Once you’ve decided that there is an app or tool out there that would be ideal for your course, there are a range of critical issues that need to be considered, which we will explore in detail today and tomorrow. These general principles should apply no matter what you are planning to use, whether it be a educational app for quiz responses like Socrative, a social media platform like YouTube or Twitter, or a blogging system like WordPress. In this post, we’ll look at the issues of policy, privacy, assessment, and support.
Can you use it?
The first place to start is to consider if there may be any policy implications for what you would like to do. University policies often describe the minimum requirements that must be met, and it can be easy for a novel app to be in breach of that policy if not careful. While there may not be a policy that says whether you can or cannot use an app, the policies will likely shape how you might use it.
Take a moment to look at your institution’s teaching and assessment policies or guidelines and familiarise yourself with some of the language used. Consider how these policies might influence how you could use an app in your teaching.
For reference, here are some ANU policies that might be relevant:
Some issues that you might need to consider include: student equity (access to devices), orientation and support (who helps students learn to use it), creating a safe environment (working openly can expose students to negative comments), assignment submission (at ANU, assessments must be submitted in Wattle or Turnitin), and data retention (assessable content must be stored safely).
Who owns the information?
Using commercial apps and tools can have serious implications relating to student data and privacy. It’s important to consider what you may be signing up for when using a “free” service. Lindh and Nolin (2016) analysed the privacy and data ownership implications of Google Apps for Education, and found that users are “severely misled” when they assume that Google services are free, and that Google’s policy documents aim to disguise their business model and position themselves as a free service in the public good. In fact, by using the service, students are giving up substantial personal information and undertaking “free digital labour” for Google that the company then monetises in the form of targeted advertising.
While institutionally managed tools have their privacy policies reviewed by the university legal team, commercial apps that are used by teachers may not be. ANU, for example, anonymises all student data that is sent through Wattle to Turnitin so that it is not stored by Turnitin’s databases, and students can opt-out of using Turnitin if they are not comfortable with the terms of service.
As the site Terms of Service; Didn’t Read highlights, we rarely read the details of what we are agreeing to when using digital platforms. But we may be consenting to things we are not comfortable with, especially in an educational setting where teaching staff and the institution have a duty of care towards our students.
Students will also need to consent to using these services themselves, and may refuse to use specific services. For example, in my own teaching practice, I had students upload a video presentation to YouTube as an assessment activity for a course on digital communication. One student in this course was not comfortable with the privacy and data policies of YouTube, and asked for an alternative platform in order to complete their assignment. As this student did not consent, I was required to provide an alternative.
In an era of misuses of “big data”, it’s important to critically evaluate what information is being collected about you and how it is being used (consider the Cambridge Analytica case for Facebook, for example). We’ll discuss “big data” in more depth in an upcoming course on learning analytics, so stay tuned!
What’s the cost?
The question of cost for apps and other services also needs to be carefully considered. Many of these services operate on a “freemium” model, where the most basic functionality is free, but any additional features or more usage incurs charges. Other common model is a subscription model, where a monthly, recurring fee is charged (sometimes regardless of usage). These companies can change their business models at any time and often leave educators in a bind (such as with Padlet’s change to charging users in 2018), or there can be hidden charges. Open source software, which is usually free of charge but also makes its source code available for anyone to use and enhance, is another type of licensing to consider when examining what tools are available.
While at a small scale, freemium or subscription options might be suitable, it can cause serious issues if the student numbers rise or if other teaching staff want to begin using the software as well.
Investigate the pricing for the apps you are considering. Is it feasible for your current needs? What might happen if you needed to increase its use in the future, if student numbers increased or its use was expanded to a whole program?
Using apps and platforms can be very time consuming for teaching staff. In tomorrow’s post, we will be looking in more detail at openness and how to use apps in a sustainable way.
Audrey Watters – Student Data vs Student Privacy – Hack Education (2014)
Bennett, S., Bishop, A., Dalgarno, B., Waycott, J., and Kennedy, G. (2012). Implementing Web 2.0 technologies in higher education: A collective case study. Computers and Education, Vol 59, issue 2, 524-534. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.12.022
Lindh, M. and Nolin, J. (2016) Information we collect: Surveillance and privacy in the implementation of Google Apps for Education. European Educational Research Journal. 15(6): 644-663. Available: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1474904116654917