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Hall schools may keep watch on electronic discussions

POSTED: October 31, 2013 9:06 p.m.

Hall County Schools is considering an option that would give it more control over communications between students and teachers.

The proposed program, Gaggle, would monitor, filter and archive those interactions, arguably offering more security for both users.

The need stems from teachers and students communicating more and more via electronic means, whether it’s through email or texting. According to Executive Director for Technology Aaron Turpin, students often ask teachers questions outside of the classroom, expecting and often receiving quick responses.

“Education is becoming very asynchronous ... instruction (used to happen) for 55 minutes plus maybe some homework in the past,” Turpin said. “Utilizing the tools that are now available to our students and teachers, learning goes on anytime, anywhere.”

The issue of using Gaggle to monitor those interactions was brought up at the Monday meeting of the Hall County Board of Education.

“It makes sense to me,” Superintendent Will Schofield said at the time. “This would at least tell our (employees) that of course we need to communicate with this generation in this manner. But if you work for us, we want you to do it in this way.

“I think it just creates a whole other level of having some sort of handle on what’s going on between adults and kids, back and forth,” Schofield added.

Turpin said Gaggle, not to be confused with Google, would also track interactions between students who go through the program. The filter scans each message, searching for inappropriate words or images. Inappropriate messages first get kicked back to the student. If the student tries to send the message again, the teacher then gets a copy.

Gaggle isn’t a separate program; neither teachers nor students would detect any change in what they currently use. For example, Hall teachers would continue using their regular email software, which is Microsoft Outlook.
As far as texting goes, the teacher would also begin a text message within Outlook.

“Once they begin the texting conversation ... then they can use whatever device that they choose,” Turpin said. “What’s unique about this is that neither the sender nor receiver’s phone numbers are ever registered by either party. It uses the Hall County credentials.”

For now, Turpin will test the system on a few teachers scattered through the school system to see if the program works for them.

Carol Summer, marketing teacher at Flowery Branch High, will be one of the testers.

“From my perspective ... you’ve got that security,” she said. “It’s really safe for not only us, but it’s also safe for the student. And I love that, because any communication that we have in this world that we live in, our kids work off of their cellphone.”

After piloting the program over the next few months, a decision will be made about expanding it into all middle and high schools. Turpin said he’s even had elementary school principals inquire about the program.

There is no cost estimate yet, but Turpin said previously there were a variety of funding options, including grants, that could help with any expense.

He added many school systems are using similar programs, or are beginning the process of finding ways to monitor electronic communications. Many Hall teachers are currently texting students via the smartphone app Remind101, which lets them safely text students and parents who also use the app.

“I think it’s a good indication of where the kids are (and) where their parents are,” Turpin said about these methods of communication.


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