Theory and Practice

Publicly Private


If you don’t want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, don’t put it in an email. – Former principal at a school I taught at a decade ago

ClassDojo Adopts Deletion Policy for Student Data by Natasha Singer (The New York Times Bits, November 18, 2014)

After an article was written regarding the classroom management app ClassDojo and its debatable use of tracking student behavior, the software company elected to delete student records annually. Teachers still have the option of saving this information after one year. This is a big move prompted by a single piece of reporting, considering that ClassDojo is used by “at least one teacher in roughly one in three schools”.  One of the co-founders of this app, Sam Chaudhary, goes even further on this issue by stating that ClassDojo is “not a data company”, and instead sees its service as simply a “communication tool between teachers, parents, and students.” Singer recognizes that her initial article was not the first time concerns have been raised regarding ClassDojo’s role in classrooms.

If School Leaders Don’t Get It, It’s Not Going to Happen by Eric Sheninger (Huffington Post Education Blog, November 25, 2014)

Sheninger, a former high school principal and now Senior Fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) and Scholastic Achievement Partners (SAP), shares an urgent message for all administrators. He continues to be surprised at the connectedness many school leaders lack as they perform their daily duties. Sheninger considers the possible reasons, such as administrators being “unwilling to learn”, lacking the ability to “embrace significant change”, and using “CIPA (Children’s Information Protection Act)” as “an excuse for not wanting to give up control”. He also offers clear steps for administrators to brand their respective schools online and share their learning stories.

An education professor goes back to high school, finds technology is no longer a tool but a context by Tony L. Talbert and Jason Trumble (The Hechinger Report, November 27, 2014)

After a 21 year hiatus from teaching high school history, education professor Tony Talbert puts himself back in the classroom, only this time as a student. His purpose: “to better prepare my own university students, who are studying to become teachers, for the challenges of teaching and learning in the 21st century public school environment.” During this experience, Talbert found that “a new teaching and learning paradigm had to be embraced”. He discovered that technology was not longer just a tool for students and their learning, but rather “a context for living and engaging in the world around them.” Talbert concluded that digital integration “for education is not simply for information but for transformation”.

What Will Happen to ‘Big Data’ in Education? by Anya Kamenetz (Mindshift, April 3, 2014)

This article highlights how inBloom, a student data repository focused on making information more easily accessible for educators, lost its last remaining client, the state of New York. The reason for the downfall is due to “parents and other education activists raising concerns that student data would be exploited for financial gain or stolen by hackers”. Kamenetz points out that the process that inBloom was using to connect different data sources is similar to when we use Facebook to log into other third party providers, noting “consumers largely embrace them”. The difference between individual consumers of social media and big data in schools is the “longstanding tenet of American public education — that of local control”.

Social Networking, Workplace, and Entertainment Literacies: The Out-of-School Literate Lives of Newcomer Latina/o Adolescents by Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart (Reading Research Quarterly, October/November/December, 2014)

In this award-winning case study, Stewart examines the literate lives of four teenage high school students that emigrated from Mexico. She found a disconnect between “their monolingual school setting” and the “out-of-school literacies” that take place on Facebook, at their workplaces, and through their home country’s entertainment media sources. Particularly within Facebook, these adolescents have “unique and purposeful roles…that allow them to connect to their home countries, maintain their Latina/o identities, acquire English, support themselves, and establish a place to succeed”. In spite of these successes, Stewart concludes that these students “will likely not graduate because of a narrow view of literacy that privileges a monolithic perspective”. She implores educators to rethink what literacy means in formal school settings so that all students have the same access to success.

What is trending…

Someone recently posted a question on my Facebook news feed: “Thinking about starting an Instagram account. Should I go public or private?” The screenshot above of my own Instagram homepage highlights the impressive visuals that are the hallmark of this social media tool. Many of the people she had friended on Facebook unanimously voted for private in the comments. Never one to shy away from a debate, I chimed in with the reply, “Public, because there is no such thing as privacy online.” There was some contradiction in my statement, as I posted this comment from my own private Facebook account.

So what is really private when we share ourselves online, both professionally and personally? There will always be risk involved whenever we use these types of mediums for promoting a message. As adults, we can make a conscious choice to post or to not. The students in our classrooms may not, especially if they are at the whim of an uninformed educator’s choices. Assigning blame for poor practice to a digital tool such as ClassDojo does not excuse our instructional decisions. We should always think of the students first in our plans. Before posting anything with young learners involved, ask yourself, “Will they mind seeing this online 20 years from now?” If we are unsure about the answer, it is better to be safe than sorry.

On the flip side, when we prevent any online communications from entering our classrooms, are we depriving our students of essential learning experiences? According to Eric Sheninger, Tony Talbert, and scores of other connected educators, most certainly. The case study of the Latina/o students is just one of many instances where the gap in relevance between school and the reality of our youth’s learning lives is too large. So how do we overcome these fears of the unknown and start showcasing our students’ learning journeys? One way is to follow Talbert’s footsteps, becoming students ourselves to understand how technology may have become a context for learning, rather than just a tool.

Another way is to become connected ourselves. If all we ever read about technology are stories like inBloom’s demise, we lack the necessary perspective that is so easily accessible to us via social media. Reflecting on my own path toward becoming more connected, Twitter was an excellent start. I followed smart educators, as well as the hashtags in their posts, such as #cpchat (Connected Principals), #educoach (Instructional Coaching), and the general hashtag #edchat. These professionals continue to share their thinking and important links to online articles and blogs. The more we experience this type of learning, the better we understand its value in education, for both students and ourselves. The benefits of thoughtfully sharing learning online and making connections beyond our school walls can outweigh the risks. In these situations, anything we post may be front page-worthy.


2 thoughts on “Publicly Private”

  1. Reblogged this on Reading By Example and commented:

    Is anything ever truly private when we share it online? How do we find a balance between student safety and providing a broader audience for learning? I attempt to answer these questions by reviewing articles and posts from The New York Times Bits, Huffington Post, The Hechinger Report, Mindshift, and Reading Research Quarterly. The conclusions I draw are only one person’s perspective on this timely issue. What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments and start a discussion.

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