Magazine News Opinions Volume 70, Issue 3

Should the School Monitor our Online Activity?

by Jack Abells

Graphic by Yiying Zhang

This school year is obviously not like prior ones. We’ve started a year completely using distance learning. With our entire academic day being spent in front of a screen and on camera, it brings up the question of what privacy we as students should be afforded. 

At the start of distance learning last year, some teachers would record Zoom lessons for future reference. Recording Zoom meetings may be well-intentioned, but the teachers walk a thin line in terms of privacy. There are legal ramifications to recording minors, so the district has since asked teachers this year to instead record themselves only while teaching a lesson.   

Canvas has the ability to monitor when students switch tabs from Canvas to something else, for the sake of catching cheating. Also to catch cheating, some colleges have even used invasive technology to track eye movement and what the test-taker is doing on their screen. Online proctoring companies such as Examity, Proctorio, and ProctorU use software and sometimes people watching over a webcam to monitor students’ every activity and movement while taking a test. “These coders are defining, mathematically, the ideal student body: how often it does, or doesn’t do, these certain attributes, and anything outside of that ideal is treated with suspicion,” said Shea Swauger, a research librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. These companies are utilized by colleges like Miami University, University of Colorado, and Boise State University. Fortunately, in a slideshow from a district presentation on August 11th, AUHSD said, “Ed Tech proctoring is not considered at this time.”

As students, we do not have many rights, especially regarding online privacy since online school is such a recent development. At most, there are laws in California that prevent the school from selling our data to companies so they can advertise to us, laws to control what info is collected from us, as well as laws in place to protect the privacy of minors.

The Page sent out a survey about this topic to students. Of the 41 responses, the general consensus amongst students was that they are okay with Canvas seeing when they switch tabs during a test, but are opposed to tracking eye movement. “I trust the teachers and the school district, however not the people who develop or own this technology that allows for this,” Freshman Garret Shaw said. “On the behalf of the eye tracking, that’s a little over the line. If they want 100% honesty, they might as well keep track of my pulse as well. I’ll happily keep my face in frame, but if they want to monitor every click and movement of the eye on my own personal device in my home, I might look into homeschooling.” 

“It feels strange that they would have so much information on what we do on our own devices,” Sophomore Makena Carey said, sharing a similar sentiment “Our devices are our own, it should remain that way. Teachers being able to see our tabs feels like an intrusion. Also, when do they stop? After class? Do they get to choose? I only have one computer I can use for anything, it feels uncomfortable to have them see all the things I’m doing on it.”

For myself, I am very much against most forms of online monitoring. Just the act of not paying attention in class or cheating, and therefore not understanding the material, should be punishment enough. Schools shouldn’t be trying to catch people. I believe that Canvas should only be able to tell when we switch tabs from it, not to where, and only during a test. The school being able to see what tabs we have open while using Canvas is unnecessary and potentially invasive. Teachers also should not record Zoom meetings while students are present and active in it. The recording of Zoom meetings should require the permission of everyone there, which isn’t very practical. If teachers need to leave a recorded lesson available to students, they can record it separately from the class with students. When it comes to monitoring eye movement and things of the sort during a test, I am adamantly opposed to it and hope the school does not implement that. Eye movement is not an indicator of cheating. These invasive tactics expect that a student who isn’t cheating would act robotically. Natural human action is fluid, and they see that and assume guilt. Yes, they could be looking at their phone or at notes, but a student could also more likely just be trying to recall something. Many people might look away at something to think. Even in person, some people might have difficulty with eye contact for a lot of reasons, so why should we expect students to stare at the screen the entire time? It’s not exactly like Zoom meetings and tests are very engaging. Also consider that, unlike in person school, Zoom has little to no social precedent. 

A few people on the survey had said that they’re not concerned about this because they don’t cheat. I refute this idea. It sounds too similar to “if you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide.” Even if you don’t look at your phone in class or you don’t cheat, surveillance is still something to worry about. Your privacy should be valued, but as students, we aren’t given much. Our school must not monitor us beyond basic observation. As Freshman Jake Jorgensen said, “There is a point where monitoring in the name of security crosses over into an invasion of privacy.”