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The Current

Mixed feelings over new chromebook security

Junior Caleb Lowry’s chromebook is restricted by the newly installed security program, GoGuardian. Photo by Makenna Hensley.

Many students have already noticed that a new program has been installed on their Chromebooks: an extension called GoGuardian. Although no information was given at the time of installation, many Bruins quickly learned that GoGuardian was a security program that allows any teacher to observe the school-owned laptops during class time. Why, though, was this program installed, and how much does it really help the school?

Physics teacher Peter Gammelgard is one teacher who believes that GoGuardian has improved the learning environment in his classroom. He detailed his experience with the program for the Current.

“Often what happens is, if I give students time to work, a few students take their Chromebooks out, and, at a glance, I can see students playing games, shopping for motocross gear, but also having a tab open of Schoology or Google Drive,” he said. “All it would take was one time where I would close the tab, and they would be be aware that they were being monitored.”

Mr. Gammelgard uses GoGuardian to get students on task, rather than punish them, so that their school experience is optimized rather than made uncomfortable. As he pointed out, GoGuardian really isn’t too much of an increase in student surveillance.

“A lot of students don’t realize that their search history is recorded on Chromebooks,” he said. “We could always have looked to see how they were spending their time, but now it is quickly accessible, and that quick response helps a lot.”

Junior Connor Ronka corroborated Gammelgard’s statement that many of GoGuardian’s features have flown under the radar, or, rather, were not announced to students.

“Well, considering I never knew about it before [my friend] discovered it, I don’t know [if it’s helping the school],” he said. “I don’t have enough information on the subject to answer that. Although, I’ve never been called out by a teacher from being on a tab or something, so I guess it’s being used responsibly.”

He continued, explaining his potential concerns.

“I think all of my teachers are really great people, so I’m not concerned with them, but, if there was some random teacher using it to spy on you … Well, I can totally understand it being used for school, but, if it’s possible to access GoGuardian during … free time, then I’d be concerned,” he said.

Other students were clearly more perturbed about the impact of the new security system.

“It blocked,” said Senior Asa O’Callaghan. “That’s all I have to say on the matter. It’s promoting a surveillance state.”

Junior Justin Roberts elaborated on the possible issues that might arise.

“I find the idea of GoGuardian an intriguing method to stop misuse of school Chromebooks,” he said. “But, then it comes down to privacy. If teachers are allowed to just snoop on a student’s Chromebook usage at any time they feel it necessary, and then close down what they’ve been doing, [GoGuardian] seems to be an annoyance for every student.”

Roberts made it clear that he views GoGuardian as a potential advancement, albeit a heavy-handed one.

“I believe it’s a great attempt at security, but it might need to go back to the workshop for it to be better suited to the students who worry about privacy,” he concluded.

In the end, it’s clear that there will always be concerns with any new technology designed to observe people’s usage of time. It’s been long known that there is a problem with students using school equipment for non-school activities, and the district has the right to try experimental programs on their own devices. GoGuardian is a possible step toward a much more streamlined school experience, where actual people monitor students instead of clumsy internet filters, but there is evidently more streamlining that needs to be done. For one, neither students nor parents were notified about the new software, and teachers were not trained to use it; many teachers at Bear River still haven’t touched GoGuardian in their classrooms. Once all of the wrinkles are ironed out, though, it will be crucial for the school to monitor closely the balance between keeping students on task and providing a school environment where they feel respected and happy. While education quality matters at Bear River, school culture does too, and it remains to be seen how an increase in surveillance will affect the latter.

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Mixed feelings over new chromebook security