Most, if not all, of the students in the Madison Metropolitan School District are familiar with Secur.ly, the software administrators and teachers use to monitor and manage school devices. It allows district to control which websites the students are allowed access to, and when. While many students, myself included, have argued this program is unfair and unwarranted, the service has a few redeeming qualities.
Secur.ly was one of the first organizations to sign the Student Privacy Pledge in 2014, promising to not retain the information they record on students. While their policies may seem invasive to some, the goal of the program is to keep students on-task during school hours and to monitor their mental health. The program keeps track of what the students type, and alerts administrators to signs of depression in students.
In addition, it aids in keeping students on-task in school. You may have noticed the (constant) use of smartphones by students in class, providing yet another distraction in this already chaotic learning environment. The chromebook was another device for students to be distracted by, but Secur.ly neatly prevents that with an algorithm that blocks non-educational content.
The downside of the program is that it tends to be hyperactive in blocking off websites, often preventing students from accessing potential resources for school, or even cutting off established resources that students draw upon. The model for Secur.ly uses a shared system for all users, so when a site gets blocked in one place, the service blocks it for all students, regardless of location. However, this is caused by the very algorithm that scans websites and prevents students from accessing inappropriate or potentially damaging content. Even when this does happen, Secur.ly has thought ahead and provided teachers and administrators with the option to approve websites and resources for student use, allowing a workaround to this admittedly frustrating problem.
Secur.ly also provides an interesting point of discussion: “Is this service actually worth it?” Students have already found ways to circumvent the program, and a few enterprising individuals discovered ways to directly change the restrictions it places. By preventing students from using their chromebooks in this way, the school provided a challenge that students rose to. If Secur.ly isn’t as secure as it advertises, is it really worth the disadvantages?
By Elliott Weix