The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was enacted by Congress in 2000 to address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content over the internet. The law requires all CIPA-compliant schools or libraries to take technological measures in their school managed network and devices.
Apart from the regulations, K-12 schools often have to consistently monitor and deal with numerous student mischief with a modern technology-enabled educational environment. Every coin has two sides. We benefit from the accessibility of new features of cloud services that improve work / study productivity. Some students misuse the new features for playful and harmful ways that adversely interrupt the classroom and disturb other students.
This paper outlines our Safe Doc service to help schools manage and protect students from misusing cloud services features. Safe Doc focuses on addressing problems on Google Workspace for Education.
A Brief History of Google Workspace for Education
Since the initial releases of the educational app suite (Google Apps for Education) in 2006, Google has entrenched in the educational market by offering low-cost Chromebooks and free apps to schools. Google has rebranded its web app suite a few times, Google Apps for Education, G Suite for Education and Google Workspace for Education.
The Google Workspace for Education comprises Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drive, Forms, Jamboard for collaboration; Classroom and Assignments for Learning Management Systems (LMS); Gmail, Meet and Chat for communication; Keep, Calendar and Tasks for time and task management; Admin Console for IT management;
The Problems of Google Workspace for Education
As mentioned earlier, new convenient features brought to GWFE do not necessarily benefit schools, but rather open loopholes for misbehavior. Google regularly integrates new features into these cloud services for work productivity and conveniences. The Google Workspace Updates Blog provides feeds for their new features and improvements. Within that being said, schools often discover students exploiting some features to find inappropriate content, disrupt classroom orders or burden teachers’ management work.
The following are specific issues reported by schools.
- Students use the image searching feature in Google Docs to find obscene pictures, either intentionally or unintentionally. This feature returns images results that may not be considered as “safe” in the eyes of school officials or teachers. Even though Google claims their “Safe Search” option, it’s undeniable statistical-based machine learning algorithms cannot assure 100% protection. Harmful images often slip through after a few times of scrolling down search results with some keywords.
- Students learn profanity languages right from the built-in dictionary feature from Google Docs. Many swear words have synonyms. It’s unsafe for students to learn so many offensive slangs.
- Students can easily find and play Snake or Pac-Man video games in Google Search results. It’s not a good idea for students to be addicted to video games during school time. As you may notice in the screenshot, SafeSearch has no effect on the game availability in the search result. Because Google Search is intelligent enough to understand the meaning and display the game from various keywords (like “s n a k e game”), keyword based blocking approaches from network filtering are ineffective.
- Some schools report the flexibility of allowing students to turn in assignments late, unsubmit, make changes and resubmit assignments overwhelms teachers’ class work. Students tend to procrastinate finishing homework or revising files over and over.
- Google Classroom also has a People tab displaying all students’ personal information, including their email addresses, names and profile photos. This is a privacy concern for some parents, as they don’t want their kids to be easily identified and contacted.
The examples are just a tip of the iceberg. We described many school reported problems in the Safe Doc support page.
While Google Admin Console provides admin control for school IT teams to manage features of the cloud services, it is not always true. Google does not offer such granular control. That’s why school heads often scratch their heads when students exploit features for playful behaviors and no solutions can be found ever in the market.
The Value of Safe Doc
Safe Doc smooths the way for IT administration to control GWFE features granularly that Google Admin Console does not provide. The setup and configuration of Safe Doc are simple to understand and follow. Blocking each GWFE feature is just like turning on or off a light switch. Take the People tab in Google Classroom as an example, by setting the value of a policy BlockClassroomPeopleInfo, Safe Doc automatically removes the People tab from all students’ Google Classroom cloud apps.
By providing a centralized way to control the GWFE services, Safe Doc protects students from distraction and helps them focus on study in a safe app environment.
As a Google Cloud Technology Partner, we deeply understand the challenges for school IT administration. Google may not respond to every feedback. But we closely work with schools to investigate student mischief and fix “loopholes” for schools as early as possible.
Eden Nelson from Cascade Technology Alliance / Multnomah Education Service District found Safe Doc an irreplaceable tool to hinder misbehavior for students in incarceration. He says:
“Safe Doc is an invaluable tool in our efforts to deliver the 21st century connected classroom to justice involved youth.”
Elchanan Ciment from Talmudical Academy of Baltimore reported their students constantly sharing inappropriate Google Documents with each other. By setting up Safe Doc on their systems, he found the student-to-student internal Drive sharing is dramatically under control. He says:
“Safe Doc helped our school protect our students in a way that google is not set up for. It is a plug-in that adds very needed features to keep students on task and learning. Best of all is their amazing support. They patiently helped us navigate the installation and implementation of their product. Way to go safe doc.”
We adopt a flat rate yearly licensing model for schools, regardless of the number of licensed students. The annual license covers all students with the same email domain. We keep it simple so that school administrators do not have to deal with the per-seat licenses hassle as students grow. Please find the latest information in the Safe Doc Pricing page.