Google drives education
Is Google Drive truly helping education or invading the privacy of students?
September 11, 2014
With the opening of the new school year, the Parkway School District announced the addition of Google accounts.
The system is currently used by thousands of different schools and universities across the globe, and allows access to programs such as Google Drive, Google Docs and Gmail.
While the system is said to “enhances student’s ability to access, collaborate and share what they learn at school as well as providing a safe and structured online learning space,” the program has faced opposition from students.
“[The district] can see what you’re searching. Everything on your account? They have access to it,” junior Nico Stranquist said. “Also, you have your [school computer] username for your [Google account] login. People who see your login can see the last digits of your student number, so it’s not hard for them to guess your student number password. It’s a loss of privacy there, for people to know your login.”
To use Parkway’s networks, students were required to sign and follow the rules of Parkway’s Electronic Use Policy. As it states in Parkway’s Electronic Policy, “It should be emphasized that all users of the district’s electronic resources should have no expectation of privacy when using or communicating through Parkway’s electronic services. The district reserves the right at any time and without prior notice to monitor and review any and all user activity on district computers, networks, e-mail service, the Internet, and other district electronic resources.”
The expectation of no privacy extends to teachers as well.
“As far as privacy, teachers and students are in the same boat whenever they are on the network,” Brian Welch, West’s Head Librarian said. “There isn’t somebody just sitting there watching the streams of URLs going through; they’re only flagged if they’re inappropriate.”
Welch also said that this is not the first time Parkway has been monitoring the students’ and teachers’ internet searches. “Parkway has had access to searches on the network before Google accounts.”
Google itself also poses a possible threat to the security of both students and teachers; the corporation of 37,544 employees has the ability to data mine the searches, emails and activity of users in order to provide more user-personalized ads in their AdWords system.
According to Safegov.org, “Even when ads are turned off (as they currently are by default) Google still data mines student emails for ad targeting purposes.”
Google, however, states on their Apps for Education website that, “Like many email providers, we do scanning in Gmail to keep our customers secure and to improve their product experience.”
This worry of privacy only extends so far; some students have simply shown opposition to the unneeded hassle gained from the use of the accounts.
“I don’t think it’s bad they can see all your files. It should all be school related things anyways,” freshman Mason Todd said. “I just think that the school district should have their own system for students and teachers to use. A lot of students and teachers already have personal Google accounts, and I personally find it hard and annoying to manage both the school and personal accounts.”
And this does not even account for the students that are new to Google accounts.
“I don’t like how it’s set up. It’s just hard to navigate for a first time user,” freshman Gabrielle Thompson said. “It was hard to set up my account at first.”
Teachers and Parkway staff have shown their satisfaction towards the added benefits of Google accounts such as easier teacher/student communication, faster homework turn-ins, and the endless possibilities the system shows in classroom application.
“I really like it,” English teacher Michelle Kerpash said. “There are still some frustrations as everyone else is still learning it and students aren’t sure how it works, but I think it helps people to collaborate and share ideas in the classroom. When people get to do group projects or make a presentation together, everyone can access the file and work on it whenever they want to. It gives a little bit of a looser structure.”
And with Google accounts sporting both mobile and desktop versions, students can work on Google-hosted classwork from wherever they may be.
“To this point, we have not seen many drawbacks,” Bill Bass, Parkway’s Innovation Coordinator said. “By providing Google accounts for all Parkway students, we can give more students access to these collaborative tools and make it easier for students and teachers to work in an online environment,” Bass said.
But what does this mean for the technology we’ve used for years before the implementation of Google account and apps? “Microsoft Office will still be part of the image for every laptop and desktop deployed in each building of the district… Student and staff network storage will still be available for classroom use,” a Parkway representative said on the district’s Google page.
However, even with old programs sticking around, Parkway hopes that students will migrate towards the new technology.
“Google Apps is not mandatory. As with all technologies, it will still be important to choose the correct tool for the task at hand and it’s crucial that you continue to teach students how to find and choose the appropriate tool… By providing students with a Google Apps account, they will no longer be reliant on specific software loaded on a specific computer, nor will they have to store their documents on a flash drive that could easily be lost or broken,” a Parkway representative said.
Overall, Parkway is hoping that the Google accounts will leave positive impacts on their students.
“For the kids, it’s about learning as you grow older, become young adults and get into the business world that you have your personal accounts and professional accounts,” Kate Piffel, Freshmen Class Assistant Principal and head of school’s technology committee said.
Google accounts also exhibit the feature of connecting to multiple accounts at once: students have the ability to switch back and forth between personal accounts and school accounts.
“It can certainly be difficult to maintain multiple accounts. However, this is a real-world problem for students and adults alike,” Bass said. “In almost every career or college program, students and employees are given accounts (email and other logins) that they must use for business or school purposes. Account management is a part of preparing students at all levels to for their future experiences.”
With Google Apps for Education currently playing a role in 14 different universities across North America and more schools picking up the program every year, it doesn’t look like Google accounts are going away anytime soon.
“I think Google has a lot of potential for the educational realm,” Welch said. “Right now, we’re just ‘playing in the sandbox,’ just learning how to use the tools. Once people are more comfortable with those tools, you can start seeing different applications to using it later in the classroom.”