Tech Tuesday

Finds and Thoughts about Tech Integration

Privacy – How Do My Favorite Apps Hold Up?


I will begin with a disclaimer.

I took a year off from this blog. I changed my position and school, and finished a CAGS program over the course of this time. Honestly, the blog felt like too much. I rarely take breaks. Although I have been told on numerous occasions that breaks are a good thing. For some reason, I followed that advice for once. Furthermore, it was quite the change professionally and personally for me that included a term of distance learning that upended everyone, right? Quite the year. This summer, I am working on my ISTE Certification, and I need a space to reflect, so here I am… Welcome back!

During distance learning this spring, we used a short list of tools. Many of which were part of G-Suite for Education. The rationale was to keep things simple, and do things well. Use what we knew, and limit what we (teachers and students) needed to learn to hit the ground running. Of course, could we use our favorite tools more strategically and creatively? Absolutely. As I sit back now, I also realize that yet another reason why it was important for this short list: privacy.

As educators, we need to promote Digital Self as a part of Digital Citizenry. That is reflected in the ISTE Educator Standard of Citizen 3d: Model and promote management of personal data and digital identity and protect student data privacy.

What does that mean exactly? We know that data mining is out there, and educators need to be selective in the apps and services that they use with students.

I looked at three specific apps that I have used with students in the past when we were face to face. I purposely chose ones that were not used during distance learning or were not on the short “approved list” (as I know that those “approved” apps were screened by our Technology Department for security and compliance).  These three are apps are ones that I have loved over the years for their ease of use, convenience and ability to engage students, and I was curious, how they held up to data privacy. Two of the apps, I knew were outside of G-Suite for Education. What I learned during this investigation was that actually all three of the services were out of G-Suite for Education, technically. But I will get to that.

The first app is PicCollage Edu Collage Maker. This straightforward app is great for students (and adults alike) to pull together text and images to demonstrate their learning on any subject in a collage format that can be saved digitally or printed. There is a free version, and that one has advertisements; however, I’ve had the resources to be able to purchase the educational version to keep things less distracting and more appropriate for students, especially with social media connections outside of our school domain. In my recent research, I have realized that the non-educational version has accounts. I always knew that we did not have to sign into the educational version, and I bring this point up because of data collection. By simply not having a user account, privacy seems to be more obtainable. This feeling could be a false sense of security, so looking at Terms of Service and Privacy Policies for apps is important. In summary, here is what I discovered for PicCollage Edu Collage Maker (and/or read it yourself here.):

Student data is not being collected for commercial purposes, and any data collected will be deleted upon parental request.

The information collected includes ‘the country you set your device to, the language you use on your device, the type and version of the operating system of your device, and your device model.’ In-app purchases product IDs also will be collected. 

The company, Cardinal Blue, uses this data to improve their product’s performance, and assures its users that all data is kept secure on its servers.

As far as age, the general app is rated 12+, indicating that users must be at least 13 to connect to social media. In the educational version, the minimum age is 4 years old with no social media integration available.

Overall, my investigation of PicCollage Edu Collage Maker was reassuring. The app does allow for you to take photos, and I was a little concerned about if that data would be kept by the company somehow. I further am making note that I want to point out to students when they are using it that we are not signing in, and we are using “anonymous” school devices, and how that affords them some “personal privacy.” What they create in PicCollage Edu Collage Makers lives on that iPad alone, so others at our school may see it if it’s not deleted from the device. However, that is the only data concern, and that is “in house.” Furthermore, we can choose to share it to our Google Drives and Classrooms for safekeeping and protection, choosing who we want to show.

The next app that I use frequently with students is Chatterpix Kids. This app lets you turn any image into a talking animation with 30 seconds of recording. As I’m sure I have explained on this blog previously, the silliness of this app hooks students every time, and we have found countless ways to use these exportable videos in projects to demonstrate learning. Like PicCollage, there is a Chatterpix that is geared toward adult use (12+), giving the user the option to share to social media and/or email the recordings. These features are not present in Kids version that is listed for ages 4+. There is no account sign in for either app, and both are free. Cost sometimes can be a red flag with “free” often having advertising or in-app purchases. That is not the case for these apps as both versions have neither.

Upon inspection of the company Duck Duck Moose’s privacy policy, the following is stated about data for the Kids version: ‘we don’t require you to provide any information and we don’t collect any information about you or your device…’ The only information collected is non-personal in nature, such as how the service is being used in order to improve the product performance. The only exception is that a parent may provide an email to receive a newsletter from the company, and this action is strictly voluntary. The policy also indicates that the products comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) that protects children under the age of 13. This compliance is a good sign for educators when choosing an app. Likewise, an added bonus is finding out something more about the company’s connections. On its About Us page, Duck Duck Moose clearly explains its mission in creating learning apps and how the company is now a part of Khan Academy, a highly regarded non-profit. Knowing the values of a company and who they are in business with further are ways to promote being a proactive digital citizen. For all these reasons, I think Chatterpix Kids is a keeper.

The final one I investigated is an online, web based service called Blogger. I will admit that I have preferred Edublogs for students creating their own blogs (and mine, too!), and I know of teachers who have a preference for Kidblog as well. Both of those services are paid subscriptions, and when I have had funds, I have indulged as they give a more variance in permission levels to students. In other words, students are not on the same level as the teacher/administrator in a collaborative blog. Moreover, these other blogging services have been geared toward educational communities, scaffolding safe environments. However, when G-Suite for Education (or Google Apps for Education as it was known originally) came on the scene, Google’s Blogger was a great free, place to host student work that was viewable to world-wide audiences with moderation capabilities. The platform also was a good way to teach students commenting (with the teacher again having full moderation rights). From my experience, a lot of teachers have not been interested in having students host their own blogs, so Blogger has fit a need for sharing carefully vetted work to the outside community. The service furthermore is tied to our Google accounts which gives convenience and one a sense of domain security. Yet, does it measure up in data privacy? And as I discovered, is that domain security really there?

When I looked for a specific Terms of Service or Privacy Policy for Blogger, I was unable to locate one. I noticed that Google seemed to have overall policies for their products (Terms of Service and Privacy Policy – check out for great videos with detailed explanations). The first term I came across was that a Google account requires a minimum age of 13. That statement made me wonder if I should be looking more specifically at G-Suite for Education, as obviously many students are under that age. These are some highlights of what I found (or read more in detail here):

‘A G Suite for Education account is a Google Account created and managed by a school for use by students and educators. When creating this account, the school may provide Google with certain personal information about its students and educators, which includes a user’s name, email address, and password in most cases, but could also include secondary email, phone, and address if the school chooses to provide that information. Google may also collect personal information directly from users of G Suite for Education accounts, such as telephone number, profile photo or other information they add to a G Suite for Education account.’

Other data that is collected includes such items as specific device usage and log-in activity. Google states that it does not own any student data and does not subject students to any advertising (that is standard practice in Google outside of G-Suite for Education and is based on the user). Google has taken a seriously committed stance on protecting student data (as detailed here), and touts their COOPA and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) compliance. I also noticed that they have signed the Student Privacy Pledge. Upon reading that information, I decided to dig deeper and see if the previous two apps had done the same. I noticed that Khan Academy (Duck Duck Moose’s parent company) had. While it is not mandatory for companies to take the pledge, it does give reassurance to schools about a service/app provider’s commitment to keeping students data safe.

Going back to the G-Suite for Education’s documentation for privacy, I realized that there were “core services” and “additional services” listed. I was curious what exactly that meant. (Here is the official run down.)  I found out that Blogger was an additional service that was ‘designed for consumer users and can optionally be used with G Suite for Education accounts if allowed for educational purposes by a school’s domain administrator.’ Google even asks that a school system gain parental/guardian consent before students under the age of 18 use these outside services. This information surprised me. Other additional services are YouTube and Maps. From what I can surmise, these additional services allow adult or explicit content as long as someone does not violate the general Terms of Service. Obviously, the use of such services in a school must be monitored by the school.

What does all of this mean regarding privacy? I know that within the G-Suite for Education settings an administrator can limit sharing core services (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc) outside of the domain. Furthermore, if enabled students have the power to select to whom they are sharing their files. I wonder if a student or teacher chose to make a blog public and share its content publicly, would they be able to do so without an administrator’s permission? Does the additional service fall under the settings? It seems that Blogger “lives” outside. I definitely need clarification on this thought process. It does seem that Google in general gives its users intellectual property rights over the user’s content and Google does not own what is created, so that a student’s blog content is their own. However, it seems very possible that collecting data for advertising may be happening in these additional services. Honestly, it’s a little unclear to me. My conclusion: Although Blogger is a service that is turned on in my domain, it is best used carefully and thoughtfully with students.

This exercise has been worthwhile. While time consuming to look at Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, company partnerships and company compliances and commitments, it’s important to curate your apps and services beyond how cool and fun that they are, but rather how safe and secure are they for our Digital Selves.

posted under ISTE, Thoughts | No Comments »

Fear of Failure… It’s Not Just the Students


I read an excellent blog post by John Spencer that included this video. (It’s worth the 2 1/2 minutes!)

As I reflect on my time at my school as its elementary digital learning specialist for the past fourteen years, I have witnessed unsure students. I have encouraged them to take risks and try things out. Often, the reaction was hesitation and even some cajoling may have taken place. And then more reassurance. In conjunction with many “Yes, you can” and “What do you think?” quips.

However, the students have not been the only ones who have been uncertain about taking leaps. Teachers also have taken pause about some of the suggestions and ideas that I have tossed out over the years. Doubts have been voiced. Choices to stay the course may have been made. Teachers want to do right by their students, and sometimes that brings extra caution with instructional practices.

John Spencer’s video is a good reminder that we, teachers, don’t have to be perfect. Trying something new can yield innovation or missteps. Both should be regarded as valuable because there is an opportunity to model how to handle success, “failure” and/or where to go next. Showing students how to approach these outcomes graciously and without shame is important for everyone’s growth.

What do you think of the Beta mindset?

posted under Thoughts | 2 Comments »

Web 2.0 Reflection


I am taking an educational technology course as a part of my CAGS program. An assignment that I had to complete was a reflection on some Web 2.0 tools. I thought I would share my thoughts here. As always, your comments are welcome!

“Web 2.0 How-To For Educators” by Solomon and Schrum shares a plethora of tools for educators and students alike. Many of these options help advance teachers pedagogy as well as meet student learning objectives.

Blogs have been around for some time now; however, the purpose and results are still relevant. Blogs or an online journal or web-log were one of the first leaps into the notion of web 2.0, giving many users the ability to contribute to an online world. The Internet no longer belonged to computer science professionals only. Anyone can express his/her thoughts and ideas through posts or journal entries that are available to anyone else on the Internet. Blogs are a great place for educators to reflect on practices and share what they are doing in the classroom. Furthermore, if blogs are set up to be public or even to a select group, conversational exchanges may take place in commenting.

The same holds true with students contributing to blogs. Being able to share his/her work with a potential worldwide audience instead of just the classroom teacher can be motivating to students and drive the writing process. Blogs also are ideal avenues for many types of learners in expressing his/her knowledge in often a non-threatening environment that affords the writer plenty of time to formulate ideas before sharing. When expectations, parameters and guidelines are established, blogs can be a rewarding experience that helps students learn real world communication skills.

Microblogging sprang out of blogging, giving the user the opportunity to contribute short bursts of information on the web. Twitter is one of the most popular examples of microblogging that many teachers use for professional development. The key to Twitter is that the user types only 140 characters or less to his/her followers. These short writings are perfect for passing along a website address as a resource or to send out a request for resources. This free service has allowed teachers to connect with educators worldwide and build what is often referred to as Personal or Professional Learning Networks (PLN). In order to see the power of Twitter, one has to invest a little time and gather up contacts to fully experience the benefits, and for this reason, this microblogging platform can be a hard sell to busy teachers. Likewise, it can be like drinking from the fire hose with rapid tweets that appear constantly. Learning how to filter and curate are essential, and again that takes some time.

Twitter has found its way into the classroom as a distribution method to families with teachers tweeting out what’s happening. Many schools have Twitter accounts to which people subscribe, receiving notifications and usually lots of pictures of the great work taking place. Twitter is a wonderful system to reach busy families and even keep extended family connected. It’s also a good way to drive traffic to your blog or other work online with a simple share of an address in a tweet. While young students are not permitted to use Twitter due to age restrictions (13+), teachers can invite their followers (in the form of a tweet) to visit their students’ blogs, granting an even wider audience for sharing and collaborating.

Podcasting is a take on the old radio show. A person audio records a segment and then posts it to a site where there is RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed capabilities. In other words, the beauty of podcasts are that they are a way to express thoughts and ideas, and the audience can subscribe to the feed, so that whenever a new “show” is posted the user can get it right on his/her device. Hence, that’s where the “pod” derives as the practice started on iPods and specifically through iTunes. Images or even video also can be added to these “casts” making them Vodcasts. Due to the ease of their creation on most devices, podcasts are readily available on all topics. Educators can find one and subscribe. It’s a convenient way to find out what other people in the field of education are doing as one can listen while driving or going for a walk all from a mobile device. This medium also is appealing to those who prefer the audio and/or visual modality to reading.

The same holds true for students of all different skill levels and learning preferences. With a simple recording app and a secure, child-friendly hosting site, teachers can give students podcasting or vodcasting as an option for reflection and sharing of ideas and work beyond the classroom walls. Creativity can be sparked with fun ways to display and assess student knowledge. Of course, attention has to be paid to privacy concerns of children with certain guidelines about what is put out there on blogs and any online service. Moreover, parental permission has to be obtained. However, students will learn practical digital citizenship skills. Plus, they will have a real audience for their work which is very exciting.

Productivity Tools, in particular Google, can be a teacher’s and a student’s best friend. Two of the key features of using a Google service such as Docs and Slides are flexibility and collaboration. Google saves “to the cloud” and not to a specific device. A user can start working from his/her iPad, and then later at home, go on the same Doc on a computer and continue working. This aspect has been a game changer with students being able to work at school and from other locations in order to complete assignments at another time. Furthermore, if a teacher is working on a grant utilizing Docs, other members of his/her team may be given sharing permissions to go into the same Doc synchronously or asynchronously to contribute to the writing when it’s convenient. There is no more attaching and sending the latest update of a project among group members via email. Everyone (teachers and students) can access the Doc live online and see the latest version of a draft. In addition, through commenting features, editing and developing ideas are promoted and fostered. Potentially, a teacher or a student can work with anyone in the world with such a tool, developing the skills needed in today’s careers. School districts can help facilitate this type of environment through the creation of teacher and student accounts. Specific parameters can be set to make the experience safe and appropriate for various age levels. With the introduction of Google Classroom in the last few years, delivering and managing this online assignments to students is very user friendly for even the youngest users.

Teachers and students have two roles that they play in today’s web: consumers and creators. Apps or applications that run on mobile devices or through online subscriptions are readily available. Many apps can be for entertainment or productivity. In school, the focus is on apps that assist with the learning process. Teachers may use an app that tracks behavior or can send a message blast out to families. Apps may be chosen for students that help a student practice a math skill or watch specific videos on a topic. In this regard, the user is a consumer. There are apps, however, that shift the role to creator. For example, apps that record videos and voices turn a device such as an iPad into a creation tool. Apps that build multi-media collages from photos and talking avatars produced by other apps and then consolidated into one output for sharing with their teacher or another targeted audience further demonstrates the creation capabilities. As with other tools, the management of these apps and the devices does require attention to updates and safety measures on the part of the school. The increased accessibility to curriculum for all students is tremendous and definitely shines through in enthusiastic and engaged classrooms.

With all of these tools available, it’s important to keep in mind that a tool is just that – a tool. It can’t replace a teacher. Yet, the good news is it can advance a teacher’s practices through deliberate use and promote student growth through thoughtful, calculated implementation into the learning process.

posted under Thoughts | No Comments »

Helping Students Stretch their Concrete Thinking for Online Testing


A popular topic this month at faculty meetings (I’m sure everywhere in the U.S.) is state testing. And especially online testing!

One observation from our fourth grade team that completed the MCAS online last year was the brevity of student responses. It was speculated that the size of text boxes for typing responses may have been a factor. The perceived space that appears on a screen for an answer really can influence an elementary student who is a concrete thinker. Only so much space? Then I guess that’s all I need to write.

In an effort to make student thinking a little more amenable when encountering such a typing space, here are some ideas suggested at our faculty meeting. They all are online writing experiences that let students observe that boxes expand… and that responses do not have to be limited.

  • Make comments on peer’s Google Docs using the commenting boxes.
  • Visit a blog (like another classroom’s) and leave comments with thoughtful responses, really asking questions to trigger a conversation with the post author. (Please ask me if you are looking for a blog… we have several at Abbot that would love visitors!)
  • Fill out a Google Form that has long answer style questions. Reflection or Exit Ticket surveys can be worked into any subject giving students lots of practice opportunities over the course of the year.

While I am not a proponent to teaching to the test, preparing students to become more flexible in their encounters with online testing elements like text answer boxes may eliminate one road block to well developed answers on test day. Plus, the practice suggestions develop so many more skills, such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking!

Have any of your own suggestions? Please let us know below in the comments… feel free to make the box expand with your thoughts. 🙂

posted under Thoughts | 2 Comments »

Video Tutorials for Sharing Resources with Colleagues

I wrote two blog posts this school year with ideas on how to share resources with colleagues: Use the Google Classroom Reuse Post Feature to Share Assignments and Resources with Colleagues and Team Drives – What’s That?

I since have made these ideas into video tutorials for a professional development day in my district. Please check them out here. And of course, if you have questions, comments, more ideas, etc. please let me know!

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