ClassDojo Responds, Offers Fix for Student Data Privacy Issues


In an effort to ease the minds of parents and school officials, ClassDojo, a student conduct tracking app used in many US schools, has announced some changes this week in the way that it handles student data.

Beginning in January, the company will keep children's behavioral statistics for only one school year. Natasha Singer, reporter for The New York Times, says ClassDojo officers declared that they are not in the data collecting business, so any data that goes beyond communication between parents, teachers, and students is nothing they have a need to store. One year at a time is enough for busy parents to digest, they added.

This week, an article in The New York Times reported that educators had concerns that schools at which the software was used were collecting information full of sensitive details about children and had not taken into consideration the consequences for privacy and fairness. Another issue was the possibility that a third-party database with stored detail on a student's conduct could label a student a "problem child."

"Routine deletion is not a new idea, but it's a good idea," said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research center in Washington. He added that deleting students' records annually should reduce the risk that their information would subsequently be used for other purposes.

Used by at least one teacher in about one in three schools, the app allows students to use an interactive board to track their own score and classmate's score in real time. More opinions have been expressed about the method used of public posting of scores and the buzz or bell that makes a noise, positively or negatively, when the student posts. Some have said this is like "public shaming."

"I love Class Dojo and I am somewhat shocked over the uproar. I use it almost entirely for positive reasons," a sixth-grade teacher wrote in the comments section [of the Times] accompanying the article. She added: "It is much better to reward the kids who are doing the right thing than be constantly screaming at the ones who are misbehaving."

ClassDojo, says Margaret Wente of Canada's The Globe and Mail, is supposed to guide students toward better behavior. In this opinion piece, Wente states that there are times when that is not the case. One student, a typical second grader, watched as other students were receiving positive points right and left, while he was stuck at a minus one point level. Instead of telling him to lower his voice, the teacher taps a button and everyone sees that this typical second-grader has had another point taken away. Michelle Hauser, the boy's mom, eventually asked the teacher to take her son's name off the ClassDojo board, but the more she studies the situation, the more questions she has.

After some research, she discovers that the app has not been approved or even examined by the school board, and that teachers have carte blanche on how to use it. Also, parents do not have to give permission for their children to be included in the conduct measurement system.

 "There's potential for this to be an extremely negative thing for students who fall on the wrong side of the teacher's affections," said Ms. Hauser, a writer in Napanee, Ont., whose own mother was a school principal.

Wente is disturbed by the app because she says it is idealizing conformity and compliance, which are popular in schools but not as useful in the real world, in her opinion. She asks if this white board system might someday evolve into a gentle shock when a child misbehaves. She wonders if an OfficeDojo would keep people away from the water cooler or make them clean their desks.

"Personally, I'm not sure the carrot-and-stick method is ideal to get either animals or people to behave well. ‘No carrots, ever,' insists a wise old horse trainer I know. You want the horse to behave because he trusts and respects you, not because he wants the carrot.' "

How does that sit with Ms. Hauser?

"My son said the teacher could just tell him to keep his voice down," Ms. Hauser said. "He said he wouldn't mind that."

Sam Chaudhary, the co-founder of ClassDojo, posted a response on the ClassDojo website enumerating the facts that the original New York Times article "got wrong." As ClassDojo's officers have said, it was never their intention to make money through advertising. Their income will be based on premium features to be developed, for which schools and parents will pay. He adds that parents and teachers can download information or delete an account at any time.

Privacy is important to the ClassDojo team, as they state that they are educators and parents, too. The insinuation that the data from their app might become a permanent record that follows a student is untrue, says Chaudhary. Their program is meant to boost communication and understanding in order for students to succeed, and that parents and their children will always own their own information.

As far as the reality of how ClassDojo is used in the classroom, it is used to give students positive encouragement and to help students increase communication and understanding in the classroom and the home through encouraging leadership, persistence, teamwork, and curiosity. Then, parents can receive feedback on their children's success. Kelly, a teacher who was quoted in the NYT article, subsequently wrote a letter to the NYT editor. In part, it said:

"As far as student labels, I stressed that ClassDojo allows students who may have a reputation for difficult behavior to be FREE of this constraint, to receive immediate positive feedback to reinforce positive behavior – that these kids are, in some cases for the first time, receiving praise, and it's a transformative experience."

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