What is surveillance in the classroom?

abstract illustration of a panopticon, with one eye in the center watching prisoners

Surveillance manifests in the classroom through the monitoring of learners in ways that are not made explicit and do not consider a learners’ consent. Learning Management Systems (LMS), for example, have clandestine motives of intelligence gathering for the purpose of monetizing a learner’s digital movements through the extraction of their information.

In this module, instructors will explore the covert nature of Learning Management Systems in an effort to discover alternatives and consider ways to implement these alternatives within an institution of control and surveillance.

Subverting Surveillance

An ominous surveillance video camera

In critically assessing who de facto benefits from the surveillance in Learning Management Systems and in what ways, while also considering who is thought to benefit from surveillance, we can create architectures that promote a culture of consent by using digital platforms that liberate rather than monitor, surveill and assess.


Compare and contrast your institution’s Learning Management System with an open source alternative to identify:

  • What are the politics of the company & the CEO?
  • What functions does the tool reportedly perform?
  • Who owns the content?
  • Who assigns licenses?
  • Is content being extracted, by whom, who benefits, and how?
  • Are users being monitored and is it consensual?

Having compared proprietary vs. open source Learning Management Systems, which would you utilize in your classroom and why?

*Part of this activity has been adapted from Chris Friend’s activity from DHSI 2019 in Victoria, BC.


Share your findings from the activity with your online or in-person collaborator/ co-learner. Through discussion, come up with a scalable plan to subvert institutional power by resisting the surveillance and monitoring embedded in proprietary Learning Management Systems. How can you provide a digital platform for students that functions outside of your institution’s mandated use of a singular, proprietary, Learning Management System (LMS)?

List of Readings