Ending Distractions Is Not Worth Letting Schools Play Big Brother

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

With the onset of using laptops and computers in the classroom along with students bring smartphones to school kids being distracted is a real problem. 

A new start-up, NetRef, provides a solution. Using the school’s network teachers can restrict what a student can access online (this, of course, wouldn’t work with phones that are using a wireless network instead of the school’s wi-fi to go online, but teachers can also restrict whether or not phones can be out).

Robyn Shuls at Forbes interviewed Joseph Heinzen, the President and Founder of Zoozil, who works closely with NetRef. He said something that jumped out at me.

Shulman: What else does the software do?

Heinzen: The second component to NetRef is providing edtech usage reports. Because we have taken a network-based approach, NetRef works with student-owned as well as school-owned devices. This capability allows schools and districts to see aggregated usage data for edtech software for every student on each device.

Shulman: Where is the data stored?

Heinzen: The data stays on-site in their network and gives administrators a clear picture of what tools have been adopted and are increasing academic achievement.

Heizen states that it provides edtech usage reports, but it goes beyond that. The NetRef features page states that the software, “shows real-time Internet activity by student, classroom and school. Usage reports are accessible to educators based on their access level.”

Also, they state, “NetRef allows teachers to immediately identify which students are connected to the network and adhering to the Acceptable Use Policy.”

That is not just edtech usage. There are some data privacy concerns here. At the bottom of their features page, they cite FERPA, COPPA, CIPA, PPRA, etc. Unfortunately, none of those laws prevent the government, in the form of your local school, of playing Big Brother. 

How about offering software that does not track internet usage? 

Better yet, let’s limit screen time in the classroom altogether.