Maryland School Employs Silent Watch to Monitor Students' Computer Use

School administrators and business owners now have a new tool that enables them to ensure that computers are being used for their designed purposes.

Bowie (Md.) High School has purchased Silent Watch surveillance software, which enables a network administrator to monitor the use of up to 49 computers in real time from one monitor. The software is produced by Adavi Inc., Dunkirk, Md.

Silent Watch can detect and then alert a school administrator or business manager to objectionable or offensive content and misuse of equipment, said Roy Young, vice president of sales and a part owner of Adavi. The product uses a network log, keystroke log and URL log to monitor each computer. Administrators also can enter terms into a dictionary that will be detected.

The product is capable of freezing computers when a user has entered an inappropriate area or word. The terminal only can be unfrozen when the administrator enters a password. Incoming and outgoing e-mail can also be monitored.

"The Internet is a great educational tool, but there are concerns about it because there are sections that are really inappropriate for children," Young said. "With our product, if a student needs to do research on breast cancer, health care issues or sexual diseases, the remote blocker can be turned off at the control mechanism for that one student, and then turned back on with one click."

Bowie High School administrators used the product for the last month of the school year and were pleased with its performance, said vice principal John Birckhead. "It's such a positive program because it monitors what's in our system. We're not out to catch a crook but to make sure that our computers are being used for educational purposes."

Birckhead said a few students were caught off guard when a teacher, principal or the dean came to their classroom and asked them why they had just attempted to access a certain World Wide Web site that wasn't related to lesson being taught. "I went down and asked them why they had gone in that direction," he said. "They were very surprised."

Both Young and Birckhead said they did not view the use of Silent Watch as an invasion of privacy but rather as insurance that computers are being used for intended purposes. "These computers are supposed to be used in an educational environment, not private use," Birckhead said of the more than 90 computers being used by the school's 2,700 students. "They have the permission of the institution to use the equipment, and there is a curriculum to be followed."

"Silent Watch ensures that educational purposes and productivity are being performed in a system," Young said.

The product is available from Adavi at $100 per computer. The viewer-side application is free, and even if a company or school requests more viewer applications than clients, it is not a problem, Young said.

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