GoGuardian – Explained for Parents

What exactly is GoGuardian?
GoGuardian is a software company that helps districts manage a fleet of Chromebooks.  There are three different systems: Admin, Teacher, and Fleet.  At our district, we use two of three on a daily basis.   This post is going to explain the “how and why” of GoGuardian Admin.  We’ll cover Teacher next week. (Update:  Read the Post Here)

GoGuardian Admin
GoGuardian Admin is primarily used to filter the content of the Internet on the district-owned Chromebooks.   The district’s IT staff creates filtering policies that block or allow websites based on predetermined categories.  Policies are then assigned to groups of students.  The benefit to policies and groups is that it provides the district with an avenue to control the Internet content for students based on their age.   In layman’s terms, third grade students would have more websites blocked on their computers than tenth graders would.  You can learn more about how schools work with content filters in an early post.

Policies applied to groups

GoGuardian’s content filtering applies only to district owned Chromebooks, but it is always used no matter where the student is.  This is an important note for parents for two reasons.  First, it means that the filtering is still on regardless of where the student is accessing the Internet.  They could be at home, the library, Starbucks, a friends house, etc. and the Internet will still be monitored and filtered.  The second reason is that the district is not filtering or tracking student’s activities when they are using a home computer, their cell phone, or if they are bringing their own device to school.  

What does it track?
The extension keeps track of the websites that a student visits on their device.  The report provides a chronological timeline of websites visited along with how much time was spent on each site. Even if a child erases their web browsing history, GoGuardian maintains a record of where they were online.

Sample browsing data

Student’s web browsing information plays a more significant role than one might think. Knowing what sites a student visited during a period of time can be vital in solving cases of suspected cheating or attempted hacking.   The web browsing data that is collected provides the district with insights into how the Chromebooks are being used in the classroom. School administrators can see how often curriculum software packages are being accessed as well.  

A few examples

  • Data is vital when determining whether or not to renew an online resource. Imagine paying a yearly subscription fee of $4,000 for access to a curriculum website, only to discover that it is rarely used.  
  • GoGuardian aggregates the data into a chart that shows where students are spending their time.  These charts are helpful in determining if the device is being used for academic purposes.  

Artificial Intelligence
One of the features that makes GoGuardian stand out versus similar applications is its use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Historically, internet content filters have blocked websites based on the address of the site (i.e.  Block all access to xxx.com).  GoGuardian’s Admin 2.0 introduces actions based on what’s on the screen regardless of where the content resides.  The application uses artificial intelligence to examine the words and images on a web page for inappropriate content.   If the system believes the material on the screen is not suitable for students (i.e., pornography), it will block the page on the spot.  This real-time content filtering helps to ensure that students are not exposed to unwanted material accidentally or intentionally.   From personal experience at my district, I can say that the while the artificial intelligence engine is not perfect, it has been able to alert our staff to a variety of student safety issues.

Admin 2.0 implements another safety feature worth mentioning.  The artificial intelligence engine inspects pages for more than just pornographic content.  The page analysis checks for potential self-harm concerns as well.   If a student is searching for information on how to hurt themselves, alerts are triggered to let the district administration know, and immediate action is taken.  Although these features are relatively new (released June 2017), I have heard countless stories from colleagues across the state where GoGuardian has alerted them to situations of suicide or self-harm.  

What else does it do?
GoGuardian Admin is used to track lost or stolen devices.  When a student reports their equipment is missing, the technology staff can use inventory data to place it into a unique mode.  GoGuardian begins actively watching for the computer to come online.  As soon as the computer turns on and connects to the Internet, GPS records its location.   The system also captures a snapshot of what is on the screen every minute that the device is on.  Ironically, one of the first things we typically when a lost Chromebook comes online is someone trying to log into their email account.  Recovering a lost or stolen Chromebook is a breeze if you know where it is physically located and who is using it.

To Each His Own
All school districts are unique in the way they integrate technology, deploy applications, and protect students online.  I want to ensure that anyone reading this article understands that this is how we use GoGuardian Admin in my district.  There are features discussed above that can be configured in different ways than how described them.  If you are concerned about how GoGuardian is used in your district, reach out to the IT department.  You could also consider contacting GoGuardian directly with questions.  They’ve been a fantastic partner for our district and I encourage others to look at their offerings whenever possible.

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