LFI.4 week 5 discussion: online learning/work environments

Here’s a thread to continue our discussion from today on online work and learning environments since the start of the pandemic. I’d like to hear from folks about their experiences with new surveillance norms and demands, who these demands are coming from (administrators, tech companies, etc), and how these technologies are exacerbating existing social inequities.

I’d also like us to discuss how these surveillance norms are showing up in workplaces and impacting workers, especially people who are trying to get organized in these times.

Finally, let’s also talk about how these technologies are showing up in a K-12 environment. Are the issues the same as in academic environments?

Right now I am preparing to start my new position so the technologies that my institution uses is not known as much. But, from the emails that I have received since getting my institution email they are using zoom and outlook. Since our conversations about surveillance I have really started to think about how much I have and will continue to be monitored and what I can do to minimize that. I think that once I start work I am going to try to have this conversations with my colleagues, at least start it for sure.

Regarding K-12, it is scary to think about how students can be recorded and I don’t think parents think about the vulnerability that their kid is going to be in. There is still some trust in the education system, especially teachers and I think that this continues to blind parents to not think about privacy and the technology recommended and required in education settings that places their children in a position that effects their privacy so they don’t ask questions to find out about the type of data the software their children are required to use will be collecting.

3 Likes

To tie this conversation back to last week, it’s shock doctrine all over again. 'Rona is overwhelming as it is, add to it the educational difficulties of remote learning and the technology “aids” that schools and teachers are relying on. There’s no one person who can keep up with the privacy compromises teachers, parents, students and administrators are taking on. It all normalizes surveillance that responsible adults wouldn’t ordinarily consent to.

1 Like

Plus, even if someone could keep track of all of the various surveillance and privacy concerns relating to the technology they’re choosing, it is likely that everyone from students to parents and up to teachers and administrators feel powerless to combat it. Administrators need to make sure tests are taken for funding, teachers need to prove that their classes are learning; plus they feel the responsibility of keeping kids and staff safe and not worsening the pandemic. Parents and students don’t have a choice since childcare and work are inflexible beasts. Parents can’t take time off of work to educate their children, so they are dependent on the school, and most children will do whatever they are told because they lack agency in their educations. It’s just…a lose-lose-lose all the way down.

2 Likes

@abby & @samlee

You’ve both made really good points here that I just want to second. Particularly on the point of being/ feeling powerless, my mind keeps on returning to how quickly schools had to make decisions about how to transition to online learning, and how often those decisions may have been made by administrators at varying states of well-intentioned-ness and in-touch-ness re: how classrooms do or should work. I also wonder what kind of contracts schools are making with various companies to run certain programs or software, and what kind of protections and recourse they’ve been able to build into those contracts should something (inevitably?) go wrong.

Also, I have to share something my sister-in-law told me the other night. She works an administrative job, from home since COVID, and her employer tracks the activity on her computer to make sure it’s not idle for too long; it specifically tracks the movement of her mouse. Initially, she would be coded as inactive if her mouse didn’t move for something like 15 or 30 minutes but recently, that was changed to every 3 minutes! So, she and my brother rigged a Home Alone-style contraption with a rotating fan to nudge her mouse every thirty seconds or so, which I think is completely ingenious.

2 Likes

This drives me nuts, because being busy is not the same as being productive. I worked with a woman who was always, always rushing - she was constantly going to and from meetings, organizing more meetings, replying to emails, taking phone calls in her office - but she was never productive. Her tasks and responsibilities were always shunted off to someone else while was too busy doing something else. This woman did not know how to do her job. I get the impression that the corporate world is similarly “busy” with managers and executives constantly in meetings, looking busy, but never actually being productive…

Now, I’m wondering back to economics and who gets decide what work is productive and how mouse movement is a “low-hanging” fruit for a metric on remote work getting done… :roll_eyes:

I worked for years in a private preschool & daycare and in the last year or so the company had ipads for each teacher with an app which was used to send photos to parents, assessments, messages about items needed at school, incident reports, etc. Honestly, imo most of the preschools that are franchises have owners who aren’t willing to spend more money than is absolutely necessary on tech for teacher surveillance, so while it exists it’s not as bad as it could be if the school owners were willing to spend more. My school did for instance have a policy against live streaming video for parents, even though it was often requested, especially for parents new to the infant room, but our explanation was that it was too easy to hack and we couldn’t guarantee the privacy of all the babies so even if you wanted it and agreed to it for your child, if one parent didn’t agree then we couldn’t do it, so that was good (though it totally ignored the willingness and privacy of the teachers). We did, however, have cameras (that didn’t record) in classrooms which could be watched by management in the office, and a lot of that was for liability and checking where classes were without having to run around the entire building and all the playgrounds to find out, plus creepers liked to lurk where they could see kids playing across the parking lot and such. So. Lots of Very Not Ideal things but in the private pre-K world the owners of franchise schools are such cheapskates that it could be worse if only they were willing to spend the money, ime.

Not moving a mouse for 3 minutes codes as inactive? That’s an unrealistic expectation! There are many instances where people can be active and productive on a computer that do not involve a mouse. I think about how I teach people to use keyboard shortcuts in MS Word and Excel - one of the points I make is that it saves them from having to lift their hands from the keyboard, so they can be more efficient. So she could be productively typing in MS Word for 5 minutes and it would register her as inactive? What if she is on a phone call, is she expected to jiggle her mouse every 2 minutes, even though she is “active” on the phone call?

The fan idea is really great. Reminds me of the Simpsons bit (in an episode about working from home!) where Homer sets up a drinking bird device to tap his keyboard.

Our office used to have motion-activated lights, but the problem was that many of my co-workers sat too far away from the sensor to keep it activated. So one of them made a mobile that we hung near the sensor and pointed a small fan at it. It worked beautifully until someone forgot to turn it off at the end of the day and the lights stayed on all night and maintenance threw a fit and tore it down.

2 Likes