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Check Out Our Updated EdTech Reviews

Topics:   EdTech

Student-centered learning meets sound privacy practice.

Tanner Higgin | February 14, 2018

Since 2013, Common Sense Education has rated over 2,000 edtech products for learning potential.

These learning ratings, however, have been telling only half the story.

Edtech has been dominated by the collection of data for over a decade: from the clamor to develop a social network for education in the mid-2000s to “free” sites and apps funded by advertising and/or selling user data to accountability measures under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to the contemporary pushes for “personalized" learning. This proliferation of data, much of it containing students’ personally identifiable information, is tricky, complex territory. It’s regulated by state and federal law. Ethical classroom use, which goes beyond state and federal law, hinges on products being compliant with sound, transparent privacy practices and coherent privacy policies. We know this isn’t always the case, but how do we know for sure?

Most of us in and around classrooms -- from teachers to administrators to edtech developers to parents to support organizations -- know student privacy is important, but it can be baffling and scary to pull back the curtain and risk shedding some less-than-flattering light on tools we’re already using or think would have great learning potential.

We’ve felt this way about our learning ratings and wrestled with how incorporating privacy evaluations might affect or challenge our existing learning ratings.

Still, we knew we had to take the plunge, and we finally have.

What We're Doing to Help

I’m proud to announce that with the help of our Privacy Initiative team and its 140 district partners, we now have easy-to-understand privacy evaluations on the learning review pages of nearly 50 popular edtech products, with more to come. (See an example here.) These summaries offer at-a-glance information about the privacy strengths, and concerns, of these tools. Each summary also links to a full, in-depth evaluation equally as robust as our learning reviews.

While the summaries and evaluations can be used by anyone, the summaries were designed specifically to help teachers take stock of what they’re already using -- or thinking about using -- in their classrooms, and we hope the evaluations will be particularly relevant to school and district leaders vetting products.

This side-by-side integration of learning ratings and privacy information represents a bigger shift in how Common Sense Education evaluates and recommends edtech. While our mission has been and will continue to be to surface products that offer student-centered experiences, in the past this has been too narrowly focused on pedagogy. By placing learning in conversation with privacy on our review pages, we’re now saying loud and clear: Student-centered learning is predicated on sound privacy practice. To this end, any product that receives a “Not Recommended” privacy evaluation now has its learning rating hidden.

This has been incredibly rewarding and a huge learning process for us. We hope this work makes our reviews more helpful to educators and developers, and we invite you to join us on this journey of making classrooms and edtech more privacy-conscious.