We hear a lot about the importance of students becoming responsible digital citizens in the 21st century. And we couldn’t agree more. But when it comes to ethical monitoring—concerned with how school systems set up their digital classroom management tools and teachers use them—we hear far too little. If we truly expect learners to develop those desired digital citizenship skills, educators must first become ethical monitors of their students’ online activity.
The most recent user data for Highlights, Hāpara’s digital classroom management tool, reveals an opportunity for growth and time to evolve the practice of ethical monitoring in many districts. Tab closing, an administrative feature intended to promote responsible behavior online and keep learners focused, is often employed in ways that are actually counterproductive to student growth. As teachers, we need to make this a constructive learning opportunity, and study why off-task behavior is happening.
Anonymous tab closing shuts down learning
Students share with us that they don’t always know why a tab has been closed in their browser. Some blame a glitch in their internet connection or an accidental keystroke on their part, leading them to simply reopen the tab in question. One can easily imagine how such an innocent misunderstanding may quickly be escalated to a behavioral issue, potentially causing friction between the student and teacher.
These anonymous teacher interventions are intrusive and confusing when unaccompanied by an explanation. Worse, they offer little opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes. Constant monitoring and closing of student tabs deprive young learners of the chance to make better choices independently. As a result, learners fail to develop the skills that will enable them to function well online without supervision. This may impede later success in college or work, where self-regulation is both expected and required.
Our data shows that when teachers must provide a reason for closing student tabs, student online behavior shifts in a positive direction, and tab closures reduce significantly.
How can teachers improve their ethical monitoring skills?
Ethical monitoring is built on two main tenets: good pedagogy and a mutually respectful teacher-student relationship. Using Highlights or any classroom management suite as a punitive tool simply isn’t good pedagogy.
Hāpara tools provide visibility into what students are doing when they’re online. If a teacher observes a student becoming distracted by irrelevant or unhelpful content, good pedagogy means offering help, not discipline. Digital citizenship is taught by example and structure. Teachers set a good example when they are transparent in their monitoring, communicate clearly and improve upon their own teaching practice.
Transparency goes a long way toward establishing mutual respect in any relationship. We recommend beginning the school year by explaining the purpose and benefits of the classroom management software that you’re using with your students. It may also help to communicate to learners that it’s perfectly normal to go off task for a minute or two, take a brain break, and then come back. Reinforcing appropriate classroom behavior is the best way to achieve desired outcomes.
How can districts support teachers in practicing ethical monitoring?
Districts can promote better behavior and more ethical monitoring by configuring their admin console to ensure that students are only monitored by their own teachers, during school hours and when on the school network. It’s also essential that teachers identify themselves and provide a clear explanation whenever intervening to close a student’s tab.
At Hāpara, we are dedicated to making sure our tools are used to support, not inhibit, learner growth. As of September 1, districts will not be given the option to turn off reasons for closing a student tab. That same day, Hāpara will release a training called Ethical Monitoring to support educators in using Highlights to promote student learning.
We want to change classroom behavior and help students build the skills necessary to succeed in school and beyond. We also want to help teachers develop the skills required to use classroom management software with clear instructional purpose to cultivate positive learning environments. It takes time and great intention to build students’ digital citizenship skills. We are committed to joining districts on this important journey.