Trustworthy Computing is the highest priority for all the work we are doing. We must lead the industry to a whole new level of Trustworthiness in computing.
Bill Gates in an email sent to his employees, discussed in Wired January 17, 2002
Happy 4th of July! This is a good time to think about freedom and privacy issues for children in our schools. Let me begin with a little story.
Recently I visited the beach. There is nothing like walking next to the ocean. Sandpipers scurried by as I stopped to look for shark teeth and weird things in the sand. I was alone and in my zone.
Suddenly, I heard buzzing. I looked up. There, hovering right over my head was a small drone!
I strolled back towards the hotel trying to ignore it. I have seen people operating drones before, but on this day, as I scanned the sand dunes, I could find no one. It followed me until I reached my destination then it took off probably to irritate someone else.
So what does my example of uninvited intrusion into one’s life have to do with public schools?
Since No Child Left Behind, students are being watched in school like they have an invisible drone following them—watching every move they make.
And it doesn’t look like this is going to change with the new Every Student Succeeds Act. The ESSA is all about digital learning. While data security is often mentioned as a side note, the speed with which these programs are being implemented raises concern.
Classroom Data Walls
It would seem logical to jump right in and criticize personalized (digital, or competency-based etc.) instruction which collects continuous data on children. I will get to that. But it is like an invisible drone is following a child even without technology.
Every skill, every problem, every mistake is monitored and displayed like it is a matter of national security on the classroom data wall. There’s even an attempt to examine a child’s resilience—otherwise known as “grit.”
Here is an example of a classroom data wall.
It’s humiliating for a child to have everyone following their progress on a wall. It is also depersonalizing. It creates the sense that a child is a score or a number and ignores who they are as people.
It used to be that teachers handled grades and progress with care—privately. Teachers needed a key to the filing cabinet in the counselor’s office to see records.
Classroom data walls are an impersonal transitory step toward putting all student information online.
Online Programs to Manage Data
Programs like PowerSchool might seem to be a plus—all that information managed online to make more efficient schools. Parents get to keep track of their child’s every academic step.
PowerSchool advertises improving student and staff demographics and even family management!
But mostly such data is about standards and a school’s compliance to mandates that will ensure they get funding.
How much data is necessary and when does it become Information Overload (here’s to you Alvin Toffler)?
Parents are concerned about their child’s information being out there for good reason. Faith Boniger and Alex Molnar recently completed a report called “Learning to Be Watched: Surveillance Culture at School.”
The report reaffirms what many of us already surmised. Children do schoolwork online, and their online behavior is tracked. This exposes them to targeted marketing. Corporations get constant connection to students enabling marketers to control what children see on their digital devices.
Online instruction could be selling your child’s information to advertisers.
Schools that provide such information jeopardize a student’s privacy and well-being. Now everyone knows that when you step into the world of social media you lose some of your privacy. But aren’t schools supposed to be safe havens for students–especially young children?
It has always been important to monitor student progress, but now there is something else going on. It’s like an invisible drone hanging over every student’s head, but unlike my drone experience on the beach, theirs aren’t going away any time soon.
With more digital instruction on the horizon those invisible drones will continue to monitor a student’s every move.
I realize much has been said about student privacy for years, but my drone incident made me better understand what a child must feel like when they have no control over the information being obtained about them. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair.
Here are a few other articles about student data if you want to get hotter than the temperature outside, which is probably pretty hot. And stay safe out there.
“No Child Left Un-Mined? Student Privacy at Risk in the Age of Big Data” By Farai Chideya
“The New Gold” by Save Maine’s Schools and Emily Talmage
“When Personalized Learning Gets Too Personal: Google Complaint Exposes Student Privacy Concerns” By Dawn Chmielewski
“Google is Tracking Students as it Sells More Products to Schools, Privacy Advocates Warn” By Andrea Peterson
Sheila Resseger says
Nancy, you are correct to warn about this chilling potentiality. “Classroom data walls [on a par with dunce caps and seating children in the corner] are an impersonal transitory step toward putting all student information online.” What really is the point of all this data collection? The data monitors/assessors/collectors/miners are like vampires sucking data-blood. They are mad scientists creating a frankenstein. There is absolutely no reason for this incessant data collection to occur in the first place. Information that teachers develop from assessing their students doing actual work in their actual classrooms is diagnostically important for those students at that time. This should certainly be shared with parents, but why send it out to anonymous vendors, and state wide longitudinal data bases going ultimately to the federal government, linking up with data from the Dept. of Health, Dept. of Corrections, and Dept. of Labor? Whose purpose does this serve? At the risk of sounding like a tin foil conspiracy nutcase, the only purpose I can see is to serve the short and long term interests of the most powerful multi-national corporations for workforce development. Is this really the purpose of public education in a democracy?
Nancy Bailey says
I’m with you, Sheila. The use of such monitoring of children is what is off. There is a certain joy that should come about with learning…not that challenging (not hard) work isn’t important. But measuring every move a student makes is totally over-the-top! Thank you.