Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is Your Child's School Keeping Up With Technology?

For the last couple of years I've been wondering about the MOE's (Ministry of Education) content filtering offerings. For a long time now, schools have had 2 options - Schoolzone and Watchdog.

Schoolzone has offered total solutions involving email and being an ISP (Internet Service Provider). And it was relevant... was... Why "was"? Schoolzone offered a great big giant proxy. Not sure what a proxy is? Basically a proxy server caches content. It was relevant for slower connections. If multiple users were requesting the same information, then all subsequent requests (after the first) would download the content from the proxy server rather than the website in question. This would make things faster.

The speeds offered by Schoolzone, in most cases, are no longer relevant to today's Internet. Furthermore, the configuration requirements of each machine presents a real usability issue. I have to question the role of proxy servers overall. The big ticket items, such as youtube, actively make caching their content difficult. So the savings by using a proxy server are minimal at best. Even if you find a solution for youtube videos now, chances are, a few months down the track, you'll be looking for a new way to circumvent youtube's latest anti-caching measure.

And Watchdog? Watchdog's free offering only really offered for a very generic filter. In an ideal world, school's would realise that Watchdog offered a great fallback position but that some sort of onsite filtering might also be required. I don't know of any school who also have some transparent (i.e. proxyless) filtering in place.

Otherwise, Watchdog is pretty good. BUT, is also no longer relevant to toady's Internet speeds. The solution implemented by Watchdog doesn't seem to be keeping up with faster connections and is actually presenting somewhat of a bottleneck. Meaning that even if a school is paying for a fairly fast connection, chances are pretty good that their content filtering via Watchdog is holding that connection back. I've got to credit Watchdog - they seem to be attempting to keep up but so far I've been unimpressed by their offerings (moving servers into the school but failing to scale these servers according to need appropriately).

So I guess this is the bit where I bring this back to a social issue. If content filtering is causing us so many woes, is it time to:
  • Start looking for other solutions?
  • Take this as an opportunity to teach our kids "Cyber Safety"/"Cyber Smarts"/"Cyber Intelligence"? (and yes, I know, loads of people have an objection to the term cyber... get over it. Smarts and Intelligence have some sex appeal. Watching a guy strap himself up before getting on a chair to change a light bulb was never appealing in the least).

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