Ever since students were given free Chromebooks at the start of the 2015–16 school year, there have been questions regarding new practices, such as what students can access on their Chromebooks, as well as questions about Internet policies that have been in place for years. The IHS Student Council took the initiative to ask Chief Academic Advisor Liddy Coyle and IT Administrator Zachary Lind some questions brought up by IHS students.
Inquiries were raised about how websites are blocked, how students can get them unblocked, the rationale behind the district’s policies, and general Chromebook care. In response to many of these recurring questions, Lind explained that two major software programs are used to block websites: GoGuardian and Lightspeed. These programs blacklist sites that the administration can easily choose to unblock. Any time a student finds that an educational site is blocked, they can request to unblock it through the Chromebook help page that appears upon restarting the computer. Since third-party vendors are used to assist in blocking websites, whenever these programs change which sites they blacklist, the websites students are able to use can also change. This is why an article may be accessible one day and be restricted from access the next.
At home, the websites students access only go through one filter on the Chromebooks, but at school, they also go through another filter on the school WiFi. This is why the sites students can access change when at home versus at school. In regards to why the district uses these programs, the simple answer is that they are forced to follow the Child Internet Protection Safety Act (CIPA). That being said, CIPA has vague guidelines. The main criteria written under the CIPA states that any inappropriate material that minors have access to should be restricted, but this can be interpreted in many different ways. The ICSD Board of Education is willing to bend as much as possible to find a balance between regulations, education, and pleasing students.
Lind and Coyle also responded to many of the concerns students had regarding Chromebook usage and, more commonly, Chromebook breakage. One member of Student Council pointed out that it would be beneficial for students to have an FAQ page that contains answers regarding small problems that students could easily fix on their own, a link to the website unblock form, and more general information regarding district Internet and computer use policy. Such a feature would also be helpful for graduating seniors who wish to preserve documents from the Google Drive linked to their school account. Two to three months after a student graduates, their school email is discontinued, but the district keeps Google Drives on file for seven years after graduation. With an FAQ page, former students could email the district and request two days of access in order to copy files from their old Drive into a personal Drive.
Internet privacy in the school district was also discussed. Nothing ICSD students send in their school emails or search on their Chromebooks is private. Administrators reserve the right to access all of students’ Internet activity. However, this rarely happens and students have little to worry about. The administration does not have the ability, time, or interest to access cameras on the Chromebook, so students do not need to cover up their cameras with stickers.
Student Council also discussed the future of Chromebooks and Internet policy at IHS. One representative brought up the idea of unblocking the video feature of Google Hangouts for study sessions. Student Council unblocked the chat feature earlier this year, but the video feature is still unusable. Both administrators agreed that this would be a feasible course of action.
Coyle and Lind also discussed the future of the devices themselves. The Chromebooks students received in 2015 have a lifespan of three years, and newer, sturdier Chromebooks have already begun replacing the more breakable older model. Lind said that it was possible that Android and Chrome would merge in the next few years, which would mean the future of these devices lies in more touchscreen usage.
Finally, Lind and Coyle mentioned that Chromebooks are here to stay. They said that, although many students complain about the downsides of Chromebooks, the vast majority of students would protest if the program were discontinued. Lind said that Chromebooks are a big factor in preparing students for college and careers that require digital literacy. These skills can only be learned from practice and exposure to such devices.
The biggest lesson that Student Council learned was that the ICSD administration is there to help them. The administrators acknowledged that many restrictions students face can be somewhat ridiculous, but they also have to enforce policy and deal with some situations on a case-by-case basis. Zachary Lind and Liddy Coyle are open to further meetings with small groups of students to continue making changes in Internet and computer use policy.