Canada

Rise of classroom management apps makes hiding your report card obsolete

Classroom management apps, like ClassDojo, FreshGrade and Google Classroom, are popular tools in school. But some education critics have concerns, specifically when it comes to privacy.

Apps allow teachers to post assignments, adapt the lesson to individual students and share feedback

Expert says having technology in the classroom gives teachers the chance to teach students important digital literacy skills. (Shutterstock )

Classroom management apps, like ClassDojo, FreshGrade and Google Classroom, are popular tools in school. But some education critics have concerns, specifically when it comes to privacy.

John Orr is an Ontario high school math teacher who wanted more for his students. He brought FreshGrade into his classroom. It's a digital portfolio and assessment platform by a company headquartered in British Columbia.

"Teachers are turning to such technologies for help with class management," Orr said in a video he posted to Vimeo. "They can post assignments, adapt the lesson for certain students and share feedback with parents more frequently."

One of the most popular programs in schools is ClassDojo, which claims to "connect teachers with students and parents to build amazing classroom communities." The company says it's used in 90 per cent of K-8 schools in the U.S.

A student shows off some of the photos he took and uploaded using ClassDojo. (ClassDojo)

Connecting the classroom with the home

Alec Couros understands why teachers like these apps. He's a professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina.

"Obviously, a big part of what we do in classrooms is classroom management," said Couros. "This allows for, I guess, a fun way to approach some of the same issues of classroom management in a gamified way. I think, for the most part, students tend to enjoy it. It creates a competitive spirit."

Couros also sees it as a way of connecting the classroom with the home. His child's classroom uses Seesaw, a student-driven platform for digital portfolios and parent communication. Kids can upload photos and videos of their work and parents can review them and leave comments.

FreshGrade is a digital portfolio and assessment platform for school communities. (FreshGrade)

"I've found that, as a parent, to be very beneficial, that I see a part of my child that I don't get to normally see when they're at home," said Couros. "If my boy tends to play video games, I get to see him performing a different way, reading stories or poems and so on."

But Couros warns that free platforms like Google Classroom are first and foremost a business. He says Google is familiarizing children with its products at a young age, which creates long-term Google users and lifelong customers.  

Privacy issues a big concern

Thierry Plante is a media education specialist with MediaSmarts, a non-profit focused on digital and media literacy. He says privacy is a concern with any app or software program.

"The privacy issue is a big one, especially given the fact that we know that the majority of adults do not read and do not understand the privacy policies and terms and conditions of the software they come across," said Plante.

He says parents and educators need to ask more questions, either to the teachers or schools that are using them, or the companies that make the software.

"Who has access to that information beyond the teacher and the parents and the students? How secure is it? How long will that information be kept? What happens to that information if this company is bought out or if it goes out of business?"

But Plante says having technology in the classroom gives teachers the chance to teach students important digital literacy skills.

Ethical thinking, respecting copyright online and avoiding excessive screen time are all valuable lessons to teach students, says Plante, beyond just swiping and clicking.

"Because all these skills are important to become a digital citizen."

About the Author

Manjula Selvarajah

Tech Columnist

Manjula Selvarajah is a journalist, producer and syndicated tech columnist for CBC Radio One. In her former role, she was vice president marketing at a Toronto-based tech startup and holds an engineering degree from Queen’s University. Send your story ideas to manjula.selvarajah@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.