More on monitoring students… and instant messages

Here is a brief exchange between some classmates and myself…

I agree with your statement about always having a proctor present. I have witnessed several times when inappropriate things suddenly appear on a student computer. Usually they areb as surprised as I am! Since firewalls can’t catch everything all the time, teachers are needed to constantly monitor computer usage.

I agree that teachers should monitor what their students are doing on the computer, just as they would monitor students in a classroom or library of books. The classic scenario of a student hiding an inappropriate magazine inside a reference book is analogous to a student who closes an inappropriate window when a teacher walks by. We expect teachers not to be negligent, but on the other hand we don’t expect that they will be able to catch everything, just as they wouldn’t catch every note passed in a class. Also, when where the rubber meets the road, a teacher will sometimes trust a student to work independently while the teacher monitors other students or tends to other work. Sometimes circumstances even demand this. While we should hold our teachers to the same standard of monitoring students on a computer as we would without a computer, it would be unreasonable to expect a higher standard of monitoring (or policing).

I often try to help teachers see misbehavior on a computer in terms of misbehavior in a classroom. For example, if a student passes a note in class they may be rebuked, and in some situations may receive additional consequences such as detention. So, a student using Instant Messaging or emailing during class when he or she should be working on an assignment should at most receive a similar rebuke; we would never take away a student’s paper privileges for passing a note! Frankly, though, in this case, I think a rebuke is only necessary if the student does not complete their assigned task. Using IM and email while working is a normal part of a productive adult workflow in today’s world (even if some percentage of the IM and email is social), and students should be preparing for this world. Ideally, student use of IM and email should be an opportunity to talk about time management… and balance in life.


You stated, “a student using Instant Messaging or emailing during class when he or she should be working on an assignment should at most receive a similar rebuke.” I agree with this statement and would like to add that maybe we are overlooking the fact that new generations of students can listen and email at the same time. I have a growing number of young adult students who can do just that. I have learned to recognize students who are instant messaging their friends or surfing the internet as I lecture. When I call on these students to anwer questions in class they do not hesitate to answer because they can multi-task.

I think you’ve interpreted my quote out of context, but in the end I think we are making a similar point.

I was arguing that students who IM or email during class should receive no greater punishment than a student who passes notes during class. (Because lots of AUPs consider IM and email to be a violation of acceptable use, and students may loose their internet privileges… I drew the parallel of saying we would never take a student’s paper privileges away for passing notes.)

Also, after making this point I went on to suggest that doing IM and email while working is actually part of a normal adult workflow (even if the IM and email is social), and that it should not only be allowed, but used as an opportunity to teach about time management (and knowing your multi-tasking limits, really) when students are not able to complete their work and IM and email in the same period of time. I also agree that many students may be strikingly better at multi-tasknig than their teachers… to the point where the teachers may not believe it is possible for students to pay attention while doing other things.

I often defend the educational benefits of instant messages to school districts that “block” instant messaging. I put “block” in quotes because I’m sure students find away around this. I was recently in a district where the ports for AIM and MSN were blocked, but I was still able to get on AIM Express through my browser. ;) I find IM to be one of my most productive tools, and it has allowed me to communicate with students in an on-demand just-in-time manner… and to communicate with teachers in such a way that they can respond in real-time if available, and asynchronously if they are busy, such that I do not interrupt class in the way I would with a phone call or visit. This is one case in which I think the effort to limit student exposure to internet applications has some very detrimental side effects.