One of the few positives that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that schools and districts were forced to address one of the elephants in the room of education: The Digital Divide. We of course have not “fixed” it, but we have at least put a dent into it for the time being. It remains to be seen how committed schools and districts will be to providing students with the digital access they need once we return to in-person classes. But for now, it is better than it was. However, there is downside to increased connectivity, and that is privacy.
Anytime we connect with each other digitally, we risk people learning more than they need to know. Since digital connection is no longer an option but now is a necessity, we need to make sure schools are doing right by their students in regard to privacy.
Most schools are using hardware and digital platforms that allow them to monitor students’ online activity. Actions like internet traffic, screenshots, email, and even instant messages can be tracked and viewed by teachers and admin alike. This is a necessity for e-learning. You can’t really teach students online if you can’t see what they are doing. The problem is that this can lead to the people in charge abusing that power.
What does that look like?
- Monitoring student internet traffic during non-school hours like on the weekend.
If there are sites you don’t want them visiting, then install a web-filter. Don’t go snooping through their internet history to find out what blogs they read or YouTubers they watch.
- Reading through their emails for anything other than academic or behavior purposes.
If you are trying to see if they opened the email you sent about their missing work? Cool. Investigating allegations of cyber bullying? Cool. Trying to figure out who has a crush on who or pickup on the latest gossip? Not cool.
This is not an exhaustive list but it suffices to say that there is a line that can be crossed when it comes to monitoring students. You can avoid crossing it by asking yourself these questions:
“Is this part of my job?”
“Is this something I would do if we were in person?”
“Would I want their parents knowing I was doing this?”
If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, then you probably should not be doing it. Just because the online platforms give you access to your students’ personal lives, it doesn’t mean you should pry.