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How to practice ethical monitoring

Schools are required to keep learners safe online. But how do you use screen monitoring in a positive way? Explore how to use ethical monitoring in K-12.
How to practice ethical monitoring
How to practice ethical monitoring

On any given school day, approximately 50 million students around the world are using some type of device to access and complete assignments, collaborate with classmates or search the internet for resources to enhance their learning. K-12 education has gradually become more and more digital over the last decade, but the pandemic accelerated the adoption rate. Some learners, parents and communities were caught off guard when they realized that many schools were relying on Chrome browser monitoring to ensure student safety online and curb off-task behavior. 

Chrome browser monitoring generally refers to the practice of using software that allows teachers to see what learners see on their screens when they are using a Chromebook or other similar device in K-12 education. Federal law requires schools using the internet for instructional purposes to use web filtering software to keep learners safe online and have a strategy in place to teach them about digital citizenship. We can all agree that there are scary and inappropriate things on the internet that our children should not be exposed to, and that online learning presents a variety of distractions that interfere with learning. However, there have been cases where student privacy concerns have been raised due to schools monitoring learners during non-instructional hours, or kids feeling frustrated because their teacher closed one of their tabs while they were playing the snake game. K-12 monitoring software is a valuable tool when it is used ethically for teaching and learning, and not as a punitive measure to simply close off-task tabs and surveil what learners are doing online.

What is ethical monitoring? 

Hāpara’s statement of ethical monitoring practice explains that all educational technology should be used for teaching and learning, not surveillance or punishment. Ethical monitoring is the practice of using tools like Hāpara Highlights to support students in their learning, provide positive feedback, foster collaboration between teacher and student, model and teach digital citizenship skills, develop executive function skills and most of all, as a communication tool to let learners know that their teachers are there for them. When used with these intentions, monitoring software for K-12 education can be transformative and create experiences that work to enhance what great educators are already doing every day. While there are convenience features in monitoring tools that are tempting to rely on, like closing student tabs, it’s important for educators to be well-trained in practices that are not immediately obvious like the aforementioned feature. Just like with any piece of technology, you can’t simply put it in the hands of educators or learners and expect it to do the work for you. It must be tied to sound pedagogical practices.

Be transparent with learners about monitoring

It’s important that teachers are able to see what learners are doing on their computers for a variety of reasons besides just keeping them on task. Educators can use ethical screen monitoring to offer guided practice to learners in remote learning settings and provide formative feedback in the moment — and it’s crucial that you let learners know that you will be using a tool to monitor their activity online during class. If you don’t tell them from the beginning of the school year, they will feel like you are spying on them and that their privacy is being invaded. This creates an adversarial relationship between teachers and students which isn’t good for creating a positive learning environment. Being clear upfront about what monitoring means, how and when you will do it and why will go a long way in building rapport with learners. Educators can talk to learners about how they use it as a teaching tool and explain the types of situations that require them to intervene and close a website or freeze their screen. This way you can build mutual trust and respect, and when you do have to close a tab, learners will understand why.

Use monitoring as a teaching tool

Monitoring software doesn’t just have to be about shutting down off-task behavior. It should also serve as an instructional tool. The ability to see a learner’s screen allows educators to work right alongside them and provide valuable feedback in the moment or encouragement when they see that a learner is stalled on part of an assignment. Most K-12 browser monitoring software gives teachers the ability to view a student’s current screen like this, but Hāpara takes it a step further by providing a robust set of features that have a much higher instructional impact. Hāpara Highlights allows teachers to remotely open links on a learner’s device when they need help finding a resource. Curated browsing experiences created by preselecting a specific list of websites model what good digital citizenship looks like. Learners can then emulate this positive behavior when they are developmentally ready. Additionally, learners can practice self-regulation by asking a teacher to filter out a specific website that distracts them from the task at hand. Teachers can also take a quick snap of the student’s screen and provide them with feedback. These are all ways that ethical monitoring tools can help learners academically and developmentally.

Create a safe and supportive learning environment 

Students must feel supported and respected in order for them to feel comfortable enough to focus on learning. Basic needs must be met before students can even begin to learn, and those basic needs include feeling safe and supported by their school, teachers and peers. Using a monitoring tool like Highlights helps educators create this safe space in their classroom. Teachers often use the messaging tool in Highlights to send notes of encouragement to their students. This lets learners know that they belong, that they are seen and heard — essentials for building a school and classroom climate where they feel accepted. Commonly referred to as social emotional learning, educators can also create an inclusive environment by seeking to understand students’ personal experiences and cultural backgrounds and integrating that into instruction. One way to do this is to create curated digital lessons or projects based on feedback from learners and share them using a tool like Highlights to group students with the lessons and resources most relevant to their lives.

Empower learners to be digital citizens 

Another way to practice ethical monitoring is to model what digital citizenship looks like and then encourage learners to be digital citizens now and in the future. Learners need to complete their K-12 education knowing things like how to protect their privacy, personal information and identity online, as well as how they want to be perceived online. These are skills that every learner must master to succeed in higher education, the workforce and adult life. We’ve all seen examples of oversharing on social media, photoshopping someone’s likeness without permission and identity theft. Teaching learners how to navigate this complex digital world using monitoring tools like Highlights is ethical monitoring. Many educators use Highlights to set up curated browsing sessions to make a specific set of sites available to learners to show them what reputable digital resources look like. As learners mature, their teachers can allow them to venture onto other websites to research topics of interest, and they always can pull the learner back if they are off-task or on a dangerous site. Sending a message that says, “Hey, this website is inappropriate. Please let me know if you need help finding the right one,” or closing the student’s tab and providing a reason such as, “You are off task again,” create teachable moments. Learners can take these moments and apply what they learned in the future.

Always teaching, always learning

The truth is that as educators we are always teaching and our students are always like sponges soaking up learning. That’s why it is important to look at your monitoring tool as a teaching and learning tool, and take full advantage of all of the opportunities it provides to educate and support learners. That is what ethical monitoring truly is.

Explore how schools use a web filter and screen monitoring to keep students safe and teach digital citizenship.

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