This is a legacy provincial website of the ATA. Visit our new website here.

Digital surveillance detrimental to learning, expert says

January 31, 2017 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Valerie Steeves of the University of Ottawa speaks at an event entitled Privacy Implications in the Networked Classroom, hosted at Barnett House on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.

Digital monitoring of students’ and teachers’ online activities is having a negative effect on learning in Canadian classrooms.

That was one of the messages conveyed during a one-day workshop entitled Privacy Implications in the Networked Classroom, which took place at Barnett House on Thursday, Jan. 26.

Among the lineup of expert speakers was Valerie Steeves, a University of Ottawa researcher who specializes in human rights and technology issues.

“The super surveillance that students experience in the networked classroom is bad for learning, precisely because the ability to retreat and to enjoy privacy from the teacher and from peers is an essential part of the learning process,” Steeves said.

In summarizing the findings of research conducted within the last number of years, Steeves referred to technology — known as “digital monitoring” — that monitors the websites that students access, the words they type and their online conversations.

Steeves noted that this technology is ubiquitous in Canadian schools and that it not only monitors students, but teachers as well. Studies have found similar concerns among both groups.

“Students see this as a form of hyper- control that encourages teachers and parents to overreact, to misread their interactions,” Steeves said.

“Teachers are most concerned about the negative impact the digital surveillance has on their relationships with others in the school.”

Researchers have heard from teachers over and over again that this type of surveillance shuts down important teachable moments that would enable the teacher to help kids learn how to deal with online content, Steeves said. The technology also harms teachers’ relationships with school administrators, as it signals that teachers are no longer trusted to exercise professional judgment.

“Our research has indicated that digital surveillance disrupts the social relationships in the classroom,” Steeves said, “by casting students and teachers as objects of suspicion and by casting teachers and administrators as agents of surveillance.”

Other experts who shared their insight
Priscilla Regan | George Mason Universityèeducational software
Leslie Shade | University of Torontoèsocial media monitoring of schools
Jane Bailey | University of Ottawaèeducation law and policy on cyberbullying
The same lineup of speakers also shared their expertise during a public lecture entitled Big Data, Little Kids: Privacy, Digital Literacy & Networked Classrooms. That lecture was livestreamed online and is now available as a video archive at

Also In This Issue