The Technology Department in the Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) is involved in managing technology in nearly every aspect of daily operations and instruction. The school district has a goal to help students become educated in the area of computer science as creators and innovators, not simply tech-savvy consumers. Leaders at MCSD believe it is crucial to keep technology capabilities in our students’ hands whenever possible and appropriate. In a world of fast-moving technological advancements, it is essential our students understand how to safely use technology. Therefore, one of the Technology Department’s most important priorities is to help keep kids safe while using technology.
In order to monitor student device and digital account usage, we have implemented tools such as GoGuardian, which filters out websites deemed inappropriate or harmful, and Bark, which monitors messaging on each Chromebook. These monitoring services continue to operate no matter where a student’s device is being used, whether on-site and off-site.
GoGuardian is a cloud website filtering service that allows the district to block certain categories that have been deemed inappropriate by district leadership. The district has also implemented a new system called GoGuardian Teacher which allows teachers to manage and monitor students’ Chromebooks. Teachers can view students’ screens, further filter Chromebooks to temporarily disallow distracting websites, and help engage students by pushing websites directly to student devices.
We also use a message monitoring platform called Bark to monitor Google Email and Chat messages. The categories Bark scans for include, but are not limited to: expressing self-harm/suicidal thoughts, buying/selling/taking illicit drugs, nudity/explicit content, bullying, and communicating with online predators.
If any of these categories are detected, Bark notifies specific school staff through a dashboard where they can see alerts. Once Bark has notified the appropriate school staff member, that staff member follows up with the student and/or the student’s family, and we have a record within Bark that the situation has been addressed and that a conversation took place.
The wonderful monitoring tools are helpful to keep kids safe; however, we also train teachers to ensure student behavior as it relates to technology is addressed. Our District trains teachers in a proactive approach called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) to first try to teach expectations and publicly acknowledge students who are meeting those expectations while rewarding them with a point in our PBIS system.
Using this approach, if a teacher notices inappropriate use of technology by a student, the teacher may redirect the student and remind them of expectations, including re-teaching those expectations. If inappropriate behavior continues, the teacher may inform the student of consequences for such behavior.
If necessary, a teacher may then follow through with appropriate and reasonable consequences, such as moving the student closer to the teacher, ensuring the device’s screen is visible to the teacher, having the device set on the teacher’s desk until it is time to use it, and/or random checks of the device’s history. As last resorts, temporary loss of the device, parent contact and, potentially, a behavior referral – which can lead to the device being listed as “highly-restricted” – may result from continued inappropriate technology use.
MCSD teachers work hard to ensure students are on-task and engaged in learning while in class. There are many ways in which teachers maintain an enriching learning environment. Highly-engaging lessons, having students keep their devices closed when they are not using them in class, and moving through the classroom to both engage with students and ensure classroom expectations are followed are a few examples.
Student safety is our first priority at MCSD, and our policies and practices related to technology exemplify that focus on safety. Those policies and practices have been, and remain, a top priority for the District Technology Department. We are so proud of the cutting edge technology we provide our students and are working diligently to ensure students are safe and educated in the area of computer science as creators and innovators to help fulfill our mission of developing learners pursue a meaningful future.
Amy Harmsen is the Director of Technology the Marshalltown Community School District and has over a decade of experience in educational technology. Harmsen is passionate about providing access to content for all students through technology and working with staff to leverage technology in order to transform learning.