Some Educators Raise Privacy Concerns Over App to Manage Classrooms - NBC Connecticut

Some Educators Raise Privacy Concerns Over App to Manage Classrooms

More than 3 million teachers and 50 million students and parents worldwide are using the ClassDojo app, which allows a teacher to choose behaviors he or she wants to see, like "following directions" or being "on task." (Published Friday, Jan. 30, 2015)

The ClassDojo app is booming. The company says more than three million teachers and 50 million students and parents worldwide use the classroom management tool.

It's in more than half of schools in the United States, including classrooms from Groton to Canton to Danbury and many towns in between.

The concept is simple: a teacher chooses behaviors he or she wants to see, like "following directions" or being "on task."

As the librarian at the Regan School in Waterbury, Kim Williams uses the app to keep tabs on more than 200 students.

Williams controls everything from her iPad and rewards kids with points, or takes them away if they are on the negative side of her ledger. Overall, Williams said she errs on the side of positive reinforcement.

"We try to make it a positive thing. We're not trying to take your points; you've earned them, you should get to keep them," said Williams.

In Williams' library, the "Dojo Board" keeps a running tally of each student's points. That board is on display throughout the class period, so kids know how they're doing. But not everybody is on board with the concept.

"You don't know what each teacher is going to do with something like this," explained Quinnipiac University education professor Judy Falaro.

A longtime classroom teacher and school principal, Falaro said she has several concerns with the ClassDojo app.

"It keeps score and I think that makes kids a target. Someone who maybe doesn't fit in that well in the classroom in the first place may be getting a lot of negatives. Now you go out to recess or to the cafeteria and everybody starts making fun of that kid," she said.

Falaro believes privacy is paramount. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, is meant to protect every aspect of a student's school record. In Falaro's mind, involving an outside company raises a red flag.

"We're turning over some data about young people to a third party, and we can't predict what they're going to do with that," warned Falaro.

For Williams, ClassDojo isn't only about monitoring her students' performance, but her own as well.

"I expect that most of my kids are going to earn positive points and if they're earning a bunch of negative points or losing points, then I've done something wrong," Williams said.

She said it's also an easy way for her to interact with parents, each of whom has a unique login code to keep tabs on his or her child.

Canton mom Nicole Clark checks the app to get instant feedback on her third grader, Ian. She said Ian's teacher keeps the points private, and Ian doesn't know his tally until he gets home from school.

"I don't think I'd like it as much if the kids knew what was happening all day," said Clark.

Williams, on the other hand, believes the constant feedback is a motivator.

"I look around, choose the kid doing the right thing, add a point, and the room gets quiet and they do what they're supposed to do," she said.

Falaro fears some teachers might rely on the app so much it could keep them from establishing important personal bonds with their kids.

"When you turn that over to a thing on the board then you're stepping aside from your role, in my opinion," said Falaro.

Sam Chaudhary, founder and CEO of ClassDojo, spoke with the Troubleshooters to respond to Falaro's concerns.

"By providing a more positive tool, we can nudge a teacher to use positive feedback as well," Chaudhary said, on the issue of the potential for lots of negative feedback.

As far as the concern over privacy, Chaudhary said, "We have a fundamental belief that a person's data is their own. In no way do we care about holding people's records."

In fact, Chaudhary said the company adopted a new policy effective this month that requires ClassDojo to delete all records after one year, unless a family chooses to keep them.

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