Australian schools flock to new internet management gateway

Blue Reef eliminates need for blocking sites, monitors student internet usage

The need for greater flexibility and striking a balance between privacy of students and a duty of care have been two of the reasons behind the deployment of a new education-focused internet management gateway, three IT managers have said.

The deployment of Blue Reef’s Sonar internet platform at Saint Ignatius' College, Grace Lutheran College and St Peters Girls' School came about for different reasons at each of the schools, with St Ignatius College Riverview’s head of ICT, Peter Anderson, saying his school made the move after previous software reached the end of life.

Head of IT at Grace Lutheran College, Peter Kellet, said his school was looking to upgrade from an open source platform while gaining extra technical support.

“We had an open source solution previously that was quite heavily customised on the site,” he said. “… the benefits of the [Blue Reef] solution, is that there is much more support available.”

Network manager at St Peters Girls' School, Shayne Harmsen, said the appeal for him was in Blue Reef’s remote filing system.

“The first reason we selected Sonar was not for its firewall security type stuff that it does do, but for its remote filing system,” he said. “What that enabled us to do is to allow our students and staff to access their internal home drives in a browser.”

The platform is primarily a self-service portal that allows staff, students and guests to monitor their internet usage and track compliance against a school’s internet terms-of-use.

Across each of the three schools, the Blue Reef filtering system took a minimal amount of time to implement, with all three IT managers saying the process took two to three days.

“We planned a lot of that in advance and we were doing it on virtual machines rather than physical hardware,” Anderson said.

Harmsen said while the implementation was brief, some further editing was needed after this.

“Obviously there is a lot of tweaking for the next few months to edit it down,” he said.

Anderson said he chose to use Blue Reef because of the direction the company was heading in and its usability.

“It ticks off a lot of our boxes,” he said. “We had commenced using content filtering with another provider in the cloud and while that actually could be shown to work, there were quite a few hassles with it.”

Anderson said the platform could be viewed as a key element in the classroom of the future and a viable alternative to blocking students from accessing certain sites.

“We wanted to decrease the blocking but increase the value of the monitoring so that a parent has a pretty good handle on what their child is doing,” he said.

The Blue Reef platform looks at the time each student spends on a certain website, Anderson said.

“One of the things not very well done by anyone, and that’s because it’s hard to do, is to not look only at download quantity on sites, but also look at the time [a student] spent on the site,” he said.

“Educationally, blocking isn’t the greatest thing in the world. It’s a bit like saying ‘anything we think isn’t good for a student, we try to completely make it impossible for them to get near it'.

"… when they rock into uni, they aren’t going to have everything blocked for them, so we need to gradually prepare them about how to work in an environment where there are things that they need to avoid.”

Kellet agreed that the platform suits the classroom of the future, with information collected about students being done both at home and school when students are using a school computer.

“The solution by Blue Reef filters content not only on campus but at home,” he said. “We’re trying to provide some form of security for parents where students have their own devices that might work across several networks.”

The issue of technology in schools was discussed at a Dell education roundtable last year, with IT leaders and education officials agreeing that technology is still being viewed in a Web 1.0 paradigm by many educators.

Follow Lisa Banks on Twitter: @CapricaStar

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