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Educational Software and Privacy in the Classroom: What You Need to Know

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Sep 27, 2016

Educational software platforms are becoming more common in the classroom, raising privacy issues about the data they collect on children.



The market for educational software and applications has reached $8.4 billion, according to the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). Much of the educational software purchase and usage growth has occurred in schools, but increased personal use of educational applications also is a significant contributing factor.


A potentially lifelong digital trail

The growth raises privacy concerns, including a lack of clear standards and varying privacy controls for such software and apps. Students and parents aren’t asked to give consent for the creation, storage, or sharing of multitudes of records in many of these platforms. And in many cases, neither the software providers, nor the school districts are addressing privacy issues.

The way the collected data could be used also is a cause for anxiety. Consider classroom management software, such as ClassDojo, which provides behavioral and disciplinary tracking. While much of this functionality is a positive for teachers with limited resources, there is also the possibility that “problem child” labels from this type of software could continue long after behavioral issues have been corrected, possibly affecting how future educators approach, evaluate, and work with students.

The predictive algorithms that are widely used in educational platforms are another important consideration. On the one hand, algorithms may help to steer kids toward more aptitude-focused studies and give educators the information they need to work on specific weak points. On the other, students may be pigeonholed and typecast long after specific data points are gathered and evaluated.

Aside from potential impacts on students’ learning opportunities, ongoing marketing efforts are also increasingly invading the educational space, in part ushered into the environment through these same software providers. For example, one firm uses data gathered from a textbook rental arm to market other products to college students. Moreover, adaptive-learning engine platforms, such as Knewton, may gather user data from digital textbooks to support marketing or product development purposes.


Considerations beyond the school grounds

Privacy worries don’t end when students leave campus. Most school buses today sport video cameras, recording kids’ activities from the time they take their seat until they get off at their stop. Questions abound. Do the kids get a disclosure notice? Do they even know they’re being recorded? Who retains that footage? What happens to it? Given the still-evolving state of educational privacy, it’s likely administrators haven’t finished grappling with the dilemma of where public disclosure fits into the scheme of things. 

The exciting and fast-evolving educational software space will likely benefit our children and society in many ways. Yet while educational privacy today isn’t exactly the Wild West, there are a lot of issues to be worked out. That’s why awareness is so important. As your children start the school year, be sure to find out what software and monitoring solutions their teachers and school will be using so you can keep an eye out for your kids’ best interests.


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