The Other Side of the Screen
by Caleb Rhodes on Friday, February 6th, 2015
It’s late on a Sunday night. You’re a boarder trying to finish an English essay on Google Docs due the next morning. Suddenly, at 11:00 p.m., the Internet shuts off. A significant part of the student body can empathize with this situation. At first, this disconnect seems counterproductive because a system meant to help students often prevents them from completing their work effectively or on time. Many boarders feel limited by the Internet proxy—some even resent it—but the reality of the proxy and boarders’ Internet restrictions is more complicated than some believe.
Many boarders feel the proxy hinders them in ways that are unnecessary and even detrimental. John Sim (I) says, “We, as students, are independent individuals, and learning how to control yourself is a process you learn in high school. ATS’ blocking stuff is taking away our opportunity to develop our self-regulatory skills.” However, ATS neither directly controls what the proxy blocks nor created the proxy itself; the department implements rules designed by the Administration. The proxy is a program that the school subscribes to, and, as Mr. Price explains, “More complex restrictions are harder to enforce. We want the deans to make policies, so that we can implement them.”
If the proxy blocked a student’s Tumblr, for example, he or she has to “go to an advisor, dean, or the Helpdesk to get a website approved, unless it’s an obvious mis-categorization by the vendor. Then we submit a change to the vendor,” says Mr. Price.
Although many students believe that this year’s Internet restrictions have become stricter and more limiting, ATS disagrees, explaining that it has eliminated multiple restrictions that hindered both students and teachers, such as the social media ban during evening study halls. ATS’ lifting certain restrictions allows faculty to use a software called WebX to host meetings. Prior to ATS’ decision, faculty and students employed alternative methods to access WebX and other software, using VPNs and personal hotspots. Recognizing this error, ATS and Mr. McKenna sought “to make it so people don’t need to use [such] workarounds,” according to Mr. McKenna. The proxy now has fewer restrictions and Wi-Fi has been reconfigured.
In previous years, Milton Academy had as many as five or more different wi-fi signals. Now the school has two: MA-Open and MA-Secure. Anybody within range can connect to MA-Open, since the network does not require login information, but it is more restricted by design than MA-Secure despite its anonymous connectivity. In contrast, MA-Secure has far fewer restrictions. Mr. McKenna estimates that less than half of the student body, including boarders, uses MA-Secure, explaining to some extent the feeling of restriction.
ATS is responsible for protecting the school from viruses and data theft. The proxy represents a tradeoff between students’ freedom and network safety. Because protecting students and sensitive private data is a strenuous task, ATS maintains that security has to take priority over fun and games. At the most basic level, the proxy is programmed to block only hateful, gambling, and pornographic websites. At the same time, Mr. Price concedes, “[Milton’s internet situation] is an ever evolving process.”
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=6755