The anti-LanSchool argument

The anti-LanSchool argument

LanSchool screenshot
Click to enlarge. Screenshot courtesy of Dr. Scoville.

Michael Kessler

Editor-in-Chief

This year, Milken is implementing a new program called LanSchool, which will allow faculty and administrators to monitor and control student laptops. LanSchool’s full details can be found in The Roar‘s accompanying news article.

LanSchool presents a number of problems that revolve around three key issues: Its in-class aspects, its out-of-class aspects, and its impacts on student privacy.

First off, Milken technically has a right to restrict and monitor student laptop usage during class time. However, just because such a right exists does not mean that it is right for our particular school and students. In fact, I believe that by using LanSchool to monitor students’ laptop usage during class, Milken actually strips student accountability while contradicting its own mission statement.

One of Milken’s publicly stated academic goals is to “develop independent learners who take responsibility for their academic work and their own success.”* I wonder how students can take responsibility for their academic actions when LanSchool’s monitoring program will not even permit them to assume that responsibility in the first place. Milken is placing its students in a protective bubble with LanSchool that fosters an environment in which its students are not given the freedom to see any poor decision-making result in appropriate negative consequences.

Additionally, LanSchool’s implementation directly contradicts another of Milken’s academic missions to “[prepare] our students for the demands of the world.”* University administrators and college professors do not care if their students are using their laptops inappropriately during class time instead of taking notes on the day’s lecture. If a student consequently performs poorly in the course, he or she will fail and another more focused student will take their place. The same is true in the real world: If someone does not get their job done, that person will be fired, and someone more on task will be hired in their place.

What Milken should do with its students is groom them in a learning environment that mirrors college and the real world, instead of using LanSchool to micromanage its students’ laptop usage. In this way, its graduates will truly be prepared “for the demands of the world.”

Let me be clear: I do believe that a program like LanSchool has inherent value in an elementary or middle school setting. It is at that stage in students’ lives when they should be taught proper academic protocol and be placed in classrooms where they are forced to be focused and on task. But by imposing these same restrictions on older and more mature high school students, Milken oversteps its responsibilities and acts inconsistently with its self-stated goal to “develop independent learners.”

The second major problem with LanSchool revolves around its usage and purpose outside the classroom. Whereas during class there is legitimate, yet flawed reason for teachers to monitor their students’ laptops, no justification exists for the use of LanSchool outside of class. Yet the fact remains that LanSchool is always monitoring students’ computers while they are connected to Milken’s network.

This is a problem because no educational purpose is served by monitoring student laptops outside of class; therefore, this is a baseless infringement on students’ privacy. LanSchool oversteps its bounds as a teacher aid for use in an academic setting by continuing to run during students’ free time.

My final concern with LanSchool is one which applies both in class and on breaks, and has the potential to cause the most severe problems. It deals with the total loss of privacy and control which students are forced to accept when LanSchool is running on their laptops. I understand that Milken students will never have complete Internet privacy because Milken justifiably monitors all Internet sites visited by students while connected to its network. But LanSchool goes much further, thanks to its remote control feature that allows any teacher to view and control any laptop as if they were sitting in front of it.

How does this feature result in students losing privacy and control of their own laptop?

On the privacy front, any teacher or administrator can open and read any file on any student laptop while it is connected to Milken’s network by taking control of the laptop and navigating into the laptop’s hard drive. If a student has any confidential documents or personal emails on their computer, LanSchool gives faculty members and administrators the ability to secretly navigate into the laptop’s hard drive and read any of these private files while on Milken’s network.

As to the loss of control, if a teacher felt so inclined, he or she could also theoretically remote control a student’s laptop, navigate to an inappropriate website, and subsequently pin the blame squarely on the student. Because LanSchool is not capable of determining which mouse movements and clicks were done via remote control, the student would have no way to prove that they were not responsible for the offense.

While I am not implying that any Milken faculty member or administrator would even think of doing such things, the mere fact that these situations can happen without any check is what is truly significant and concerning. When I say that a student with LanSchool running on their laptop is no longer in possession of their laptop, I mean that in the most literal way possible.

Although I personally feel that removing LanSchool entirely is the appropriate course of action, there are certain compromises that I feel would alleviate at least some of my concerns.

First, students should have the right to privacy and control of their laptops outside of class, specifically during free periods, lunch and after school. An easy way to implement this suggestion would be to provide a way to close LanSchool when a student is not in class.

Second, students should be able to know when their laptop is being watched or monitored. In the current framework LanSchool’s “View Only” mode allows teacher and administrative accounts to view a student’s screen without the student knowing they are being watched. This could be easily remedied by displaying an icon that notifies the student when they are being monitored.

It is my hope that the Milken administration will see that student opposition to LanSchool is much more sophisticated than simply being upset over not being able to check Facebook during lulls in class. In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides states that “man’s actions are in his [own] hands” and that “a person is judged for his deeds… whether good or bad.”** Despite Maimonides’ teachings, LanSchool takes the action out of students’ hands and prevents them from being allowed to make inappropriate (or appropriate) decisions at all, therefore shielding them from the consequences of their decisions.

Additionally, Baba Batra stated that “the entrance of each family tent faced exactly so that one person could not peer in to the other’s tent.” Rabbi James Greene used this quote to support his opinion that LanSchool is halachically wrong because it similarly allows one person to peer into the other’s laptop.***

In conclusion, Milken is sending the wrong messages to its students by implementing LanSchool and I sincerely hope that the administration reconsiders its decision. I would also like to encourage anyone who has any thoughts or opinions on this important technological issue to comment below.

*http://www.milkenschool.org/academics/

**Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 5:5

***Baba Batra, 60a (interpretation credit to http://www.jewishvaluescenter.org/question.php?id=482)