So it comes to this… The big deal. Its why I can’t have Google Classroom. Its why I don’t have e-mail for my students. Its why I’m often hesitant to Tweet, blog or comment on anything I do in the classroom. Its all about: privacy.
As mentioned in my post on the Scariest Things About Technology in the Classroom post, the proliferation of online ‘tech tools’ for use in the classroom has led to concerns, as outlined by this NY Times post, regarding the dissemination of information via their use. The information gathered through the use of the apps I reviewed: Kahoot!, Socrative and Popplet, is mired in legalese. The learning curve required for educators to ensure their students online safety is a steep one. Knowing what information to protect, and what information to release is neither clear nor specifically defined. This makes the foray into the digital environment one to be considered carefully.
All apps I reviewed suggested that information collected would be used to enhance the experience of using the defined resource. However, how that information is used is determined by the discretion of the provider. Often this consideration is also prefaced with the statement that: the terms may change. Knowing that information is permanent in the digital environment, this becomes an important consideration. Add to this the issues surrounding students use criteria as defined by
Watching the documentary: We Steal Secrets, was an insight into the permanency and fluid nature that data exists in these days. Information can no longer simply be shredded, and how information can be used isn’t even static anymore. Information shared today may be available for future uses in ways we can no longer anticipate. For this reason it is vital that every precaution be taken to keep students information theirs to share and not to share.
COPPA and PIPEDA
All of the apps I reviewed are based in the US, and as such are governed by COPPA (Childrens Online Privacy and Protection Act). Canada does not yet have a policy specific to information and children. Rather the concerns regarding information are governed by PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act), which does have a ‘recommendation’ as to the tracking of child generated data: “‘PIPEDA requires meaningful consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. It is difficult to ensure meaningful consent from children to online behavioural advertising practices. Therefore, as a best practice, organizations should avoid tracking children and tracking on websites aimed at children.” but nothing specific to children as a requirement. Stemming the flow of data generated by online behaviours of minors is difficult to do as the type of information gathered is seen to be ‘passive’ in that it tracks, for example, actions rather than specific data such as addresses, date of birth or names. This makes the job of the educator even more challenging. Where we may be diligent in ensuring what was traditionally thought to be important personal information, is now less valuable than the seemingly innocuous ‘passive’ data.
*Click here to read a great article on Canada’s current online protection policies, and debates.
Reviewed Apps and Privacy
This changes for Socrative and Kahoot! if you generate an account, which is required to create and adminster quizzes and questions. For students to participate in activities generated by Kahoot! and Socrative no account is required. This means that the students, and their information, remain relatively anonymous. However, it is important that the educator consider how they identify students in the collection of results and data.
For example both Kahoot! and Socrative generate results and data that are very valuable for adjusting instruction and confirming concept attainment. Attaching student names, to these results puts the students information, at least one aspect of it, back into the mix, and should, in my opinion, be avoided.
Popplet requires a subscription to be used, and the use of data by Popplet is quite a bit more open than it is with the non-account based apps. For example Popplet has the discretion to use ‘anonymous’ data (passive?) in the following ways:
- Third party vendors who may help us enhance or provide the Site or Services
What I take from this as an educator is that any application or software that requires an account should be accompanied by a parental permission form. This seems to be another hoop to jump through, however it is a great opportunity to explore the value of data as we work to develop rounded awareness and digital citizenship competencies in our students.
The idea that students bring their own devices to school is something that I have always been an advocate for. However, after reading the Privacy policies of my reviewed apps this no longer seems as appealing as it once did.
Cookies and the gathering of information off of devices is quickly becoming the norm for apps. Anyone visiting the Google Play store may wonder why an app would require access to the camera, microphone or contacts…and regardless of their age or position they should.
To avoid this pitfall have students generate a school nickname, and use this to participate in the activities generated by Kahoot! and Socrative. Use school devices to interact with any required application. If personal devices are to be used discussions should be had as to the reason for using the tool and permissions gathered from parents regarding the apps to be used on personal devices.
*A special note on Popplet: if students are to generate Popplets through the application they will be required to create an account. I would avoid this step as it requires and e-mail account. I did e-mail Popplet to ask about their use of information (I even requested a free trial…no bite there). This was the response:
Thanks for your interest in Popplet for education! We appreciate your questions and your support.
Since Popplet does not collect any private information about the user beyond the basic login information (unlike Facebook or Gmail), this use is in compliance with COPPA.
If you have any other questions about using Popplet with students, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Thank you for your support!
Rebecca from the Popplet Team
Very friendly, and I did get a response in less than two days. I also appreciated the suggestion that Facebook and Gmail (some of the most universally used digital applications) require more…if you use them you can use us..right?
However the free trial (3 Popplets) requires the following information:
If Popplet is something you would like to try, I would recommend your school spend the $50.00 to get a small subscription and use it as a generic pool of student users within the school. Ensuring that students keep the information they generate on the actual Popplets devoid of personal info as well. This will ensure that students can use the application while ensuring privacy of information is respected.
These are also a great talking point to use with students as they seem to represent a sort of ‘Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ for each app. Defining what can and what cannot be done on the site, as well as what the rules of ownership and behaviors considered acceptable, are all great talking points for identifying good digital citizens.
Well first of all privacy is not something I have really considered before this… New tech tools get recommended everyday in the staff room on Twitter, through tech consultants…really everyone has a new favorite. However, the buck stops at the classroom door, and the final opportunity to avoid a privacy issue rests in the hands of the educator (check your divisions policy regarding the use of online apps).
So, be careful, be aware, be informed. Start the year off with a menu of apps that you use in the classroom and send it home to be reviewed by parents. Have all stakeholders aware of the need for active awareness in online behaviours, and information protection. At the same time protect and inform your practice as one that generates true safe and productive digital citizens.