What are some ways to avoid unsecure and unsafe sites for students and protect or enhance the security system when working with computers?
Blocking inappropriate websites is a process that requires much research on the part of the teacher. For this reason it is best to conduct researches at district level and then at an individual level. Although districts pay tech professionals to manipulate the filters in all web search engines, teachers can also protect students by testing websites, bookmarking them, and reviewing them weekly. There are several ways to go about Internet safety. However, nothing is 100% safe. It all comes down to four possibilities: a) bookmarks, b) engine settings, c) isolated usage, and d) third-party opt-in.
Bookmarking: Prior to teaching a lesson, ensure that you have a bookmarker open with the websites that you have already approved individually for students to conduct their individual research. This way, students can only refer to those websites for their research. Some teachers use Google Chrome, Firefox, or actual bookmarkers such as Read.it. Depending on your personal choice, the key is to get permission to share the bookmarker with students.
Engine settings: If you use Internet Explorer as your search engine, find your "Tools" button and then select "Internet Options", and under "content", you can choose specific sites to which students will not have access. The problem with this temporary solution is that, if your students are tech savvy, they will want to use different search engines to work with. Each search engine has its own process for blocking websites, making the task of blocking sites for each engine a separate job in itself. Since this is something that you would have to do in each computer, the easiest route is still to bookmark prior to teaching.
Isolated usage: Another effective way is to select a safe, school-friendly website such as Gaggle or, if you have permission from the district, open an Edublog or Kidblog account and list the approved websites that students can use. This way, students will work from within an the blog as an "e-classroom" and will not venture out to conduct research in the open Internet. Add each student to the blog and manage their filters as the Blogmaster. In programs such as Gaggle, for example, the teacher gets a copy of every email students send to each other, as well as of the search history. Whenever there is foul language detected, or inappropriate content, the content goes to a spam folder that the teacher can also review. Far from unethical, this practice reminds students that the blog is not to be used for social networking, but for academic achievement. Therefore, everything that takes place on the blog is for the purpose of the class alone.
Third party opt-in- This refers to specific software programs that are designed to block websites for specific purposes. Some search engines such as Firefox offers third party options in the form of downloads that users can use to childproof their computers. Since teachers do not have administrative privileges to download Internet material to government computers, you may need to get a clearance from your IT department. Regardless, it is a fact that districts do (and have to) go the extra mile to protect students from inappropriate content especially in a day and age where such content is easily camouflaged, manipulated and even filtered in even the most safely-guarded attempts.