Watching what pupils watch

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 10:03 18/01/2014
Scott Noakes
DANIEL TOBIN/Fairfax NZ

AT THE CONTROLS: Linewize founder Scott Noakes demonstrates a program to enable safe web-surfing in schools.

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Tech-savvy New Zealand schools are pushing toward "bring your own device" (BYOD) schemes, in which students bring their own laptops or tablets to learn on.

With some schools already listing iPads on their entry-level stationery lists, the Ministry of Education has earmarked $440 million to bring ultrafast broadband and enable BYOD in New Zealand classrooms.

But the scheme is not without its problems, primary among which is maintaining secure internet access for the thousands of students surfing the web on their own devices.

While schools can easily block off-limit sites on their computers, blocking access for students wirelessly connected from their own machines is much more difficult.

"E-learning is a massive part of what schools are trying to do now," says Linewize founder Scott Noakes.

"But when you start sharing your internet connection, you have a duty of care towards the student to make sure that's used in an appropriate way."

For schools, he says, "it's an incredible challenge".

Noakes' product, Surfwize, is a cloud-based service that is installed with a school's existing system, and allows staff visibility and control of every device connecting to the network.

Dael Sutton is the network manager at Burnside High school, which has used Surfwize since mid-2013. With more than 2500 students, Burnside is the largest school in the South Island.

Sutton says they have introduced BYOD for a small subset of students, and will take it wider over the next year.

The school already has around 3000 wireless devices logged on to its network during the day, making more than 30,000 internet connections a second.

"Every device has the ability to access any content, so if that's done through the school's internet connection, we need to make sure that's done in a safe way," Sutton says.

"Schools need to be able to say, we've covered our network off and certain things are inaccessible to children."

But when the school looked at systems to secure the network, Sutton says it faced paying up to $60,000 for a new system, as well as ongoing monthly charges.

Sutton says that "while there are still things on the wishlist," Surfwize has met school's security needs for a fraction of the price.

Surfwize has no fees for installation, setup or equipment.

A monthly fee of $200-$1000, depending on the size of the school, is charged for use of the system.

Noakes says the program solves some of the trickier challenges of BYOD in schools.

As well as blanket-banning inappropriate content, it enables school staff to customise the access of different student groups at different times.

Students are identified by a login process, and access is restricted on a case-by-case basis.

A media studies teacher, for example, can enable a few students to have access to Youtube for the duration of a class. The school can ban Facebook within school hours, but allow access after school.

An online database maintains a log of where people have been, and how they have used the school network. This, Noakes says, "gives visibility of what the most popular sites are, and generally they're the ones that need to be blocked."

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Surfwize is in use at Christchurch Boys' High School, St James' Preschool, and Burnside High School.Three other schools have indicated interest, and are expected to begin trials soon.

Linewize recently received Callaghan Innovation research and development project funding worth $72,000 for Surfwize.

- The Press

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