On parent-teacher conference day, Stacy was sitting at home and using her personal laptop. She received no notification, no notice, no warning. The next day, as she walked into school, she received shocking news.
Another classmate hurriedly explained that teachers had shown her screen to the parents at the conference. Stacy explained, “In two of the classes, teachers were showing parents how an extension called GoGuardian worked. The teachers were showing the parents what their screen looked like through GoGuardian, and what was visible was my screen while I was at home. I had no idea this was possible. I have to use the school Chromebook because I don’t have any other available computers at home. I had no idea this was happening, and had no ability to stop it.”
What happened? Unbeknownst to Stacy, the teachers had just voted to expand the power of GoGuardian, a Google extension automatically downloaded to every students’ student email account. There had always been rumors or conspiracy theories that LAUSD was surveilling its students’ online activity, but now this was the real thing. With the upgrade, her teacher could see her screen on her school Chromebook, at any place, and at any time.
Gary Garcia, John Marshall High School Principal, explained that the district did not force this change, “it was entirely up to the teachers.”
After the vote, teachers can now see all student activity on student Chromebooks and even activity on personal computers, if the student is using their LAUSD account.
Understandably, many students panicked or complained about an apparent breach of privacy. What they may forget, however, is the document each student and their parent signs before they come to are given a Chromebook to take home, before they can log on to school wifi, as per the LAUSD Acceptable Use Policy. This policy gives the school the right to access, copy, and share, any and all the user activities while either on the school network or even on your own time at home on a school-issued device. This document clearly states that while using district-provided equipment whether it be physical, a Chromebook, or cloud-based, like any school account or the school internet, the student should have no expectation of privacy.
So, why did teachers decide to exercise this ability? The answer is fairly plain: an epidemic of apathy to class instruction and cheating. Anonymously polling the student body, two-thirds of respondents report playing a game, watching a movie or TV, or engaging in non-instructional activity on their device. Over half report cheating at some point on a test, with online being the most common method by a significant margin.
Garcia defends GoGuardian, trying to shake the “Big Brother” skepticism some may hold towards it. “It’s not about punishing students”, he explained in our interview, “it’s a preventative measure.” His intention is for the extension to be used as a way to stop students from cheating or doing something non-class related during school time. In a gesture of goodwill, Garcia is attempting to limit the reach of GoGuardian to only school hours.
It’s important to note, however, that LAUSD District tracking is not limited to school hours — it also tracks search history. Dr. Garcia warned of students at other schools having their school computers taken away for searching inappropriate topics like porn, even while outside of school hours.
GoGuardian clearly holds significant power, and will likely heavily reduce cheating and movie-watching during school. It could quite possibly be the change necessary to increase academic honesty at a school where it’s frightfully absent.
But what does the student body think about this development? The aforementioned survey demonstrated an almost completely negative response to the increased surveillance power.
Obviously, students like goofing off and cheating, but they still shouldn’t be allowed. There’s slightly more nuance to the situation, however. An example is present in the class of “Mrs. Ivan” (pseudonym): her courses are known to be excessively difficult and coupled with poor instruction, and many students who take them report cheating multiple times in order to keep up a passing grade. Past cheating has allowed her class to remain so inordinately hard because students survive despite the fact most would fail without academic dishonesty. If cheating were to stop now, a significant portion of her students may completely falter, despite having the same talent as students who aced her class in previous years through cheating.
So, what do we do now? Many students are pushing back against GoGuardian, alleging it to be a breach of privacy. Many, including Stacy, are switching to personal computers, at which they can use their personal email accounts, preventing the reach of GoGuardian. Some teachers are even against it, an example being Jose Salas, who called the technology “creepy.” Others feel uninterested: Garcia reported that less than 20 teachers attended a GoGuardian instruction he held.
While students and teachers alike adapt to the new technology, GoGuardian seems here in the 14,000 schools where it is implemented.