We spoke with a K-12 IT director about the importance of monitoring student technology to decrease incident response time while teaching them to be good digital citizens.
Adam Jasinski is the IT director for the Affton School District, located in a St. Louis suburb.
The pervasiveness of digital technologies has been both beneficial and harmful. It has saved lives but damaged others. Now, as many school districts provide students with laptops, tablets and other devices that can be connected to the Internet both in school and at home, technology safety and security is more important than ever.
Adam Jasinski, director of technology for the Affton School District, recognized the paradox that is the Internet, and knew a technology to monitor student usage was a crucial part of school safety.
Affton School District, located in a suburb of St. Louis, consists of five K-12 schools and serves approximately 2,600 students. Its Chromebook ratios are 1-1 for third grade through twelfth grade and about 2-1 for kindergarten through second grade.
The district already had various filtering and monitoring methods in place, including a cloud-based software on student devices that provides alerts for websites, social media posts and emails. Once the district began giving students access to Google Hangouts and Google Drive, Jasinski wanted to add another layer of security to protect his students and decrease incident response time.
Campus Safety interviewed Jasinski about the process of selecting Bark for Schools, a free student monitoring software for G Suite and Office 365, as its newest student monitoring solution and his strong belief in helping students learn to be good digital citizens.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up IT director for the Affton School District?
After leaving the military service, I knew that I wanted to go into a technology career. I worked for a year in a corporate IT setting, but with both of my parents being educators, I was drawn to this field and have been in education technology now for the last ten years in various capacities. I have had the opportunity to work with several schools over the last decade that have recognized the value technology can bring to education. Because of this, I have been part of several 1-1 initiatives and G Suite for Education adoptions. I was fortunate to come to Affton during a time when they adopted a vision that was focused on providing innovative teaching and learning, which often includes the use of technology. I started here as the Network Engineer and was lucky enough to be promoted to the Director of Technology and have served in that role for the last three years.
Q: What do you consider the biggest pros or benefits to digital technologies’ omnipresence in schools?
The access to all the information students and teachers could ever want, the ability to connect with a huge audience easily and the availability of countless applications that can perform just about any task. The Internet has given rise to so many industries and opportunities that many people would have scoffed at not too long ago.
Q: Conversely, what do you consider the biggest cons or risks?
Honestly, the same things – access to information, ability to connect and too many options. It’s hard to understate the effect misinformation has played in all sorts of issues and concerns we face today as a society. For all the positive connections that can be made, there is potential to have negative ones as well. Not all of the applications you access provide value – many can also be time sucks and distractions. How many people can say that they have never watched a YouTube video or snuck in a game of Candy Crush at work? Students have those same distractions. Helping students learn how to examine information critically, how to interact online appropriately, and how to manage distractions should be a key component of education today.
Q: What was the process like for choosing a solution?
Since we are a smaller district, it allows us to move very quickly on initiatives. We were really focusing on getting a solution that could monitor Drive and Hangouts, without incurring a large cost to the district. Once I came across Bark, we started with a small test group for a few months. Once we got the alerting level where it was manageable, we decided to launch district-wide. As the product evolved, we now have all school administrators monitoring alerts for their building, as well as parents receiving alerts for their [children].
Q: What made you ultimately land on Bark?
It being free was a no-brainer, of course. The ideals of the company seemed to align with our district very well. They are student-focused, first and foremost. It was also very easy to set up and use. Many of our parents, like most, struggle with how to handle the access that children have today. Giving them a platform that they can use across all their child’s devices was a big value add.
Q: What is your favorite feature of Bark?
The ability to have the alerts go to a team of administrators at each building has greatly [improved] our response time to issues. Having parents more informed has also been very helpful.
Q: How informed are students on the software? Are they aware of what it does and what it tracks?
Students are made aware that they have zero expectation of privacy on their device. They must agree to a handbook yearly that explains this very clearly. It is reinforced at every opportunity that their activity is monitored and reported when using a school-issued device or account.
Q: Is there a grade level you have found Bark to be most effective for?
Absolutely. It has been very effective with our middle school population. Sixth grade is when our students really start to get more open access to technology, which does come with more risk. There are a lot of teachable moments that come out of middle school students with access to the Internet.
Q: Have you received positive feedback from parents, teachers or students?
We have had several parents thank us for the insight it has provided. We have parents who are educators in other school districts reach out and ask how this could be implemented in their school as well.
Q: Has Bark helped you manage an incident or potentially prevent one?
Bark has alerted us to serious issues. Several students were identified as having potential self-harming behaviors or thoughts or possible suicide risks, as well as several drug and alcohol-related incidents. It has also informed us of various student conflicts before they grew into larger issues.
Q: Can you give an example of something that occurred in your school district prior to implementing Bark that you think the software could have potentially prevented or helped with?
Previously monitoring things like Drive was done with a manual search looking for keywords or phrases. We would eventually find issues, but it could be a week or more after the fact. Now that we are using a product that can do this work automatically and scan with better technology, it has helped us become much more proactive in dealing with issues before they escalate.
How Parents, Administrators Can Work Together to Keep Kids Safe Online
As both parents and administrators continue their efforts to keep children safe online, a unified approach to both education and discipline surrounding the topic is key.
In the video below, Clay Cranford, deputy sheriff for the Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department and an expert on cybersecurity for children, discusses ways parents and school personnel can effectively address student online safety issues.
Cranford answers the following questions:When should parents and school staff start talking to kids about the safe use of technology? If a child makes a bad decision by engaging in cyberbullying, sexting or some other cyber offense or is a victim, how should parents and school administrators address the issue? How should school administrators work with parents so students stay safe online? Does zero tolerance work?