Student-centered learning meets sound privacy practice.

Privacy ratings on edtech tools

Since 2013, Common Sense Education has rated over 2,800 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 "free" sites and apps funded by advertising and/or selling user data 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 -- whether we're teachers, administrators, edtech developers, parents, or members of 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.

Still, we knew we had to take the plunge. That's why we added easy-to-understand privacy ratings to our learning review pages.

What we're doing to help

With the help of our Privacy Initiative team and its 250 district partners, teachers can read privacy ratings on the learning review pages of over 400 popular edtech products, with more to come. (See an example here.) Teachers can quickly see whether the tool earned a "Pass," "Warning," or "Fail" rating, and can read at-a-glance information about how the tool addresses data safety, data rights, and ads and tracking. Each summary also links to a full, in-depth evaluation equally as robust as our learning reviews.

The at-a-glance privacy info on the review pages was designed specifically to help teachers take stock of what they're already using -- or thinking about using -- in their classrooms. In addition to this information, the full privacy evaluations will be particularly relevant to school and district leaders who vet products.

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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 saying loud and clear: Student-centered learning is predicated on sound privacy practice. To this end, any product that receives a "Fail" privacy rating will have its learning rating hidden.

Since the privacy ratings launched on our review pages, we've heard from many teachers that this information is critical when making classroom technology choices. We are thrilled that this work is making 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.

Tanner Higgin

Tanner is Editorial Director, Learning Content at Common Sense Education where he leads the editorial team responsible for edtech reviews and resources. Previously, he taught writing and media literacy for six years, and has a PhD from the University of California, Riverside. His research on video games and culture has been published in journals, books, and online, presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to be cited and taught in classes around the world. Prior to joining Common Sense Education, Tanner worked as a curriculum developer and researcher at GameDesk, helping to design and launch Educade.org and the PlayMaker School. While at GameDesk, he co-designed the United Colonies alternate reality game (ARG) with Mike Minadeo. This ARG is to date one of the most sophisticated to be implemented in a K-12 environment. Outside of education, Tanner has been a Technical Writer-Editor for the Department of Defense, a web designer, and co-editor and co-creator of a print literary journal.