The blues about Blue Coat

School technology has come a long way from the days of computer labs and the Mini-Notes that seniors might recall from their freshman year. Northtown provides every student and teacher with a MacBook Air. The MacBooks allow for the classroom to evolve; projects can be done online or can incorporate programs such as Office, iMovie or Garage Band, teachers can post anything they need to on Blackboard and assignments can be turned in online. There are a lot of benefits that the Macs have, but there are still some downsides to the advanced technology.

While the school district is already placing a lot of money and trust in the hands of high schoolers—and that is all very much appreciated—there are some problems that have been arising lately because of the Macs. Although the startup of the Macs is extremely fast, especially when compared to the prehistoric Mini-Notes that would take nearly half of class to start up, some programs on the Macs have begun to slow down or not work altogether.

Many students have encountered their Internet not working well the past few weeks and Central Office emailed out a list of things to do that would solve the problem. Ideally the problem was supposed to go away if the Blue Coat Unified Agent, a program designed to block malware and malicious threats, controlled access to applications and content, surveillance, censorship and improve performance of network applications, but many people still had issues or have to reconnect multiple times a day to get the internet to work. Not only is this problem annoying and time-consuming, it actually hinders students and teachers from doing work efficiently.

Office programs are something that almost everyone is familiar with; most classes utilize Word or PowerPoint at some point throughout the year. Recently, these programs would stop working; they would open and then immediately close out again. The steps to fix this problem included installing a software update, turning the Wi-Fi on and off and restarting the computer as many times as necessary. This did solve the problem for some students, but others had to completely stop using Office and switch to Pages and Keynote, the Apple versions of Word and PowerPoint. Switching programs after years and years of using Office means that students have to take time to get familiar with the program, taking time away from actually getting work done. It also means that the work done is not compatible with PC computers. Students cannot work on schoolwork on a Windows system at home if they are using Pages or Keynote. Sometimes students need to send a document to a person that is not a student, be it a parent or someone that a student is interviewing for a class, that work can’t be sent to those people in Pages or Keynote unless they have a Mac.

There are many classes that require extensive computer work, there is even an entire diploma option based on research. Research can become quite difficult when the school filter blocks so many websites and searches. Many of the Gold Medallion candidates struggle to find adequate sources for their research when most of those sources are blocked. While there are filters for a reason—they protect the students from doing things on the school computers that are inappropriate or irresponsible—there comes a time when the filters are out of hand. For a simple Wikipedia page to be blocked is extreme. Teachers have also had to deal with this problem, finding classroom resources that they have used in years past are suddenly blocked.

The Macs are great and provide teachers and students with new ways to teach and to learn, but this can come to a halt when the technology has so many issues. The Macs did not have as many issues the past couple of years, as they do this year. The problem seems to stem from the Blue Coat Unified Agent; the web security service that the school district uses. Perhaps switching programs or lessening the amount of content that is blocked could begin to solve the problems. While lessening the amount of things that are blocked or filtered requires instilling a lot more trust in the student body, which is not a likely solution, maybe the software can be changed or tweaked so that the computers can begin running better.