Friday, July 13, 2007

Monitoring classroom PCs

As you may know, DyKnow develops a software solution for monitoring and controlling classroom PCs. This puts us in an interesting position as schools grapple with issues that classroom PCs can cause: distraction, cheating, cyberbullying, teacher frustration, etc.

I still believe that the best teachers find ways to engage their students through active learning and don't worry about competing with PCs. Regardless, looking up a quiz answer on the Web is quite tempting for many students. The thing that is frustrating to me is that even if there was a perfect tech solution to eliminate or curb negative outcomes, some school officials would not agree to use it. They know students need digital access (aka 21st century skills) yet they don't really want to install PCs for fear of what students will do. This has created a quickly-growing philosophical debate that K12 and HiEd officials see very differently.

K12 technologists generally believe that they have a right to monitor and control computers, regardless of computer ownership. I suppose this is justified by the age of the students and the fact that they are using school bandwidth, networking, etc. HiEd technologists, however, are in a much tougher position between frustrated faculty and adult students with a sense of entitlement. I have heard from administrators worried that students will rebel against faculty using classroom monitoring tools and create legal action over privacy. Other administrators say that their faculty want to ban classroom PCs because either they refuse to compete with email and IM or they just don't want to deal with students complaining about privacy.

One of our customers tackled this sensitive issue by holding a forum for students who felt that their privacy and rights were being compromised. He asked a student if a professor was allowed to walk through the classroom during an exam and look at what students were doing. The student quickly agreed that this was ok. The administrator then said that classroom monitoring software simply automates this process with classroom laptops. He continued by suggesting that students are custodians of knowledge, not university customers. That was a bold move! Really, though, this may be where HiEds differ: who is the university's customer? Is having a classroom laptop a privilege or a right for students?

My opinion is that even if a laptop is student-owned, he is still using school resources and until he can resist Googling answers [and respect his teachers], schools have the right to monitor and control PC activity in the classroom. Sure, college students pay for most everything, but if your goal as a student is to get a degree and a good education, why would you argue that it is your right to waste your dollars on surfing the Web at every possible moment, including during class?

The debate will go on. We would like your suggestions for how our software can help, so please contact DyKnow.