Computer technology is a cat and mouse game. Parents and children, employers and employees, government and citizens are always trying to stay one step ahead of each other. And until this year in Flagler County schools, savvier students were usually capable of busting through firewalls, filters and restrictions placed on their district-issued devices enough to use them in class to their hearts’ content, without necessarily following what’s going on in class.
That started changing quite seriously this year as teachers at all levels were given the kind of tool that can lock any school issued device in their classroom to what that teacher wants students to see. For example, a teacher can keep the device from straying to an unapproved app, or an app not being used in that particular class. The teacher can monitor what’s happening on each student’s device, literally watching in real time where a given student might be surfing. The teacher can lock, or freeze, that device.
And now, the district is about to pick 100 parents from five elementary schools to test-pilot the same program before making it available to all parents at all levels, at no charge, come next fall.
The program is called Mosyle (pronounced MOE-zl). It’s commercially available. But the district is licensing it for a flat fee of $72,000, which Ryan Diesing, the district’s IT director, says is $30,000 cheaper than current control programs.
The app will extend teachers’ controls to the home for parents, allowing for oversight of what their children are doing whether the child is at home, at school, at a friend’s house or at a shopping mall. Parents had conveyed a sense of frustration with the district over their children’s devices because they felt they could not control what was in their children’s hands.
Since the district implemented its one-to-one initiative, which places an iPad or a laptop in every student’s hand from the lower grades through high school, some parents have been opting out because of lack of controls: they did not want their children having free rein with their device. While the district distributes devices with filters already installed, the filters are not all-catching, and they don’t control such things as when the device may be used and when not. The new app will enable a parent to ensure that, say, come 9 p.m., the device is not usable until a set time in the morning.
Diesing first presented the new controls at an August workshop. Today he gave the School Board an update, with the next step involving the principals at each of the district’s five elementary schools recruiting 20 parents each to participate in the pilot program. The parents must have children in 4th through 6th grade. Those parents must agree to attend an informational orientation night at the school where they’ll be trained on using the new app. They must also participate in two follow-up meetings and a wrap-up meeting, all between January and May. The parents essentially form a focus group from each school designed to give the district an idea of how effective the app may be, where the shortcomings are, and whyat to expect once the app is made available across the district next August. (For students, the near-certain expectation is that they’ll test weak spots and vulnerabilities in the app.)
The sum total of the pilot program will be a Frequently Asked Questions document other parents will be able to read. (For example, the apps works the same way whether the user is on an iPad or a Macbook.)
School Board member Colleen Conklin wants the information about the program shared earlier than next May, even to parents who are not part of the pilot program. “This is a topic that is super-important to a lot of parents, even though they’re not participating,” Conklin said. That sort of information will help send the message that the district is “taking the next step in helping to develop responsibility.”
At School Board member Maria Barbosa’s suggestion, the district may develop a YouTube tutorial on how to use the app.
The app is currently available to anyone for $2.50 a month, “but the app for parent control of the district devices is free,” Diesing said.
It’s also the first of two control devices to be rolled out by the district. Another is called Securly, but it won;t be piloted until next March. That program goes further than Mosyle, giving parents the ability to more directly monitor such things as email and whatever else a user is writing, and giving the district–or parents–the ability to flag certain words in real time that may indicate instances of bullying or self-harm. Diesing discussed that program last August but not today, though he said that program should also be available to all parents next fall.