It’s that wonderful time of year – when school comes to an end and the freedom of summer stretches full of possibilities in front of our children. Remember those glorious days of summer from your own childhood? I do!
With much of the province, and indeed, the world doing school online for the last several months – my kids have been online for over a year – and many of us have school laptops, tablets and Chromebooks that need to be returned to the school. Chromebooks are Google’s inexpensive tablet with a keyboard that have been popular for schools because of their low cost, ease of use, and compatibility with Google Classroom and other Google software.
This guide assumes a moderate level of comfort with technology like tablets. If this is a bit much for you, it might be a good idea to ask a family member, teenage child or grandchild to help go through these steps.
This guide will give you some tips on how to wipe your child’s data from their school computer before you return it to the school. This guide will focus on Chromebooks (which run the ChromeOS operating system) because 2 of my kids are using them and they are popular in our school board. However even if you don’t have a Chromebook – if you have any Android tablet or device this will apply – and even if you’re using a regular laptop or a Apple device… this guide will get you started on what should be deleted.
Note: Any good IT department for a school should be wiping the devices completely when they are returned to the school – we didn’t see any data from past students when we received ours from the school initially – but these are good steps to take just in case. This device has been in your home, on your network for a significant amount of time so being extra careful is just part of good data security habits.
So, what should you be clearing? Let’s summarise:
- Pictures and videos
- Browser bookmarks
- Web browser browsing history and data
- App data and installed apps
- Wifi connections and passwords
- Google/school account
A note on Android/ChromeOS versions: Some of these settings or steps might be slightly (or very) different due to different versions of Android or ChromeOS. Google likes to move things around, change buttons, change the menus, etc. So if these steps don’t seem to work on your device, a quick web search for how to do it, will probably find you a tutorial with steps for your operating system.
Much to my extreme frustration, several of these steps will not work on my children’s Chromebooks. There appears to be an IT policy applied on this device which prevents me from accessing and clearing the storage option on apps, deleting files, and more. It also prevents me from switching the device to English so I can’t be 100% sure. This is unacceptable because being unable to clear your personal data from a device is a privacy violation. I have emailed the CSC Providence IT department to clarify and ask if the devices will be wiped upon collection.
Not ok, and I will be thinking twice before using school devices again.
Pictures And Videos
Since Chromebooks and tablets are also cameras, there’s a good chance that your child has taken a bunch of photos or videos with the device. Including scans of their homework. Save any you want to keep by either uploading to your or your child’s Google Drive, or email them to yourself or use other sharing methods.
On Google devices your media (photos, videos, etc) can usually be found in one of several default apps called either Gallery, Files, Photos or Picasa. You can select entire folders or individual items and delete them. Don’t forget to delete screenshots and downloaded images too.
Anytime you click on a PDF link or download a picture, these will go into a downloads folder. There is usually a file browsing app on these devices… but it is strangely common for there not to be an easy way to browse your device’s files. In this case, you will need to install Google’s Files app, or a 3rd party file manager app. Use this to browse to the downloads folder and empty it completely. (Downloads are called Téléchargements in French).
If your child used other apps like a voice recorder or a stop-motion video maker… there might be other folders of personal data you can clear. It’s not often easy to find these because Google’s operating system doesn’t have an obvious location for user data. Just poke around and see if you see anything that looks like it was created by your child. Be careful not to delete system or app files.
If your kids are like mine, they may have added dozens if not hundreds of bookmarks to their browser’s bookmarks bar or bookmarks menu. Removing these is different depending on which browser you are using – but generally you will open the browser’s Settings menu and look for something like Bookmarks or Bookmark Manager. Delete each one individually or select several (or entire folders) and delete them. If this did not get the bookmarks that are visible in the menu bar below the address bar at the top of the browser, you can usually hold alt and tap on the bookmark (or right-click with a mouse) and choose Delete (couper in French) to remove it.
Clear Browsing Data
This option will wipe your brower history, cookies, cached data and more, from the browser. Luckily this is a hot topic lately and a quick web search will give you the steps to clear your browsing data in any PC or mobile browser. Generally speaking you’ll look for an option in the menu or in the Settings panel that’s called Clear Browsing Data or something similar to that (Effacer le données de navigation in French). You’ll want to check all the options and in the drop down for timeframe choose ‘All Time’ or ‘Forever’. This should log you out of all websites you were logged into as well.
Clearing app data is the way to drop a big bomb on all the data that any given app has stored on your device. Open your device’s Settings menu (usually marked by a gear ⚙️ icon) and scroll down to the Apps section (labelled Applications on my child’s French Chromebook). This should show you all the apps on your device. You’ll want to brainstorm which apps your child used the most that might have personal data and for each one, find the button that lets you clear the Data for that app (not just the cache) – this is usually found under the Storage option. Some good ones to clear are:
- Your browser (ex Chrome)
- Your email app like GMail
- Google Classroom
- Google Drive
- Google Meet, Docs, Sheets, Jamboard, Slides etc
- Games or video apps like Netflix
- Messages, Messenger, etc
- Any social media apps like Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram
- Google Play Store, Google Movies, etc
While you are going through this process, you might want to uninstall any apps or games that did not come with the device from school. However if you’re like me… your device was so locked down you couldn’t install apps anyway. I find it hilarious that the kids can have YouTube which is full of wildly inappropriate content not vetted by real humans- but something like Disney+ for example. Anyway if you installed any apps, you can remove them if you wish.
Wifi Connections and Passwords
Your device has likely been connected to one or more wifi networks at home, and perhaps at a grandparent or caregiver’s house. When you’re done with using it, these saved connections (and the remembered passwords with them) should be wiped. To remove these, click on the clock/system tray in the bottom right. There should be a button in the slideout which shows the network you are currently connected to. Click on the network name there (not the signal strength fan icon) to open the Network (Réseau in French) section. From there click on the gear icon in the upper right to bring up the entire Network settings menu. You will want to Remove/Forget (Retirer in French) each one.
Remove School Account
This is one step which also seems to be blocked by the school board’s IT policy and Google’s insistence that you can’t use the device without being logged into a Google Account. For me, the best I could do was Sign Out (Déconnexion in French). You might however find luck using any of the methods in this article. At least the device no longer has a remembered login and password.
When I set out to write this blog post I figured that I would be following my own advice on my children’s own two school Chromebooks. It turns out that these devices are so locked down by the school board’s IT administrator policies that I can’t even wipe much of our own data. I’m sure the intention was good – to keep kids and families from meddling with school property – but not being able to clear our own data doesn’t sit well with me.
I will update this post if I hear back from the CSC Providence IT department.
Technical challenges aside – I am not sorry to see these Chromebooks go, and to wave goodbye to online schooling. My kids will be returning to in-person in the fall and all I can say to that is hallelujah! Have a great summer everyone!