Law in the Internet Society

Can Coursework’s monitoring of our behaviors be justified?

To begin with, there is a need to make a distinction between commercial software, which directly connects consumers and businesses, and the software which mainly serves those institutions that assume important social responsibilities, like the government, schools, or hospitals. The first kind of software serves solely the enterprises and therefore the purposes of collecting and analyzing our behavior data are mainly to make us more addicted to consuming. However, for the second kind of software, since their direct clients need to fulfill their social duties (even if achieving social welfare is not their exclusive purpose), this kind of software may have some sort of justifications for using our data. Then the question is whether Coursework, which serves mainly educational institutions, performs its “justified duty” well through surveillance?

Do monitoring and recording our behavior provide any functions?

Firstly, as a direct user, I mainly use coursework to check the “Announcements” to see if there are any important notifications, download the syllabus and other files professors upload, watch the class recordings and submit my assignments. Also, most of my classmates and I do not take coursework as the main tool for interactions. Google docs, emails, and What's App are popular for group study. None of the functions we use depends on the surveillance.

Second, although the canvas website displays lots of functions and generates all kinds of exquisite charts and tables, the only thing I find needs to be supported by our behavior data is the "Analytics" function for instructors. With the help of “Analytics”, instructors can view students’ weekly online activity data including average page views and average participation. Average pages tell instructors how many pages each student views in a week. The participations include posting a new comment, submitting an assignment, editing a document, joining a web conference, and so on.

Therefore, the only function the surveillance serves is generating a picture of students’ actions of studying instead of their learning outcomes (which I believe can be presented through their assignments and exams instead of their online actions).

Is the function valuable to students?

For instructors, students’ studying activities may be important indicators for grading. They may suppose that these activities show students’ attitudes and efforts. Also, the awareness of being recorded behaviors may create some anxiety about grades and peer pressure for students, which may encourage or push them to take study actions.

Then, whether the encouraging or pushing power mentioned above is valuable to students’ future development? The answer should be supported by studies that involve human behaviors, psychology, pedagogy, and sociology, which also need long-term follow-up research and comparative data, but based on the current research I found and my understanding, I think it is uncertain.

Reading more pages and spending more time do help students get more information about the course, which increases the opportunities of gaining more knowledge and digging more into the subjects. However, being monitored to take study actions is not necessary for the purposes since more assignments or self-exploration arrangements may get the same effects as well. The possible influence I conceive is that taking study actions may be conducive to forming a regular studying pattern so that students can keep up with the instructors’ schedule.

This is kind of similar to university attendance policy, in “The Surveillance of Learning: A Critical Analysis of University Attendance Policies” , the author introduces some useful arguments about its effects.

Supporting the policy “Because class attendance and course grade are demonstrably and positively related, the University expects students to attend all class sessions of courses in which they are enrolled. (Missouri State University, 2012, p. 1)” “The importance of regular attendance is also particularly stressed in the context of certain other subjects, such as the learning of foreign languages, where absence might cause students to fall behind quickly and then be unable to catch up (University of Pennsylvania, 2012).” “The attendance policy of the University of Leeds (2011, p. 4) states that attendance is important because it 'helps students to build work patterns appropriate for their time after university.”

Opposing the policy “The connection between attendance and achievement cannot be empirically proven, rather than a case based on social or moral grounds.” “In the context of a higher education, university students should be treated as adults rather than children. Attendance requirements remove choice and judgment about the value of personal time and how this is best spent.” “The close policing of attendance at university means that students are not allowed to develop the capacity to develop mature judgments about the use of their own time and intellectual energy.”

From my perception and understanding of the above arguments, surveillance of learning actions helps some students form a routine pattern of learning, become more obedient to the rules and more diligent in study and work. On the contrary, surveillance interferes with students' allocation of their study time based on their own value and interests.

Back to the question a the beginning, is this valuable for students’ future? It’s helpful to deliberate what the purpose of education is. If the purpose is to “enable us to procure the primary needs of our life- food, shelter and clothing” , then surveillance is helpful to some degree since it enables us to fit in the society by turning us into useful tools like screws. If students chase other goals like "exploring the world", "promoting the living conditions of humans" or "becoming a better myself" which requires highly creative and liberal minds (which useful tools can never achieve), then surveillance is meaningless or even harmful.


In conclusion, it’s fair to say that the benefits from monitoring us are uncertain (sometimes can even generate harmful effects). The knowledge and capacity of students(like middle school students and college students), the characteristics of different subjects or learning programs, and other relevant factors should be taken into account when answering the justification questions. Therefore, surveillance by platforms like Coursework can’t survive the balancing test with students’ privacy under all circumstances, and governments and educational institutions should be very cautious when making the decision. .

1.The Surveillance of Learning: A Critical Analysis of University Attendance Policies, 12 July 2013 Bruce Macfarlane

2.Meaning, aims and process of education, S Kumar, S Ahmad - School of Open Learning, 2008

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r3 - 08 Jan 2022 - 14:58:25 - FeiyangDou
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