Harvard IT Staff Sheds Light on Filtering Technology

Mr. Boyle offers explanations behind recently enacted restrictions


“In previous years, we had Dyknow deployed for classroom management of the student devices. The decision to move to Classwize was twofold; it offered similar features to Dyknow, and it allowed us to expand the safety and security of the students while using the Internet, via Linewize, for both MacBooks and iPads.” – Mr. Boyle

Matt Zobbi, Staff Writer

When Bromfield students hear “Family Zone,” complaints often follow. Family Zone is the company that produces a number of monitoring apps, most prominently LineWize, which is the software that the school first deployed last year to our devices in order to track and monitor them. As our technology is managed by the school, it is inevitable that they will institute restrictions on these devices. All students agree to use their computers or iPads for only school-related purposes when they sign contracts at the beginning of the year, so it stands to reason that they would enforce those rules. 

The only visible change to student devices is a small window showing who the device belongs to, as well as its “Device ID.”

The school has the ability to block webpages on the network the students connect to, HPS-Students, as well as see what students are doing on that network and log the websites that they visit both in and out of school. It has client programs that work on a number of devices, including all of the devices that are utilized in the Harvard school district, mainly Macbooks and iPads. 

Mr. Boyle, the IT director at both Bromfield and HES, has some more insight to add to this bewildering form of technology. The program assists the district in ensuring the “safety and security of the students while using the internet,” Mr. Boyle explains. “Family Zone also offers a classroom management piece which gives the classroom teachers tools to help the students stay focused during their class during the school day.” They selected it over other competing device management solutions because it allows for integration with both the iPads that the 6th- and 7th-graders receive and the MacBooks that are given to 8th-graders and above. It “has similar features to other products,” according to Mr. Boyle, and it does not offer anything particular that other programs do not. However, to the IT department, being able to use the same technology across many student devices was key to the cohesive environment they needed to easily manage the technology.

Unfortunately, the first deployment of the software in the fall of 2021 did not go as smoothly as planned. Mr. Boyle explained that there “was a glitch in the software when we first deployed it at the beginning of the school year.” This was noticed by many students, and some utilized the district’s already existing Incident IQ system to report their problems. IT staff welcomed these incident reports, as Mr. Boyle was able to “work with the developer” to push out a “stable version” of the software to student devices.

Another prevalent facet of student device management is the device supervision. In previous years, they used a piece of software known as DyKnow in order to oversee computers and iPads, as well as see student screens. Recently, however, IT switched to using two different pieces of software: ClassWize for the Mac computers, and Apple Classroom for iPads. Both programs let teachers view the screens of student devices in order to keep them on task. However, Mr. Boyle has made it clear that device screens are not recorded and their contents cannot be viewed later; it only offers live viewing. Additionally, the technology only functions when the devices are connected to the school internet, so IT can not observe the contents of student screens any time students are outside of school.

As for the future of the technology, Mr. Boyle is leaving it up in the air: “Currently the only filtering restrictions via Family Zone are for offensive sites, malware protection, unsafe search engines, and VPNs and proxies (software that allows students to bypass restrictions).” He clarifies that “There may be times we may have to add restrictions due to new Internet phenomena that might not be appropriate for students,” but at the same time, reducing restrictions is equally as likely if they interfere with student curriculum.

Family Zone is often regarded as an impenetrable wall of mystique and techno-babble that nobody, not even teachers, can make sense of. As a necessary evil of using managed devices, it will be an inevitable part of the Bromfield learning experience, and it is unlikely that it will ever be phased out.