The Silent Saver

Education Writers Association

Nolan Chapman, Editor-In-Chief

 

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, GAGGLE is the program employed by the entirety of Georgetown Independent School District in its quest to keep its students safe. It’s been used by the school district since five years ago, and for the most part, the only students who have heard of it are the ones who get in trouble. While GAGGLE may be controversial among students, it has helped GISD in preventing threats to student’s safety.

“We do get very minor to very major reports. It’s helped us curb student on student violence. It helps us talk to students who are upset and need someone to talk to. It’s always better to be able to see these things and not have them out of site. It helps us get ahead and prevent situations from helping. It helps us educate students with life lessons that will help them in the workplace,” Mr. Heflin explained how GISD used GAGGLE.

Mr. Heflin, who has been the Chief Strategist for Technology and Innovation for GISD for around three years, described GAGGLE as having two main components to it: one being archiving emails, and the other part being used to help protect students while they’re using technology. While some students may complain about the use of the program as invading their privacy, the main point of Gaggle is to prevent bullying, student suicide, and other matters involving the safety of students.

“Students have the opportunity to use the Google apps for education needs from school work to projects, when they are behaving, using non-threatening language, etc. If something dangerous is said about another student in Google Drive, then an alert goes off letting us know. It also sorta helps to keep the tone of work very scholarly and appropriate,” Mr. Heflin explained about GAGGLE’s advantages to student safety

However, GAGGLE is also programmed to detect when a student types in “inappropriate language,” which I can imagine can happen quite often as students are not directly informed of the presence of GAGGLE. In fact, GAGGLE is programmed very cleverly as to not immediately punish students for swearing, for students receive one warning when they type a word GAGGLE deems inappropriate into a Google app. After that warning, the student’s principal is contacted and allowed to discipline the student in question however they feel is appropriate. However, if something is put on a Google app that is illegal or an immediate danger to the student, such as bullying, suicidal thoughts, or a student threatening to commit an attack on a school, then the police are immediately contacted and given the location of the student.

“Some might say that a disadvantage is that it requires administrators to deal with student behavior that might go unnoticed; it’s extra work on staff to have to deal with it. The biggest disadvantage is false positives. Say you’re writing an article about the Oklahoma City bomber, it’s going to pick up on the word bomber. We have to have a person actually check it,” Mr. Heflin informed about GAGGLE’s disadvantages.

Essentially, as I typed the word “bomber” into the Google Doc that I am writing this on, a person would’ve been notified about it. However, because of the context of the sentence that contained the word “bomber,” the person who received the notice would’ve been able to identify that what I am typing isn’t a threat to the school or against another student. This is where those “false positives” come into play. Because GAGGLE is programmed to pick up certain keywords regardless of the context, actual people have to verify what GAGGLE picked up as something that is a problem.

While students may complain about the potential invasion of privacy that GAGGLE represents, Mr. Heflin dismisses those complaints simply, stating, “If students don’t like GAGGLE, it’s on them.” Additionally, Mr. Heflin described GAGGLE as something that, “should be completely invisible to them. It shouldn’t be anything they should really have to worry about.” GAGGLE helps to keep students professional and safe at school, which is something that they will need to be able to do once they enter the workplace. Therefore, it is far better for students to get in trouble in school and learn their lesson than to lose their job over an inappropriate comment that they make in an email to their colleagues.