Internet Monitoring Software Keeps PACE-Brantley Hall School's Students Online, In-Line

Internet use is a part of many students' daily routines, in part because today's children have grown up with computers. Computers are integrated into their communication habits and are used to help students work more efficiently. Web access in the classroom has a dark side, however, when Internet use becomes Internet abuse.

This was undoubtedly the rationale behind the E-Rate stipulation that requires participating schools to monitor or filter objectionable content on networks that serve students. It was E-Rate funding concerns that initially caused PACE-Brantley Hall School (www.pacebrantleyhall.org), a nonprofit, independent K-12 school for children with learning differences in Longwood, Fla., to search for a software program that would control what people were doing on the school network.

James Glase, network administrator for PACE-Brantley Hall School, says, "When we implemented our LAN, we opened a huge door to the outside world that allowed people in and out of our network transparently." Glase realized he needed to find a software solution that would safeguard the school network from abuse, while protecting the students who use the Internet for legitimate study purposes.

Protecting Users

Glase found the solution with Pearl Echo, an Internet monitoring software program that is designed to watch the Internet activity of multiple PCs from a central location. Pearl Echo tracks most forms of Internet communication, including Web, e-mail, chat, instant messaging, file transfers and newsgroup postings. The program communicates network activity through reports that provide details such as the top Internet users on a network and the amount of time they spend online. Furthermore, reports show the most frequented Web sites, e-mail transactions, newsgroup postings, file transfers and chat groups.

In addition to monitoring Internet activity, Pearl Echo can block users from visiting specified Internet content. PACE-Brantley Hall School, for example, uses the pre-configured "block-and-allow" list that accompanies every purchase of Pearl Echo. Block-and-allow lists help the software by blocking offensive Web sites and allowing sites that are educational. With Pearl Echo, a network administrator can add, edit and delete Web sites from the block-and-allow list as needed. The software provides keyword filtering, as well as filtering for e-mail, chat room conversations, instant messages and newsgroup postings according to a predefined set of keywords.

Helping Children Learn

Although Glase initially set up the software as a provision of the E-Rate program, he soon discovered that the school network was being used for activities that had nothing to do with school. "After we installed the software, we found out that . . . many of the sites being visited were anything but educational in nature."

Shortly after installing the software, two students decided to challenge the system. Despite signing a comprehensive Internet use agreement, the program revealed that the students had visited forbidden Web sites. After a verbal warning, one of the students again violated the agreement and was expelled.

School administrators learned that Pearl Echo could also alleviate the risk of potential legal liabilities. For instance, an incident occurred where a teacher was accessing inappropriate Web content for which the teacher was reprimanded. Without the monitoring software, the teacher's actions would have gone unnoticed and the school could have been held liable if someone had complained about the teacher's online activities.

One of Pearl Echo's features that particularly impressed Glase was its ability to set varying levels of restrictions for different user groups. Because the program can be set to allow Internet access at certain times of the day, the school's students are provided Internet access from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., while teachers are allowed access all day. Teachers are also allowed special access, such as limited online shopping privileges, which students are not.

In addition to pinpointing network abusers by user name, Pearl Echo recognizes each computer's "MAC address," which is a unique ID embedded into a computer's hardware. Thus, a network administrator can prove that a particular machine was used to visit a forbidden site or send unauthorized e-mail. Glase can then compare this information with teachers' classroom computer logs to track down offenders.

Although Glase finds Pearl Echo easy to use, he says it would be difficult for students to hack. "When Pearl Echo is running on a computer, it is transparent to the user," he says. "The software resides on a restricted server so there is virtually no way a student could gain access to disable the program."

While students were obviously happier when they could freely roam the World Wide Web, PACE-Brantley Hall School administrators and parents now rest assured that there are controls in place to protect children online. "I'm not Big Brother," says Glase. "I am just making sure that the school network is used for what it was originally intended - helping children learn."

Contact Information
Pearl Software
(800) PEARL-96
www.pearlecho.com

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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