Google Email Content filtering

May 20, 2015

At Cramlington, we use Gmail for our student mail.  It’s a good system that ties in with the devices we provide to our students through 1:1 schemes (Android tablets and Chromebooks).

Chuck Norris Gmail

Modding Gmail

There can be some issues using a third-party external email service.  For instance, we made the decision to prevent students having external email access.  They can’t email anyone outside the school.  If you are an administrator for your school’s Gmail system, you can control this access through the Routing section in the Advanced settings of the Admin Console.

Outbound Routing Settings for Gmail

Outbound Routing Settings for Gmail

Stop swearing!

Swearing meme

The other side of student email is teaching responsible use.  If we don’t prepare students for interacting appropriately with others online, then we have failed as educators.

Students are like everyone else.  I’ve used swear words in personal email, but I don’t think I’ve ever sent an email which included profanity from a professional account.  It’s just not professional.   I don’t think kids are unique in not understanding the difference between personal and professional, but at least we can help teach kids the differences.

Gmail has content filtering possible.  If you go into the Advanced settings of the Gmail Admin Console, there is a section marked Objectionable Content.

Objectionable content settings

Objectionable content settings

I’ve no idea where it came from originally, but here’s a spreadsheet of inappropriate words, alternate spellings etc which can be uploaded to the Objectionable Content:

Banned_words.xls
(Don’t judge me on the contents)

Any email that comes through containing one of these words gets re-routed to my email inbox.  One additional aspect that was a bonus is this also works if a student shares a document or comments on a document which also contains inappropriate word.

Side effects

I’ve already touched on students using their emails for (very) personal communication.  Spelling mistakes and abbreviations have also caused emails to be blocked.  I generally scan the email to see what the problem word was.  I’ve removed a few words from the list (e.g. job) which is only inappropriate in certain context.

I do wish our teachers would stop shortening ‘Assessment‘ documents to ‘Ass‘!

There have been a few instances of party invitations being blocked because kids insist on using text speak:

Will you cum to my party?

For some reason, we also get quite a few copied-and-pasted rap lyrics emailed round.

The content filter has led to a few detentions and highlighted some bullying issues.  In the few instances parents have been called in to discuss their child’s email language.  Seeing the email printed out has never failed to produce an appropriately annoyed response. 🙂

I don’t like having this access.  On one occasion an email was re-routed due to a mis-spelling.  Scanning the email, I saw it was a student talking about how upset they were as their pet had died.   I was really tempted to let her tutor know, so they could be supportive.  In the end, I didn’t.  It was an invasion of privacy and while accidental, there was nothing I could do which would make that invasion appropriate.