Inappropriate Usage of Digital Devices in Schools


Inappropriate Usage of Digital Devices in Schools

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Vestige Digital Investigations, CTO and Founder

Inappropriate Usage of Digital Devices in Schools

It goes without saying that schools are dealing with the same issues surrounding digital devices as corporations are. Many schools provide students with the use of a tablet of some type. There are labs and classrooms outfitted with computers. Teachers, students and administrators all have their own personal cell phones and/or tablets. On top of all of this, many classroom assignments or tests are being delivered digitally over the internet. So let’s discuss some of the pitfalls that these digital devices may bring and what needs to be considered regarding them.

Web Browsing

The beauty of the internet is the ability to look up almost anything. Information is out there on various topics that might be interesting or necessary for students to obtain. History lessons, science experiments and tips for doing math problems are just a few of many examples as to how the internet can be helpful. But of course, the internet can be just as harmful as it can be helpful to students. Just a few years ago a student working on a civics lesson may decide to go to only to find out that the site wasn’t about the house on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but was instead an “anatomy” lesson that no parent would want their child to see. While many schools may have school computer monitoring software to help prevent these situations, does that extend to all devices that are plugged into the school network? What is the school doing about students that may circumvent the school network by staying on the cellular network? Are there policies or technologies at use to prevent such activity? More importantly, what type of monitoring and logging is in place so that any inappropriate browsing discovered after the fact can be traced to a computer and individual so that the appropriate actions can be taken? Monitoring internet activity in the classroom is increasingly important to ensure students stay focused.

Pictures and Recording

Most, if not all, mobile devices these days come with the ability to take pictures, video and record audio. So let’s start with what policies does the school have regarding taking pictures, videos, etc.? Are students, teachers and staff put through training about what is appropriate versus inappropriate? Now consider the ability for someone to record visually grades, personally identifiable information or answers to exams. Schools must also consider how these devices make it easier for violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and how they can ensure they are protecting student privacy.

Sometimes these recording activities can be done surreptitiously. Consider the matter involving the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania. The school had a program of providing Mac products to its students, but with that program was the issue of not receiving the devices back. An application called TheftTrack was installed on all of those devices but unbeknownst to most, that application allowed the IT administrator to remotely control the camera on the Mac computer and take pictures. Consider that the students brought these devices home and brought them into their bedrooms and I don’t think we need to spell out the possible issues here. Protecting student data privacy to a reasonable extent should be a priority for every school.

Social Media Postings

To say that students use social media is quite an understatement. Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter and many others are used on a constant basis by students. That usage isn’t always confined to when the students are at home or just after school activities. A boring talk is an excuse for a student to get lost in the land of social media. While college students are smart enough to understand the consequences (i.e. bad grades), high school and elementary school students may not have reached that enlightenment yet. What can or should schools do while a student is in their building in order to curtail such usage? That question is likely best answered by legal and school administrative staff but once answered, the proper technological actions should be taken to enforce that policy. One item to further consider is any liability stemming from the ability of a student to defame or harass another individual through the use of school computer equipment.

On-Line School Work

Whether to support home schooling, online classes or just being another way to educate students, many schools are turning to the internet to deliver lessons, sign-up for courses, provide homework, take exams and check grades. The applications facilitating this work can be hosted by the school or be hosted in the cloud. Either way there are usually configuration options to control account and password policies and the ability to log activity. While Vestige has been called more than once to assist in the investigation of potential circumvention of security controls or just plain old “cheating”, unfortunately a lot of the times no thought was put into ahead of time deciding what needed to be set up in order to provide the evidence for such an investigation. Schools need to consider whether the on-line applications that they employ are properly protected and whether enough information is captured to investigate wrong doing.


Technology has allowed students of all ages to expand their knowledge into areas never thought of before by the ease at which they can obtain information and interact with their instructors. But with that power comes responsibility on the part of the student, teacher or administrator that they are using it appropriately. The school’s responsibility is ensuring that they are monitoring internet activity and putting protections in place to ensure appropriate usage. Schools should consider the following:

1. Discuss with similar schools what programs or best practices they have in place to protect and monitor the usage of electronic devices.
2. Consult legal counsel as to what legal responsibilities a school has as well as what they can and cannot do.
3. Consider an outside consultant to test security measures in place and audit the controls and monitoring of activity in relation to what the school expects is happening.

Consider contacting Vestige today to see how we can assist in securing internet and device monitoring in schools.

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Greg Kelley - Vestige CTO lft smallby Greg Kelley, EnCE, DFCP, Chief Technology Officer at Vestige Digital Investigations
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