Question of the Month: Where to draw the WiFi line?
Most schools have internal wireless networks so that teachers and students can save and grab data, files and use Web resources at will without resorting to plugging in an Ethernet cable. But, where do you draw the line on student and teacher access? Is logging onto FaceBook OK to see what friends are up to? What about reading and writing Twitter Tweets? So, the question at hand is where do you draw the line on personal WiFi use at schools and how do you enforce it?
As we developed our wireless strategy we built into the plan the ability to deliver role-based access. Our Guest Wireless (WiFi) allows anyone within range of our access points to connect to our wireless and browse the Internet under the control of our content filter. It works much like WiFi at a coffee shop or restaurant.
Our managed wireless allows administrators or teachers to access their network service through a secure wireless. This also allows us to deliver applications or content filtering to a specific user on both our wired and wireless networks.
There is an on-going debate between those that want everything to be open and those that want very little to be open. Riding in the middle of this is difficult because I see both side of the debate, but am keenly aware of the legal issues. Since the teacher’s Union in Ohio came out against teacher’s having a Facebook account last year the requests to have this open have died out. We do open Facebook for School Resource Officers and Administrator’s, but not for teachers or students. As for Twitter we don’t open it for anyone.
The use of data plans on hand held devices is a very interesting area for us. At this point we have not attempted to block data access, but the question about “could we” has come up. We do know that at any given time we have 300+ non-district owned devices on our WiFi and an untold number connecting via cell signals.
I could foresee the day when we provide very limited wireless connectivity because the students all have a personal data plan. We would not be able to erate these or force content filtering, but it may come down to this as our budgets continue to shrink.
Director of Technology Services
In our district we do not allow open access to social media sites. Instead of throwing the doors open to whatever may be out there in the world of social media that has nothing to do with education we chose, instead, to make these types of services available through a district managed service that allows teachers and students to use Web 2.0 tools, but in a manner that focuses the attention on instruction.
What we have found since opening these services in a safe and controlled manner is students using them in thoughtful and creative ways. Additionally, our district has a Board of Education policy that prohibits teacher-to-student contact through social media except in certain specific instances, such as a family or other appropriate social relationship.
The use of wireless networks on schools continues to evolve. It used to be that schools could install a wireless network, provide the password to staff and students, and everyone was fairly happy. Schools could change the password frequently and prevent access if a problem developed. Sounds pretty simple, right?
However, as wireless network devices become more readily available to the general public, the effect on schools is being felt. I recently purchased an iPad and then invested in a wireless network device from my mobile cell phone carrier. The size of the wireless device is like that of a fat credit card. I am able to put it in my pocket and have wireless network access wherever I go – in stores to compare prices, check sports scores, check the stock market, find restaurants, and numerous other tech-related activities. Since I was able to purchase such a device, students are able to do the same.
This presents a situation where it is impossible for teachers to know when and if it is happening at school. When looking at this issue from an educational perspective, I support the use of these technologies in schools. The challenge it presents for educators is first to realize the access students have to wireless technology and then embrace and use it for educational purposes. This will require re-thinking on the part of teachers as they prepare lesson plans. Instead of focusing on how schools can regulate whether students access wireless technology, teachers and other school officials should collaborate with their students to incorporate these same technologies into their lesson plans to serve an enhanced educational purpose – lessons with which the students can identify and from which they can learn what we as adults believe they need to learn to be successful.
In the areas that we have WiFi access to students, we apply the same filtering as we do to our own devices. Students are expected to use that connection for learning and school purposes only.
This means that students cannot access twitter, Facebook, email, game sites etc. To enforce these rules we use a software filtering solution called LightSpeed. School Internet access by students own devices is still subject to the same rules and regulations as any other device on our network.