In 2002, Maine began providing laptops to all middle school students (see Maine Students Hit the IBooks). This month, the state extended the program to include all high school students. This raises a question that I have not yet seen being discussed in print – how will the students’ Internet usage during the school day be monitored?
Yes, there are tools available to block Web sites, either through the browser or through a router, but some tech-savvy high school students could easily find workarounds to these measures.
Here’s why Cisco NetFlow could be the solution for school administrators.
NetFlow can notify network administrators if anyone is trying to gain access to blocked sites. With routers and switches that support Cisco’s NetFlow technology, and an application such as Plixer’s Scrutinizer NetFlow Analyzer with the Flow Analytics add-on, you can monitor Web sites visited and also certain traffic patterns and send alerts to the network administrator.
With the Flow Analytics tool, for example, you can have “allowed” domains and “not allowed” domains, so if there is any traffic to or from a “not allowed” domain, an alert will be generated. For example, a student is on Facebook during class. Facebook is not in the “allowed” list of domains. An alert would be generated, including the IP address of the offender. At this point, the offender is easily identified and can be addressed personally.
Another example is students constantly using instant messenging applications during class time. This network traffic can also be monitored, with both the source and destination addresses included in the alert, again pointing to the students violating the policies.
Also available in the Flow Analytics module is the Top Domains gadget. This tool displays the top source and destination domains on the Internet, i.e. the sites that are most visited. Are these the “allowed” domains, or are they sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or online game sites?
There are tools available to monitor students’ use of laptops in schools. Let’s just hope that monitoring their usage doesn’t become a full-time job for the network administrators, but rather the laptops are used as intended – a tool to help them excel in the 21st century.