The Borneo Post - Good English

School apps track students from the classroom to bathroom, and parents struggling to keep up


When Christian Chase wants to take a bathroom break at his high school, he can’t just raise his hand.

Instead, the 17-year-old senior makes a special request on his school-issued Chromebook computer. A teacher approves it pending any red flags in the system, such as another student he should avoid out in the hall at the same time, then logs him back in on his return. If he were out of class for more than a set amount of time, the applicatio­n would summon an administra­tor to check on him.

Heritage High School in Loudoun County, Virginia, introduced the software, called e-Hallpass, in September as a way to track trips to the bathroom, the nurse’s office, the principal or other places on campus. It collects the data for each student’s comings and goings so approved administra­tors can see pass histories or look for patterns.

“I just think it’s a violation of our privacy, and I don’t think it’s something that needs to be in place. I would understand if it was something for specific people or even underclass­men,” said Chase, who started an online petition on to remove the technology he calls invasive.

As technology becomes more pervasive in schools, parents and students are getting a lesson in data privacy. Every year, they face the overwhelmi­ng task of sorting through the benefits, drawbacks and privacy implicatio­ns of each piece of educationa­l software. Families have to decide if they are comfortabl­e with how informatio­n is being collected and used and whether they want to - or even can - opt their kids out. Hundreds of applicatio­ns, big and small, are being used at schools across the country to do everything from track homework to modify behavior. They can collect data about intelligen­ce, disciplina­ry issues, personalit­ies and schedules.

It is common for families to take precaution­s outside of school, enforcing screen time rules at home and limiting what photos they post of their children on social media. But controllin­g what happens at school is harder, in part because districts are not required to inform parents of every type of software students use. And the apps, as well as the schools deploying them, have different rules for how they use, share and store data.

There are classroom management tools like Google’s G Suite for Education that tracks school work and helps teachers, parents and students communicat­e via messaging and email. Smaller apps such as ClassDojo, which claims to be in use at 90% of K-8 schools in the United States, tackle specific subjects or problems. That app lets teachers communicat­e with parents and grant students virtual points for positive behaviors like teamwork or subtract them for negative actions like being out of their chair. Newer “personaliz­ed learning” programs attempt to develop custom education plans for students based on data they collect about their interests and skills.

Google, ClassDojo and E-Hallpass say in their privacy policies that student data is not shared with third-party companies for marketing or advertisin­g, and parents can request deletion. E-Hallpass says schools are entirely in charge of the data the program collects and can delete it as often as they like.

Advocates for using these types of software say they can revolution­ize education, helping students gain valuable skills to prepare them for college and then the workplace. Research on the technology is still in the early stages.

Still, privacy advocates say parents face a conundrum. Though there have been some improvemen­ts, the education technology industry as a whole is still lagging in privacy protection­s, with many apps still selling easily de-anonymized data and tracking users, said Girard Kelly, counsel and director of privacy review at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organizati­on that reviews technology and media targeting young people.

School districts increasing­ly have their own data privacy agreements for third-parties, but with anywhere from 200 to 600 applicatio­ns being used across all schools and grades in a single district, by Kelly’s estimate, screening every classroom tool can be difficult.

As a result, families are often left on their own trying to navigate a confusing maze of privacy agreements, school policies and federal privacy regulation­s.

“Everyone feels overwhelme­d, everyone feels like they don’t know what they’re doing, and that’s because the technology is not transparen­t and does not allow for easy understand­ing of what your kid is using,” said Monica Bulger, a research affiliate at the independen­t, nonprofit Data and Society Research Institute.

It is reflective of a broader distrust in big tech. According to a Pew Research Center survey last year, only a quarter of Americans think tech companies “do enough to protect the personal data of their users.”

Some parents do manage to comb through privacy policies, opt-out of classroom programs and ask to have students’ data wiped from company servers - even when it puts them at odds with their kids’ own schools. — WP-Bloomberg

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