides of the ocean. What should schools consider? View this checklist for evaluating your strategy.

Checklist for Evaluating Filtering Strategies


  • Look at laws and government guidelines to be followed – Consider CIPA. Often their requirements are misconstrued to be more strict that they actually are.
  • Look at district and local rules – Are there standards that our district has put forth? What prior policies exist?
  • Look at security concerns – Consider viruses, malware, bandwidth, access and more. What priorities exist?
  • Look at existing feedback – What do admins, teachers and students report about the filter? Does it meet educational needs?
  • Look at the existing filter – Is it flexible? Does it allow for multiple filtering levels for administrators, teachers and students? If not, when can we upgrade to add more functionality?
  • Look at current processes – How easily can teachers and students get access to sites for educational use?
  • Look at your decision making team – Who determines which sites are blocked? CIOs and IT are needed. Educational leaders and teachers should also be involved in this decision making.
  • Look at current educational initiatives – Are current initiatives requiring expanded access. If so, are the best web communication and collaboration tools available for this purpose?
  • Consider Options that are Win/Win – Is a walled garden approach an approach that might work for your school? With sites such as this, social and collaborative technologies coexist with more tightened security.
  • Look at the Policies in place – How often does your school or district evaluate your approach to filtering? The web evolves daily as do educational means for using web content.
  • Look at Digital Literacy supports – Are you teaching all parties how to use the web safely and appropriately?  Education is essential. Given appropriate education in place, we are equipping educators and students with the decision making skills that will serve them long after they have left us.

Mock on, mock on,’tis all in vain! You throw the sand against the wind, And the wind blows it back again. Voltaire Rousseau

Filter Fitness Guidelines

  • Know the rules. Don’t interpret them so that your implementation is more strict that the law
  • Upgrade your filter and build in flexibility
  • Involve Educators
  • Focus on educational purpose
  • Be aware of the changing landscape
  • Educate your community as to your approach
  • Balance network security needs with educational needs
  • Go for win win. Work to benefit all parties involved.
  • Reassess often
  • Make Digital literacy and citizenship education a priority

Given the wide range of content out there which has sound educational value, this can no longer be strictly an IT level decision.  Schools and organizations can’t  continue to block strictly and expect to reap the benefits of today’s web. If we want to provide
the most relevant education for the 21st Century, we need to have a filtering strategy that is informed and flexible.

This is cross posted on School CIO

Related Resources

CIPA – Children’s Internet Protection Act
Digital Citizenship Resources for SchoolsTechConnects
Speak Up Survey – Input on Filtering Listed
EdWeek – Filtering Debate

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3 thoughts on “Web Filtering Checklist”

  1. I think people often overlook the impact that web 2.0 has had on internet filtering because now a site that has a ton of great educational information may also contain inappropriate pictures and bad language.

    To me the best example of this is Twitter. It is blocked for my students because of they as a district can not control what gets put on Twitter but it is such a powerful educational tool.

    Sometimes I think we need to spend more time teaching responsible web use and less time protecting our students from the possible bad things on the internet. It seems like the students who really want to get around the filters always figure it our anyway.

  2. There are many examples of classrooms using Twitter and other web 2.0 tools very effectively as you indicate. Finding ways to allow access for learning is so important. Jeff, I agree that teaching responsible web use will go a long way in preparing our students to learn both now and in their future. Great point! This is time and energy well spent

  3. Internet use is a very important tool for students today. Filtering web sites can help when the students are in the lower grades (PreK-3). We do this by providing sites that are bookmarked to start a small child on the right path. As students progress they develop habits not fostered within the school building. Internet filtering for the most part is in use to provide protection for the school. To avoid community controversy and legal problems schools are expected to use filtering to protect students. As the web expands, the filtering that was in use becomes obsolete quickly. We need to look at better ways to help students access and use Web 2.0 tools safely and effectively.

    We need to stress Digital Citizenship and how important it is for students to develop filtering and blocking that will be within their minds own ethical considerations. A good example to begin with is “The Digital Citizenship Project” that Jon Orech developed for South High School in Downers Grove, IL. Their program of older high school students mentoring younger middle school students will help to develop ethical considerations. Extending this program to an elementary level allowing middle school students to mentor elementary students is a way for students to begin learning internal ethical considerations.

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