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Use this lesson plan to help students think critically about online surveillance at school

The school surveillance industry is booming. While rare, tragedies international journal like school shootings get lots of media attention, and taken together with more common problems like bullying, self-harm, and suicide, these issues raise important questions about students’ safety. Add pandemic-related concerns on top of this, and schools and districts are investing in a wide range of student surveillance measures, both on campus and online. But what are the trade-offs when we prioritize safety over privacy?

Monitoring software can track what students say and do online, sometimes even on students’ privately owned devices or social media accounts. In some cases schools might even use tools like location tracking or facial recognition software. Many students might not realize just how invasive some digital safety measures have become.

Student safety may be paramount, but how far should schools and districts go when balancing students’ safety with their privacy? Could safety measures have a chilling effect on students’ academic freedom or intellectual curiosity? And how does the pandemic complicate things, where distance learning may mean students’ classrooms are their own homes, or where in-person learning may require contact tracing?

Use this lesson plan to start a discussion with your students about the delicate balance between privacy and safety in the digital world.

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