Securly’s AI: Scaling (Not Failing) When Students Are Most At Risk

As schools across the country are working to determine the safest way for students to attend school this fall, experts are sounding the alarm about what lies ahead in the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic; especially in children: “It’s Not Children’s Education We Should Worry About, It’s Their Mental Health”, “The Coronavirus Pandemic is Pushing America into a Mental Health Crisis”, “Mental Health an Emerging Crisis of Covid Pandemic”

Why are more children starting to struggle? 

As school systems were forced to close beginning in March, the majority of US students transitioned to remote learning. Educators everywhere are to be applauded for their efforts to provide a solid education in the absence of a traditional classroom setting.  Despite these efforts, there is no substitute for what going to school provides students, especially with regard to social emotional learning. 

As a former school principal, and a parent of two school-aged children, I can attest to the impact the absence of daily face-to-face interaction with friends, classmates, and school staff is having on kids. They don’t see the teachers, administrators, coaches, and other school staff with whom they’ve established strong, trusting relationships. In fact, I worked with many students throughout my K-12 career whose only positive experience with an adult happened at school. On top of having their daily routines turned upside down, students are faced with increased levels of stress at home, due to the pandemic and its effect on their parents brought on by layoffs, economic uncertainty, etc. 

How can schools identify students who may be struggling?

Schools saw sharp increases in Google collaboration services as more learning began to take place remotely (see images below). These services are intended for educational purposes, but activity can occasionally indicate that a student may be struggling with mental health.  If school staff are unable to identify students who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and grief, they cannot utilize the resources already in place. Since many children are not going to admit they’re having problems, tools like Securly’s Filter and Auditor help schools pick up on warning signs in real-time and share the data with those in a position to help. 

Sharp increases in Google collaboration services as more learning was happening remotely

What is Auditor 

Securly, the pioneer in comprehensive student safety, released Auditor in 2016. Auditor is a unique tool that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect cyber-bullying, self-harm, and grief sentiments in students’ email and in Google/OneDrive. Unlike systems that rely on keywords, Auditor’s sophisticated natural language processing and sentiment analysis algorithm can actually infer the sentiment behind the messaging, leading to fewer false alarms. 

Adding a human touch with 24

Securly’s AI notifications can be monitored 24/7 by our Student Safety Analysts (specialists with backgrounds in psychology, counseling, and other areas trained to look for warning signs of grief and depression). The team uses “At Risk”, an award-winning tool that analyzes student online behavior. When the student data shows trends or an immediate strong indication of grief or self-harm, the At-Risk tool (shown below) pushes the student to the surface so that analysts can verify the data, and then send necessary alerts to the school district or local authorities. 

The student below can be seen rising through the stages of At-Risk over the course of one hour:

Why traditional methods of email and drive monitoring are failing 

Older solutions for flagging emails and student-generated content were based on a predefined set of keywords, which is prone to higher rates of false positives (false alarms) and false negatives (missed alerts). This method does not scale well as it requires hundreds of humans to verify the data for accuracy. 

Consider the following statement flagged by Securly’s algorithm: “slowly i’m realizing i don’t really have a purpose here say good-bye cause Fryday it’s all over <3”. It’s crystal clear that a keyword-based approach would never have detected this. 

As student use of email and other online communication tools dramatically increase during remote learning environments, solutions using outdated methods to detect student suffering are facing massive bottlenecks, leading to delays in alerts being sent and an increase in response time. Many of these providers have begun issuing public statements about their inability to keep up with the increase in student activity. 

Filter as the source of truth

Students make very powerful cries for help via email or within shared online documents. However, warning signs can occur long before the student expresses anything via these mediums. As students begin struggling, their online activity frequently includes searches for methods of suicide or visits to sites that provide suicide resources. 

Student safety solutions with no visibility into the search/browsing data of students will miss out on these early warning signs that could otherwise lead to proactive intervention by mental health professionals. Below are two examples of situations in which Securly was able to help intervene due to having access to browsing data. 

Student #1’s Activity:

  • Student searched for: ‘how to commit suicide”, “statistics and data for suicide and depression”, and “’5 easy painless ways to die’ and ‘good ways to commit suicide by secret”
  • Student visited

Student #2’s Activity 

  • Student visited
  • Student searched for: “What is the quickest most painless way to kill myself”, “5 easy painless ways to suicide”,  “carbon monoxide suicide”, and  “where to get carbon monoxide”

The right tool and the right information matter when a student is in crisis

There are many unknowns and a lot of discussion about what learning environments will look like this fall. What we do know for sure is regardless of where learning takes place, students are going to need support while navigating the normal stress of a new school year combined with added stress from isolation and uncertainty during the pandemic. 

Securly’s revolutionary AI already met the challenges associated with increased use of G Suite tools and mandated online learning last spring and our student safety tools will help schools and parents keep an eye on their kids as they return to school. Timely, accurate alerts from Securly provide the information needed to ensure struggling students are connected with resources necessary to help them cope with everything that has transpired over the last several months, as well as all of the unknowns of the future.

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