Technology could be the solution as well as the problem. Many schools use blocking software – from the parental controls in modern operating systems and web browsers to dedicated internet-blocking packages such as Cyber Patrol and Net Nanny.
Critics point out that stringent censorship of terms and URLs can filter out acceptable educational resources. They argue that a better solution is to promote a sense of responsibility in children, while monitoring the decisions they make. Monitoring software offers pupils the freedom they need to make their own mistakes, while enabling schools to effectively police unacceptable behaviour.
These arguments are gaining recognition. October 2007 saw Forensic Software's Policy Central Enterprise computer usage monitoring software rolled out as part of London Grid For Learning, an education-focused initiative. This software, which monitors computer activity on the web, instant messaging, email and other applications, is being put in place to support antibullying operations across 2,600 London schools.
Policy Central is a customisable system that's designed to let educators enforce acceptable-use policies for all computer users in a school. It can monitor for various kinds of unacceptable behaviour, including sexist, racist and homophobic remarks. The software will watch for misuse, then track, monitor and keep a record of the incident. It’s currently available for Windows only, but similar products for monitoring Windows Mobile clients and Macs are in the pipeline.
It’s a powerful solution. It doesn’t just watch information transmitted using the internet - it also monitors all screen content and keyboard activity, and can check compressed files and data held on external drives, including USB flash drives. The software refers to libraries of keywords related to bullying (those alluding to pornography, swearing and violence, for example) and allows teachers to define specific words and phrases to watch out for.
Next page: Monitoring, privacy and a change of culture