Seven reasons that teachers should use student monitoring software carefully.
As schools teach more and more students online, school districts are increasingly adopting monitoring software to ensure appropriate device use among students. While student misuse of school-issued laptops can be problematic, districts and teachers can, unfortunately, use this reason to justify an inappropriate reliance upon such software. The legal and ethical issues surrounding computer monitoring software use are often not addressed sufficiently during teacher training, making misuse all the more probable.¹ In addition, misapplication of monitoring software more frequently occurs in schools where students are more likely to be minorities and poor, creating another level of ethical issues to be considered.
To fully address potential legal and ethical concerns regarding such software as GoGuardian, teachers must be aware of the following issues:
1. There are legal limits as to how schools use monitoring software.
Schools let parents and students know about monitoring software through their AUP(Acceptable Use Policy). But schools must also notify parents and students specifically if they intend to use students’ online data to detect such things as suicidal thoughts or drug use. Schools can, and do, access a student’s online activity beyond school hours. They can see web searches and websites opened as well as emails sent using school district accounts. Therefore, students and parents should also be fully aware that there is no assumption of privacy on a school device even if the students are using the laptop at home after school hours on their private WIFI.²
2. Misuse of monitoring software like GoGuardian could make you and your district legally liable.
Parents have won suits against schools regarding the improper use of student device webcams, so it is only right to assume that improper use of monitoring software (either intentional or unintentional) could result in legal actions. For example, under The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), states must require teachers to be mandated reporters. Using monitoring software to scan student search records makes teachers legally liable to report any suspicious activity. Even if the suspicious activity occurred outside of school hours, a teacher must report it. But at some point, we must ask, where does the professional roles of educators or even school IT professionals end? For this reason, some districts will discourage and even disallow employees from accessing extensive search records that go beyond class times.
When teachers use technology to monitor behavior, students can come to believe that school is merely a matter of compliance rather than the development of a love of learning.
3. Over-reliance on monitoring software can interrupt effective teaching.
For a teacher to use GoGuardian they must consistently monitor their computer to see which students are on the assigned websites. Although GoGuardian states that this process frees up the teacher, it does the opposite. It is much easier to manage large groups of students from one vantage point than walking around the classroom. Tying a teacher to their desk prevents them from interacting with students, reducing the amount of time spent on instruction and student assistance. Often this inattention can be the reason why some argue that schools should limit screen time.
4. Using monitoring software for the psychological diagnosis of students can be highly troublesome.
Too often, schools and educational tech companies may laud AI’s ability to identify potential mental health concerns in students. But this needs to stop. Not only are there some serious privacy concerns involved, but there is also no evidence that programs that alert districts to mental health issues of students are effective in reducing such problems as suicide in schools. Algorithms may tag harmless images or words as problematic. Filters designed to detect cyberbullying or hate speech disproportionately flag minority speech patterns. Also, the interpretation of such alerts depends upon the training of the school personnel involved. Personal biases regarding homosexuality, for example, may negatively influence what screeners perceive as concerning behavior. Political preferences may also adversely impact a teacher’s perception of a student if the search history reflects an undesired political ideology.
5. Overreliance on monitoring software for mental health care can divert resources from reliable means to reduce student cyberbullying and suicide.
Computer monitoring software costs money. And while districts enthusiastically purchase such programs, funding for school counselors continues to dwindle. School counselors and social workers who serve hundreds of students are often the first to go, putting an extra strain on remaining staff. Additional work requirements for school counselors, such as proctoring standardized testing or completing administrative tasks, also frequently take precedence over mental health consultations. If schools seriously want to improve their students’ mental health, they must invest in school mental health professionals and allow them the time to serve students directly.
6. Misuse of monitoring software may erode teacher-student relationships and trust.
We know that positive teacher-student relationships can increase student learning and decrease student behavioral issues. There is also evidence that when teachers develop an atmosphere of trust and understanding in their classes, students will talk to them if they need help with mental health or safety issues.³ When teachers use technology to monitor behavior, students can come to believe that school is merely a matter of compliance rather than the development of a love of learning. Classroom management needs to center on developing positive behaviors conducive to learning rather than the control of misbehavior.
If schools seriously want to improve their students’ mental health, they must invest in school mental health professionals and allow them the time to serve students directly.
7. Overreliance on monitoring software for classroom management deteriorates the perception of teachers as professionals.
When using external applications to replace teacher decision making, districts and states can assume that teaching merely involves using the right materials or technology.⁴ If educators want the public to see them as professionals worthy of respect and higher salaries, teachers must be allowed to use professional judgment within their classroom. No technology can replace the intuition and knowledge that comes from highly qualified educators with years of experience.
No technology can replace the intuition and knowledge that comes from highly qualified educators with years of experience.
While this list may not address all the issues surrounding the use of monitoring software in schools, it highlights the many concerns teachers need to be aware of. The rapid evolution of technology and the equally rapid adoption of technology by school districts often precludes the necessary legal, ethical, and pedagogical analysis. Teachers must be mindful of such issues, protecting themselves and their students. Parents and students as well must be informed regarding the misuse of online surveillance even through college. Although watchdog groups, government entities, and legal advocates may keep the negative aspects of unrestrained technology in check, users must insulate themselves from harm through self-education.
- “68 percent of teachers who responded to our survey say they have received no training from their schools on how to use these systems to minimize the chances that personal data will be breached or abused.” Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy: A Practical Guide for Protecting Personal Data.(2018). Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. https://studentprivacymatters.org/educator-toolkit-for-teacher-and-student-privacy/
- Even if students are using their home WIFI, monitoring occurs because they must sign on to their school account to access their school-issued device.
- Supporting Student Mental Health: Resources to Prepare Educators. (2020). National Center for School Mental Health. https://mhttcnetwork.org/centers/global-mhttc/school-mental-health-resources
- Taken to the extreme, states and districts will assume that a university degree in education is not necessary for teacher preparation and can use this to justify hiring much less qualified individuals to teach with reduced salaries.