Avoid Dyknow, Big Brother Software

DyKnow, an increasingly popular program that arms teachers with content sharing and monitoring tools, perfectly represents innovative educational technology that offers little to no educational value.

Education technology should keep students on task and make learning easier, but as far as I can tell, much of DyKnow’s collaborative software isn’t necessary or ideal for classroom use—especially for smaller class sizes.

But to be fair, I agree with part of DyKnow’s mission statement: “Teaching and learning should be an exciting, collaborative adventure.”

I attended Brimmer and May in Brookline, Massachusetts, among the finest independent day schools in the country. I received tremendous one-on-one attention in an inviting, warm and academically rigorous community.

I fondly recall local ski trips with my then-AP English teacher, Judy Guild, who now serves as the amazing head of school. Riding on the chairlift, we would discuss the works of literary greats like Flannery O’Conner, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy.

I have lifelong memories of engaging with my amazing teachers and peers, obtaining meaningful appreciation for new ideas. I encourage you to visit Brimmer and May, where dedicated, upbeat individuals engage in effective collaboration each day.

Teachers like Ms. Guild make learning fun, engaging and relevant, and educational technology should aim for no other goal.

I absolutely love online learning, and I’m excited about the potential for massive open online courses. But there is no substitute for teachers who have the opportunity to engage students in person. Why would any teacher want to send e-messages to a student sitting just several feet away?

I can only imagine what some students must think of DyKnow: “My teacher thinks so little of me that he sends me messages through DyKnow, even though I’m sitting right in front of him.”

DyKnow does allow users to submit message feedback on how well they understand course content. Teachers could find this helpful, especially for tweaking lessons midstream. All the same, I strive to create an environment in which students feel comfortable expressing their understanding or misunderstanding. I also make known that I am available for extra help and that my door is also always open, in case individuals wish to meet one-on-one.

My biggest problem resides with Dyknow Monitor, which, while technologically cool and innovative, draws too much unnecessary attention away from the act of teaching.

With DyKnow Monitor, teachers can see thumbnails of student’s screens, block access to non-curricular applications and web pages, and even help teachers save time in the classroom by opening and closing applications and web pages for students. If more direction is necessary, teachers can lock the keyboard and mouse on one or more computers and refocus the entire class at once with an onscreen message.

I’m a firm believer in moving around the classroom to engage students fully. With my own two eyes—not through a computer screen—I monitor student behavior.

Other than an injury preventing a teacher from walking, I see absolutely no need for Dyknow Monitor, which, to be quite frank, promotes teacher laziness and ineffective instruction.

I’m busy enough when I teach, and I don’t have the time nor interest to also act as Big Brother. Instead, I craft and execute engaging, relevant and exciting lessons. My students actually want to pay attention and make effective, wise use of technology.

I’m also dubious of teachers who use DyKnow Monitor to shutdown or take control of a student’s computer. If such action is needed, it’s more likely due to a poor lesson than any fault of the student.

Believe it or not, I do like how DyKnow makes it easy for teachers and students to share notes. But with free applications like Evernote, I can’t imagine why any school would invest in the entire DyKnow suite.

As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.


  • Reply January 10, 2013

    Abbey Sullivan

    Hi David,
    Thanks for your comments here! It’s energizing to see you recognize the value in providing less engaged and socially hesitant students an outlet to provide feedback to their teacher when they likely would not have raised their hand in front of their peers (not a new issue in classrooms). I’d also like to learn more about what spikes your interest in the collaborative teacher-student note sharing experience. We’re currently in active development of a web-based product and this is a key feature we are thinking about. Would you mind sharing some of your thoughts on the merits of this feature in our collaborative product?

    We position our monitoring product as a solution for teachers to make valuable class time more efficient by reducing time-wasting manual administrative tasks and customizing classroom-specific plans that best meet their curriculum, pedagogy and specific classes. We find the best use cases of our software focus entirely on utilizing feedback and assessment features as well as time-saving options we offer, as opposed to the teachers who insist on consistently watching thumbnails of their students’ screens. I absolutely agree with your comments from a ‘big brother’ perspective and we are adamant about deterring customers who are interested only in 24/7 spying on their students.

    Teachers do find great value in watching student screens during individual and group work times to literally watch the thought and work processes of their entire class unfold in front of them, and assessment plays a large role in this feature as well. Imagine walking around the room for face-to-face check ins with each student already armed with a high-level view of their understanding, workflow, pace and mastery.

    By the same token, our product encourages a synchronous, collaborative experience, quite the contrary to replacing teacher-student interaction with technology, it instead enhances this experience. Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on why our note-sharing features are attractive to you in your classroom.

    If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to watch our updated demo videos as well, I think you might find them more informative than the outdated one above (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXxKnQiAdwo&feature=g-upl, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOPMWX8zigs&feature=g-upl).
    Hoping to continue this conversation soon, please do not hesitate to reach out! asullivan@dyknow.com, (317) 275-5887


  • Reply October 5, 2014


    David, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I don’t know how an effective and engaging teacher could possibly have the time to have their head buried in a screen watching what their students are doing. These monitoring products seem to me to be more about ensuring that the Victorian education model keeps working without ever looking at the fundamental causes of student disengagement.

  • Reply November 17, 2014

    Olivia Grace

    Hello all! I go to a school where they use DyKnow. I figured I’d offer a freshman girl’s opinion of it. I wholeheartedly disagree with DyKnow. I firmly believe students should be taught proper digital citizenship, and responsibility through their own actions. My peers and I are of the opinion that all DyKnow does is promote student dishonesty and a weakened relationship between student and teacher. DyKnow is pretty oppressive! It might seem like a big deal to make, but I really don’t believe this is a suitable program for any use.

  • Reply January 20, 2016


    Disagree. It’s obviously an effective product or there would be no need for it. It is not needed to be used all the time, but instances of independent reading or essay writing it is good to block the internet when it is not needed! I do not use it for all my classes. For my grade 12’s it is not needed because they have learned the skills of responsibility and self sufficiency. Now, my grade 9s need to learn responsibility and this helps! I don’t treat them the same as a grade 12 student because they are not as mature! Using Dyknow has nothing to do with being lazy or a bad teacher; it involves teaching kids that using a tablet or computer is a privilege that is not to be abused!

  • Reply March 5, 2016

    Mike Wheeler

    I previewed DyKnow at an ISTE conference years ago was convinced that having operational control of the 30 internet capable computers in my middle school Applied Engineering Lab would change the behavioral off task issues I faced daily for years. I have taught digital citizenship and responsibility until blue in the face, yet my low socio-economic demographic student population can NOT resist the opportunity to “play games” when my attention is diverted, if only for a few moments. I know all their tricks better than they do from years of observation and intervention. A recent installation of software similar to DyKnow has allowed me to “openly and transparently” control the computers in my lab. This has changed the classroom environment in a positive way. I can broadcast instructions instantly to all workstations, monitor activities from a mobile console, project and broadcast exemplars, and assist students directly without taking away their control or dignity. I am NOT big brother, I am their teacher, their mentor, their sensai and in that role I must be regarded as the “expert” in the room. My having the tools and the abiliity to control the environment has not fostered a sense of helplessness or opposition in my experience. It has fostered a renewed sense of respect.

  • Reply August 22, 2016

    Tim Franklin

    I halfway agree with you. Yes, in a regular classroom setting, it’s more effective to walk over and talk in person. However, in a very large class setting – maybe a large exam, etc. – it can be faster and more effective to monitor everyone on one screen, or send a message to get one student on task without disrupting the environment.

    Likewise, in a study hall situation, it can be easier to monitor everyone (especially with 40+ students) on one screen.

    And don’t forget elearning days – some of these programs allow monitoring students on any network, so if they are supposed to “log in” to your class from home, you can see that everyone is on the same page.

    If you look at these programs as taking the place of a classroom teacher’s eyes, then yes they start to fail under scrutiny. But if you look at all the other benefits and situations in which to use them, then they can be quite beneficial.

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