This report is also authored by Hugh Grant-Chapman, Independent Consultant
The role of technology in K-12 education continues to grow, and schools across the U.S. are turning to monitoring technologies to track students’ online activity. Yet, as student activity monitoring has become commonplace, students and parents report concerns about irresponsible uses of these tools even as they recognize their potential benefits.
Over the past two years, CDT has investigated the rise in popularity of student activity monitoring technology, and the benefits and risks it poses to students’ well-being. Survey research conducted last summer revealed that 9 out of 10 secondary school teachers report that their schools use student activity monitoring technology and that these tools are used for disciplinary applications more often than for student safety (Laird et al., 2022). In addition, 44 percent of teachers report that a student in their schools was contacted by law enforcement because of student activity monitoring, and 29 percent of LGBTQ+ students report that they or someone they know were involuntarily “outed” due to this technology (Laird et al., 2022). These trends indicate that student activity monitoring may be negatively impacting the well-being and safety of a large proportion of students. Further, Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ students report experiencing disproportionate harm compared to other students (Laird et al., 2022).
To examine these impacts in greater depth, CDT recently conducted twenty interviews with parents whose children have experienced short- and long-term consequences based on the use of student activity monitoring technology. This new research sheds light on the first-hand experiences of students and their families who were impacted by student activity monitoring. The stories of these parents paint a more complete picture of the effects of student activity monitoring on students, the ways schools respond to the information collected, and the changes parents want to see if these systems continue to be implemented.
CDT’s interviews with parents identified six main findings:
- The most common type of activity flagged by student activity monitoring software was the viewing of inappropriate content.
- Monitoring has a chilling effect on students’ speech and use of the internet, which can also impact their learning.
- The actions that follow the monitoring and reporting of student activity can have significant emotional impacts on students.
- Monitoring can undermine relationships between students and adults including their teachers and school administrators.
- Student activity monitoring alerts were not always kept private, resulting in stigmatizing students.
- Monitoring can catalyze negative student behavior and lead to direct threats to students’ safety and future well-being.
Based on their experiences, parents prioritized four key areas of change for how student activity monitoring should be conducted:
- More transparency about the student activity monitoring decision-making process.
- A narrower scope of student activity monitoring use.
- More careful, nuanced responses to alerts generated from monitoring systems.
- A more active role for parents themselves in responding to alerts.