3rd Party Apps – TABOO?

Colleagues in my district are buzzing about third party apps that store student information. Class Dojo and Edmodo are two that many teachers have come to rely on, and suddenly concerns about the legalities of sharing and storing student information online have come to our attention. Making individual decisions to use apps in our classrooms (those that aren’t authorized by the district) means we are responsible for any potential legal issues – without the support of the district or our union.  It’s true that anything can become a legal issue these days, so the concerns are valid. But I also believe there are safe ways to use technology in our classrooms, and that we should be able to put some safety measures in place that protect our students’ privacy, and our professional use of third party apps.

One concern lies in the fact that many of these apps are free to use, and that there must be some trade-off for companies making them available. Is it possible that the data stored in these databases could be aggregated and analyzed in ways we can’t foresee? Certainly identity theft could be an potential issue, but that’s just one concern.

Another concern is that student information is being shared with entire classes of students. As a parent, I wouldn’t want my sons’ grades to posted in front of the classroom. A majority of parents support me there. In essence, that’s what Class Dojo does. Many teachers post their Dojo classrooms, filled with little monster avatars, and add and take away individual points based on student behavior or progress with the whole class watching. While the data being shared doesn’t qualify as “grades”, it is reflective of how a student is performing, and calling attention to who the “good” kids and “bad” kids are. The stigma, and potentially damaging implications just aren’t worth the risk in my opinion.

Are any of these student tracking apps worth the risk? We live in a world filled with educational applications that help us teach, collect data, and share information with parents. And many of our classrooms are filled with devices that allow students to create and problem-solve online. I’d like to know that I can safely create a class of students whose progress I can view and analyze. Is that so wrong? Do parents need to be a part of the equation? If I can see where my students are struggling, shouldn’t I be able to use that to individualize their learning plans and be a more effective teacher for them? If real first and last names aren’t used, and students aren’t identifiable outside my classroom, shouldn’t that be enough to make these apps safe to use? What are your thoughts?

Creating…

n artistic person, I’ve really struggled with designing this e-portfolio. I’m not all that familiar with the design tools available in WordPress, but even more importantly, committing to themes and schemes is hard for me. While I feel extremely satisfied with my design at the time of this post, I will likely be inspired to change repeatedly in the future. (I’m always thinking about how I could improve upon what I do.)

My blog started with a basic theme available with my free WordPress account.  I quickly realized that paying for an upgrade was in my best interest, as the customization options were quite limited for non-paying users. I must have spent twenty hours in my first week of my e-portfolio course just playing with themes and customization, before I found one that I thought best suited me.

I have some experience in CSS and HTML, and I thought it would be fun to personalize my page a bit more. But I struggled with how to use CSS in WordPress. I searched the topic, and found some information, but it wasn’t answering the questions I had. I used the online chat tool to discuss CSS with a WordPress representative, explaining that I wanted to add an image behind my title/header. He explained that the theme I had chosen couldn’t be edited in that way. Instead, he suggested, I could eliminate the title in the customization tools, and insert an image including the title in the header. That’s all I needed to hear. As an avid Photoshop user, I welcomed the opportunity to create a header of my own. It worked like a charm, and allowed me to personalize my page, making it look less like the template I had chosen.

One of my biggest challenges was in regards to menu items. What menu items to include, and where to include them were ever-changing decisions. A mid-term assessment from my professor helped me to confirm that I was moving in the right direction. She was spot on in her suggestions, and I’m glad she called attention to the inconsistencies in my links and titles.