What happened to student privacy?
Lindsay Dixon Garcia
Head of Content | Hapara
As schools around the world make the move toward creating a digital learning environment, opportunities are created for learners to truly explore the multiple perspectives of people they may never encounter on the street, and far off places that they may never visit. With all of these opportunities come dangers as well, since we can’t always be sure who our children might meet on the internet, what kind of content they consume or how they might become distracted from what is really important–learning.
Lots of filtering and monitoring tools have popped up in light of these concerns. This is what usually happens when new technology is introduced: People become fearful and respond to that fear with measures that in hindsight, may not have been entirely appropriate. In the edtech industry, we hear a lot about “closing student tabs” and “monitoring online activity.” The technology that has grown out of the fear of the unknown on the internet has created new concerns. Schools can now purchase technology that allows them a window into everything their students are doing online. There are eyes and ears everywhere, but is this a good thing? With all of the concern for student safety online, many in the industry have forgotten about a student’s right to privacy.
Realistically, how does a school guarantee that students are doing what they are supposed to be doing online, and provide a safe environment for doing so? The answer is twofold: 1) Schools must adopt technology that protects learners but also considers their privacy, and 2) they must teach their learners how to be good digital citizens and how to protect themselves online.
How to keep monitoring ethical
Tell students that they are being monitored
It shouldn’t be a secret. By letting learners know that you have the ability to look into what they are doing online, you are building trust and keeping them safe. Building trusting relationships makes for a much more positive learning environment, on and offline. Hāpara Highlights gives teachers visibility into what learners are doing online and encourages ethical practices.
Gradually release digital responsibility
In schools, our job as educators is not only to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. We are also responsible for building the next generation of ethical citizens. Teachers and parents won’t always be around to protect children. Eventually, they will venture into the world and they must have the tools to do the right thing even when nobody’s watching. Schools must practice gradually releasing monitoring controls until learners can do the right thing on their own. Hāpara Highlights has this built into the platform. Teachers have the ability to modify how they monitor and reduce controls over time based on each individual student’s needs. Constantly playing whack-a-mole with student browser tabs all year long is not an effective strategy.
Teach digital citizenship
Digital citizenship education must be a part of a method of gradual release of digital responsibility. If students know how to conduct themselves online, it will be much easier to relinquish some of the controls. Common Sense Education is a great resource for free digital citizenship lessons. Hāpara also provides resources to schools on how to use its tools with a digital citizenship mindset.
Teach kids that their privacy is important
There’s a difference between hiding what you’re doing online and protecting your privacy. Everyone has the right to privacy and that most definitely includes students. Having conversations about what private information is and how to protect it online can go a long way in helping kids learn how to protect themselves online.
Eyes and ears shouldn’t be everywhere
Creating a surveillance state will not keep your students safe. If it hasn’t worked for authoritarian regimes, it won’t work in your elementary school classroom. When schools set up their monitoring software, they should only be monitoring during instructional time and while students are on the school network. Additionally, teachers should only be monitoring their own students. When a Hāpara teacher is monitoring what learners are doing online they can provide learners with additional resources and support, redirect off-task behavior with an instant message, or create a curated browsing session. There’s no need for a teacher to monitor students in other classrooms. Hāpara allows districts to make these decisions, but strongly suggests this scenario.
Ethical monitoring is a long game. It is not easy, but doing the right thing seldom is. Hāpara was created to enable teachers and learners to use technology and the internet in safe and ethical ways.