How I’m Changing My Mind—and Students’ Lives—with New Data
There’s a running joke that Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools offers a private-school education inside a public school. Located just outside Cleveland, a large contributor to our district’s strong state testing performance is Chagrin’s use of technology to build a 21st-century learning environment. Research, creativity, collaboration, adaptation, communication, critical thinking—proficiency in these skills will prepare our students for the future challenges that await them. These skills are what we call our “Great Techspectations,” and they have led us to use Chromebooks 1:1 for our kids in all grade levels.
However, tech is not a replacement for classroom teachers. My colleagues are dedicated educators: the kind who put in extra time with a struggling student. As the Director of Technology, I am also an educator; I’m responsible for the infrastructure and solutions fostering that learning. Just as often as students are learning, so am I. As IT administrators, we must be open to changing our minds based on new information. That’s how we become effective change agents for our students.
I Should Have Seen It Coming
Shortly after we expanded our initial Chromebooks program from one grade level to nine grade levels, I quickly realized how much data I was missing. Picture this: Two weeks into the school year, we’ve just rolled out another 1,200 devices, everything’s going great, and then my brand new wireless network dies at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday. Thirty minutes later, it comes back up, but then the same thing happens on Thursday and Friday. That’s when our internet provider informed me it was a denial of service attack (DoS), specifically targeted at our district. Working with our provider, we looked at all the traffic logs and pinned it down to a student who paid a company in Pakistan $30 for six DoS attacks against us. Apparently, he thought he could get out of history class that way.
That experience taught me I needed a tool to manage more than what Google gave me. While Google provided me with great information on the back end, I needed something on the front end to handle the 1,200 kids and devices we had. We looked at different options in the market, but GoGuardian stood out from the pack.
What separated GoGuardian was its interface, its ease of use, and how quick it was to install. If I used GoGuardian at the time of these DoS attacks, not only would I have had an easier time pinpointing which student was responsible, I could have stopped these attacks from happening altogether.
But more than helping us stay safe, GoGuardian has given me unique insights that have changed my thinking—and challenged assumptions—on IT in education.
Faulty Assumption #1: Parents
A major area where I’ve changed my mind is internet filtering for at-home use.
I take an open approach to filtering at school. As educators, we always talk about giving students an authentic learning experience. In my opinion, if you filter the heck out of the internet, that’s not very authentic. So at Chagrin, we a more open approach. We filter out pornography, gambling, and hateful websites, but we allow sites like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Initially, I took a different approach to filtering for at-home use. Starting in fourth grade, our students take their Chromebooks home at night and on weekends. I didn’t want to overstep my role by telling parents what filters to use at home, because how I parent is not necessarily how they parent. So for year one, we had no home filtering.
But then I realized most parents aren’t equipped to handle filtering at home. At the start of year two, I was asked to investigate three cases of cheating. Though I was not investigating pornography, all three students had pornography in their history. I had assumed if we gave parents filtering options, they would pick filters to match their parenting values, but that assumption proved false. The information in front of me showed that, given options, some parents had no filters at home, even though they wanted to filter major things, like pornography. It turns out our parents want us to use GoGuardian’s home filtering option. They love it.
Faulty Assumption #2: Teachers
Another area where GoGuardian has changed my mind is behavioral issues in the classroom. I’ve used GoGuardian Admin for four years, but we just rolled out GoGuardian Teacher this year. Those first three years, when people complained about students playing games in the classroom or otherwise being off-task, I viewed that as a classroom management issue.
I thought if the teacher was engaging enough, the kids would focus on the material, not play Fortnite. But then in the past year, I did several classroom walkthroughs, and I saw that rockstar teachers still had distracted students. Even in the best classrooms, you will have kids who need extra help staying on task.
Teachers appreciate the ability to redirect a distracted student without bringing it to the attention of the whole class. At a glance, teachers can look at their dashboard and see who’s on task. They can view the tabs open on each student’s device, and can close any unwanted tabs from their device without making a big deal of it.
Teachers also love the Scenes function. If I know that today we’ll only use a few different websites, I’ll add those to a Scene to allow my students access to just those sites for today’s period. Using Scenes limits the potential for distraction.
Faulty Assumption #3: Students
GoGuardian also helps me gain greater visibility into how students spend their time, which I use to help alter their behavior or provide information to their parents. Parents have their own set of assumptions when it comes to educational technology. A common complaint from parents is: “I think the kids are on the Chromebooks too much.” If I see that 75% of a student’s time on the Chromebook is academic, it means that student uses their device for the types of things we want them to be doing: research, creativity, and collaboration. Maybe they’re taking a deep dive on a topic that fascinates them. That’s exactly what we were aiming for when we began this initiative. This kind of data is great for parents, and for the board of education too.
Of course, if we learn a kid spends too much time on games or YouTube, we also now have data to back up those statements, and we can use that data to come up with solutions.
Making a Difference: the Future Is AI
The beauty of GoGuardian is that we don’t just make an impact on the academic side of students’ lives. We also help them as human beings. I know for a fact that GoGuardian’s AI-driven Smart Alerts for self-harm monitoring helps save lives. The number of self-harm cases Smart Alerts turned up at our schools surprised me. These were not false positives; these kids truly struggled emotionally.
Within a five-minute span, one student at our school searched “how to be happy,” “how to tie a noose,” and “how to kill myself without my family being sad.” As heartbreaking as that is to read, it’s information we need to know. Every time we call home to talk to parents about this, the parents have been so thankful. When we called this child’s parents, we learned this student was on medication that could cause dark thoughts. Knowing about these thoughts meant they needed to adjust the dosage.
Again, tech isn’t a replacement for educators. The person making a difference is that administrator calling the parents, or that teacher who sits down with the kid and asks, “Do you want to talk?” Sometimes, that conversation is all a kid needs. Smart Alerts gives us new information so we can act on it.
I see how Admin 2.0 uses artificial intelligence to analyze the content of a screen, and as useful as that is, what really excites me is thinking about future applications for how this could help struggling students. We know students have different learning styles. What if, for example, we could better personalize a student’s education, using AI to scour Khan Academy or YouTube for material better suited to visual learners? We’re already headed in that direction. I expect to see more data-driven programs helping us fill those gaps.
As I look to the future, my dream is that, 20 years from now, a former student comes back to Chagrin Falls and says, “You made a difference in my life.” I hope that the choices I make an as IT leader positively impact student learning. IT truly has power in what it enables, not in what it controls. As a Director of Technology, I’m not looking for a way to say “no.” I’m looking for the best way to say “yes.” I’m searching for the greatest insight to help my students get to where they need to be.