Unified Communications for Irvine Unified School District

While+unblocking+gmail+may+require+extra+monitoring+from+the+administrative+side%2C+it+is+ultimately+worth+its+cost+to+give+students+the+ability+to+communicate+effectively+with+teachers.+
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Unified Communications for Irvine Unified School District

While unblocking gmail may require extra monitoring from the administrative side, it is ultimately worth its cost to give students the ability to communicate effectively with teachers.

While unblocking gmail may require extra monitoring from the administrative side, it is ultimately worth its cost to give students the ability to communicate effectively with teachers.

Nate Taylor

While unblocking gmail may require extra monitoring from the administrative side, it is ultimately worth its cost to give students the ability to communicate effectively with teachers.

Nate Taylor

Nate Taylor

While unblocking gmail may require extra monitoring from the administrative side, it is ultimately worth its cost to give students the ability to communicate effectively with teachers.

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For the past decade, Irvine Unified School District’s Educational Technology department has launched new projects to implement technology in student education through a districtwide G Suite account. While the district strives for constant innovation to integrate technology in student education, one problem remains unsolved: effective communication. 

Since its founding, Portola High has advocated for an inclusion of Gmail as part of the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) package but has continuously been shut down. Unfortunately, this block has caused numerous problems that limit students’ educational experiences.

Currently, ASB, clubs and the counseling department share information almost exclusively through one platform: Instagram. Official school accounts try to update students on upcoming events and deadlines, but the only alternative to Instagram is word-of-mouth from friends, parents or Friday morning announcements.

Often, teachers have important announcements to make outside of the classroom but are limited to posting them on Canvas, Google Classroom, GroupMe or Remind. The multitude of platforms unnecessarily complicates the way students receive information and often leads to miscommunication. 

Although Aeries collects parent emails during data confirmation, parent communication does not always translate to student communication. Parents often overlook emails or forget to relay the information.

Overall, the lack of a uniform mode of communication between the school and students leaves students without Instagram in the dark, creates unnecessary miscommunication outside of school hours and does not promote student independence when students are forced to rely on parents for information. To prevent any lost information, miscommunication or reliance on Instagram, the solution is simple: unblock Gmail on the G Suite accounts.

“When Google Apps for Education first came out, we [IUSD] kind of toyed with the idea of ‘Oh, these are suite accounts with @iusd.org on it, what’s the potential of giving our high school kids email accounts?’” assistant principal and former IUSD director of EdTech Kris Linville said. “This was about six years ago, and other districts weren’t giving their students Gmail accounts, so we said, ‘okay, we’ll hold off, and we’ll see what happens.’”

Communication between teachers and their students becomes more transparent when there is an official means of communication for school-related work and that channel is open for monitoring”

— NHVRHSD

Now, there are numerous districts who have not only implemented a districtwide Gmail account, but also officially reported on its benefits. In a statement released from North Hunterdon Voorhees Regional High School District’s Technology Department, a district that issues districtwide emails, the benefits are obvious. 

“The school email account provides online file storage and the ability to share files safely and with ease between staff and students,” the report said. “Communication between teachers and their students becomes more transparent when there is an official means of communication for school-related work and that channel is open for monitoring.”

NHVRHSD is not the only school district to have district-assigned emails; Huntington Beach Union High, Tustin Unified and the Los Angeles Unified School District are just three local areas that offer high school students access to email.

“[Teachers] only communicate to students through our school emails,” Beckman High senior Vianna Seifi said. “It’s a way where they don’t have to collect all our emails because they literally gave us one.”

As of right now, the major technical problem with unblocking Gmail is that all of IUSD’s staff emails are connected with a different platform: Outlook. 

“Our iusd.org username is used for our Google accounts and for our Outlook. We wouldn’t be able to have the same IUSD email as the Gmail,” IUSD EdTech Coordinator Shaney Berzansky said. “If we moved forward with Gmail, we could possibly create a separate domain name.”

Creating a new domain name for teachers is a small price to pay for streamlined communication. A simple solution could be that teachers switch the order of their first and last names in their email addresses.

In additional to technical problems, IUSD has maintained the block out of concern for liability and abuse of the privilege. 

The good news is that we have a product called Google Vault, where we can go [to monitor students’ Google Docs usage] — and even if the kids delete everything, we can still go back and track it. We could do the same thing with emails”

— Kris Linville

“There [are] a lot of major concerns from more of a ‘Well, there could be a lot of problems, and are we responsible, as a district, with litigious laws and lawyers if a kid does something inappropriate with their email address?’” Linville said.

However, there are policies designed to ensure proper digital citizenship, like the PHS Chromebook Agreement or the newly-launched YouTube filter training. The district can also put a filter on the emails so students can only send emails to an @iusd.org domain.

“The good news is that we have a product called Google Vault, where we can go [to monitor students’ Google Docs usage] — and even if the kids delete everything, we can still go back and track it. We could do the same thing with emails,” Linville said. 

We urge the IUSD EdTech department to reevaluate the restriction on Gmail. Access to email would streamline communication, and learning how to write a polite email to teachers or collaborate on Gmail would help students “communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals,” which is an education standard from the International Society for Technology. 

The benefits do not stop there. A uniform “@iusd.org” email is convenient because teachers can individually contact students if assignments are missing or incomplete. Students will also receive email notification of activity on their IUSD Google Drives and can use Gmail to recover passwords, sign-up for school-related apps like Padlet and Duolingo, apply for scholarships and competitions or stay in contact with colleges.

Administrative Regulation 3120.3, the IUSD board policy regulating email, voice mail and telephony, even states that “e-mail may be provided to students for educational purposes only. IUSD encourages the use of e-mail and voice mail services to share information, to improve communication, and to exchange ideas.”

With an opportunity to encourage productive and professional communication with teachers and peers, IUSD should move forward and lift the restriction on G Suite email.

Should the district unblock gmail?

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