Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Lisa Railton
on June 4, 2020

The past few months have been hectic for everyone, but especially so for educators. Schools across the country shut their doors in March, with most states opting to keep them closed through the remainder of the academic year. Educators and students alike have been trying to navigate the world of distance learning, utilizing whatever resources they have available to keep the learning going during the pandemic. And with the uncertainty of how school districts will approach learning in the fall—either by opening their doors full time, continuing with distance learning, or adopting a hybrid model—educators need to be prepared for whatever comes their way when the next school year begins.

As school districts quickly shifted students’ learning entirely to the virtual environment back in March, the teams here at Gaggle worked diligently to onboard new district partners as well as assisting existing partners who needed to expand their services to cover additional grade levels or tools. The most common request? Turning on Gaggle’s student safety platform for Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams.

With students using Hangouts and Teams for project collaboration, live class discussions, virtual office hours, and online study groups—as well as to stay connected to teachers and friends while at home—school districts quickly recognized the need to monitor and review these powerful tools to keep their students safe. Since these tools can open up the possibility for students to engage in risky behaviors, safety monitoring can help ensure students are utilizing the technology in an appropriate manner.

Increased Use of Chat Tools
So, what trends are we seeing during the pandemic? With students removed from their normal routines, we’re seeing a greater use of the chat feature within both platforms. What’s more, we’re seeing a higher percentage of serious imminent threats and alerts coming from chats as opposed to any other form of digital communication. Since students are stuck at home, they are turning to the Hangouts and Teams chat tools more often, sparking a dramatic increase in alerts of questionable content and possible student situations in our platform, particularly concerning cyberbullying, self-harm, and abuse.

Our solution flags content when students show signs of self-harm, depression, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, cyberbullying, unhealthy relationships, and credible threats of violence against others. Since implementing our service for Microsoft Teams in mid-April, we’ve uncovered a large number of serious issues that warranted immediate response. In fact, we’ve alerted our district partners to hundreds of instances that required their attention in the short period of time since launching this functionality, as well as over 50 situations that warranted immediate action to ensure student safety.

Greater Usage After Hours
Another trend goes beyond how students are using these tools to when they’re using them. We’ve seen a massive uptick in late-night usage, which is likely a result of students now having access to their school-issued device 24/7. With our around-the-clock monitoring of Hangouts and Teams, we offer school leaders greater peace of mind as students use these tools both during and after school hours.

Our student safety platform can uncover potentially harmful content within these digital tools, which is then evaluated further by our trained safety professionals. Gaggle will alert school officials when we uncover any unsafe situations or struggling students, contacting local law enforcement when necessary. By including review of Hangouts or Teams as part of our Gaggle Safety Management services, educators can gain greater insight as students continue to engage in their education from home. Students are talking, and we are always here to listen out for those who need help.

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