A look at how students’ online and offline activity is monitored.
BY EZRA LIU ’24
In 2015, a new Digital Conversion Plan was presented to the Upper Arlington Board of Education. It was the start of a new policy, one that greatly expanded the technological offerings of the district and introduced a new “One Student One Device” policy. Later that year, students in grades 6-12 would receive laptops for the first time; and those laptops, like any other school offering, came with specific regulations and rules to follow.
Today, some rules can be found in the Student Device Handbook. It includes a myriad of different warnings: don’t put stickers on your iPad itself (although the case may be decorated), keep the device out of extreme temperatures and keep it off the floor, where the device may be tripped over. A majority of the rules are to clarify how iPads should be used — particularly in cases which could potentially involve damage where the school may be required to replace a broken device. A different set of regulations, however, can be found in a separate document called the Technology Acceptable Use Policy For Students.
This document, implemented eight years before personal technology was introduced to students, applies to a broader range of what the district defines as “Technology Resources.” This category includes everything from iPads and laptops to copy machines, as well as school provided internet and information storage devices, and is under an additional set of regulations. According to the Acceptable Use Policy, “the School District reserves the right to monitor, inspect, copy, review and store at any time and without prior notice any and all usage of Technology Resources and any and all [additional communications and content] received or stored in connection with this usage, and to use such content for any legal purpose.” Later, it also gives power to network administrators to review and intercept files in order to ensure that technology is being used appropriately.
SURFING THE WEB
Denise Lutz is the Chief Technology Officer for UA Schools and one of the network administrators described in the Acceptable Use Policy. One situation where she reviews student files is when an alert system powered by Lightspeed Relay (a program which is also responsible for filtering online websites and content), sends her a report when certain keywords appear on a device in the network.
“Whether it’s in the Google environment, in an email, in a Google Doc… when there’s talk about maybe dying, or talk about suicide, or talk about killing, those red flag [words] are picked up by the system and I get an alert,” Lutz said.
Lutz said that a vast majority of the time the alerts were part of a school related activity, in which case the report is filed away. If not, she sends it to the school administration and family to ensure the safety of the student.
Recently, parents were also given access to the Lightspeed Relay system. They receive an email each week which allows them to view students’ history over the last week. This includes a description of search history and actions on the internet. They are also given an option to create an account which allows them to view information on their children from the Lightspeed Relay system live.
Apple Classroom, an Apple product which allows teachers to monitor students’ screens in the classroom, is also a way to monitor student activity. Teachers can view, redirect or lock student screens though the app, which works off of Bluetooth connections. When this connection is severed, usually around 30 feet away from the connecting device (or outside of a classroom), teachers lose access to the tool. Use of Apple Classroom is designated by a blue indicator in the upper right corner of the iPad screen for students.
The final way the school can monitor student devices is through network tracking. Lutz said that service is used sparingly, usually only in instances where a device was lost. In that case, the school can use its mobile device management system, which allows the school to see the last time an iPad was connected to a network. This can give them an understanding of the last time the iPad was used, judging by the type of connection.
TECH THE HALLS
In the last few weeks, E-Hallpass came to light as another example of one way the school uses technology to attempt to improve an older way of keeping track of student activity. E-Hallpass is an app found inside Classlink for students, which can be used by students and administrators to write passes for students to be out of class. It attempts to replace traditional means of a paper and pencil system or passless excuses.
E-Hallpass offers several different features, including different types of passes. Teachers can set up systems to allow students varying levels of freedom, including allowing students to self-select a pass and leave the class without asking the teacher at all. Other options range from a specific teacher written pass to use a communal space, or a student written and teacher approved pass for a variety of different locations. Students, teachers and administrators can also select ‘favorite’ locations which students frequent. Teachers and substitute teachers will be given a pin number to dismiss students on student devices, while teachers of a specific class will be able to dismiss their students from their personal device.
The app also offers administrative features, including limiting the amount of students that can be in a certain area at once, or preventing certain students from being dismissed to the same area at once. Vice Principal Nikole James described the feature as an addition to steps the school already takes for specific students.
“There’s things we do here administratively with scheduling, to make sure that they’re in different classes, but this would then also give us the ability to ensure those kids never have a pass at the same time,” she said.
James said the reason for implementing the program was a response to a “strong demand from staff to get some clarification on if a kid has a pass, and how do we know if that kid has arrived [at their destination] or is just wandering the halls.”
Security was also an important consideration, James said: “There’s some safety concerns there as an administrator, that we just want to ensure we know where our kids are.” She also cited benefits of the program, such as clarification for use of huddle spaces and easier ways for students to set up scheduled passes. James said a planned student rollout and training would begin on Nov. 9.
“Our goal is that this is the universal system starting second semester, and we know that when kids are trained Nov. 9 we hope there’s going to be an increase of usage after that… but we want to be mindful, we know it’s a big change so we want to give [students and staff] time to ease into it,” James said. “There’s going to be time before it gets into a rhythm of use.” She also said that in her previous experience with the program, students often found it easier to use than the traditional system.
James also said the program is a way to add on to the many other ways the school aims to protect students. “When we think about all of our district initiatives of ways to keep kids safe, ways to incorporate technology into our infrastructure and our building and [incorporate] innovation, this is where this platform really brings in all those things and brings us to the modern day era. I think it solves a lot of problems we’ve had,” she said.
The sentiment was also echoed by Lutz, who described the role of the technology department in defending students. “Our department is focused on protecting our network [for students]… just making sure that everyone stays safe.” She reiterated that it’s important to be careful, particularly for students on the internet, and to be vigilant of how their information is used.