By Rabbi Akiva Fleischmann
As someone who has recently started to take over the EdTech roles in my school, I am always looking for ways that I can have the most impact on our school culture overall. While there are countless avenues to pursue, the one that I have been most excited about this year has been GoGuardian, and I would love to tell you a little bit about it.
[Disclaimer: If there are no chromebooks in your school, this article might not be for you. If you are considering getting them down the road, I encourage you to read on about an app you should be installing from the outset on all your devices.]
At its essence, GoGuardian is an extremely robust content filter that you install on all the chromebooks in your fleet using the Google admin console. While your school can and should have a separate firewall and content filter on the network as a whole, this filter lets you more simply and accurately apply various filters and monitor the activity happening on any chromebook at any given time.
At our school, every student is given a google username, like Student.Studentson@g.fuchsmizrachi.org. I have filed every student is filed into their grade and division inside the Organizational Structure (OU), and every user in our school has the GoGuardian app force-installed at the user level. This allows for the app to work on any device any student signs in to, from class to class (we’re not totally 1:1 chromebook:student ratio just yet here).
When I open the app on my computer, I get a snapshot of system activity that looks like this:
This allows for a quick view of what kids are up to, such as top videos viewed and sites visited, as well as Smart Alerts for things like self-harm. I can also see which students are getting flagged the most and look into that individual student’s activity. The System AI (Artificial Intelligence) is still learning, so it doesn’t know not to flag Wikipedia articles about terrorism that are obviously for research, but it gets better and better as it learns.
For any severe flags, I get an automatic email with the details. In fact, as I am writing this, an email just popped on my screen flagging some activity that the system thinks is questionable:
Granted, the AI is not always on target, which is why every system needs a human like me at the helm to filter out the real threats/inappropriate usages from the fake, but the fact that it assists me in being on top of all of these occurrences is a huge help. It lets me do all my other work and only alert division heads when something is warranted. In the case above, I can reasonably assume that this 11th grader is researching something for a Humanities class, and not looking to go to Oregon to take drastic action. In other cases, kids are googling inappropriate memes, images, etc. and I would forward that email to their respective division head.
So where do these flags come from and how does the content filter work? Well, as I mentioned, GoGuardian uses the OU in your google domain to work. You can do things like set a policy for your overall domain that applies to everyone; at Fuchs, however, we have kids from Grades 1-12 using the chromebooks, and one policy is not perfect for every division or grade. As you can see in the image below, I can make as many policies as I want inside the system:
Once I make those policies, I can then apply them to the different OUs that I have created at school:
When we met about this, the high school felt that they wanted certain restrictions relaxed, as their students are older and need access to more types of content, so you can see above that the high school OUs have the high school filter on them. (I know it looks like junior high has no filter, but that’s because each grade has a separate one, so the putting a filter on the main junior high OU would propagate to 6th, 7th and 8th grade in the same way, when different grades require different content filtering. Same for the LS Rooms.)
Exactly what types of content does this filter? Well, it does your basic content filtering for bad keywords inside URLs, search terms, etc., but it also lets you add or subtract whatever you want to the policy of your making under “block” or “allow”:
Above, you can see website URL keyword filters, and below is entire categories of websites that you can block.
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of filtering by policy is their YouTube Filter. I can’t extol its virtues highly enough. You can do things like block entire YouTube categories, such as music and sports, if you don’t want kids looking up inappropriate music videos and highlights from last night’s game. You can also block by search keyword or even the exact URL. Of course, you can also use all of these methods to unblock videos as well. When a video is blocked by a particular category, you can allow videos by URL at the request of teacher and/or students. The same goes for individual websites.
What I really love about the Youtube filter is that, as you can see below, you can disable the sidebar that suggests other videos (which are often inappropriate), and the entire comments section (which is often full of trolls), even if comments are enabled by the uploader.
The filter also allows you to look up individual users and see what they are up to at any given time:
This is useful for when someone might not be getting flagged but should be spending their time more wisely. This student lookup also features a full internet and watched-video history search as well, so there is a record of everything the students do. You can export reports to PDF for specific date ranges, should the need arise.
Like all truly awesome things, it is not free. However, I feel that it is very modestly priced given how robust and far-reaching the service is. If you can get other schools to sign up with you as well, the lovely team at GoGuardian can be negotiated with as well.
One final note: Of course, a content filter is not something to be taken lightly, and the administration should be in the loop and fully on board before something like this is implemented. The use and necessity of this filter should be able to stand up to any criticism and should be thoughtfully implemented and framed for the faculty, parents, and teachers at your institutions.