“One reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one. It can be infuriating, and it’s not just individuals who fall short of the talk. In our experience, only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold people accountable.
If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors—if you’re not going to teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values—it’s better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS.”Brene Brown, Dare to Lead
This is my attempt to operationalize the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry’s goal to advance digital fluency and critical engagement at Middlebury. I’m going to try to walk the walk by looking at a common scenario and dissecting it in relation to a specific tool that has gained in popularity in education circles. As you’ll see, being critical of tools also means making conversations more complicated. It means examining our assumptions and calling out problems even with the shiny-est of new objects. I’ll attempt to identify pros and cons as well as concerns regarding student privacy, agency, and access. It won’t be a short post – but it will be a full one — so let’s get started.
The tool – FlipGrid
The tool I decided to start with is FlipGrid. I chose it because I found out numerous faculty had already started to use the tool in coordination with Canvas. Since that time the Office of Digital Learning has implemented a whitelisting process whereby Canvas integrations are evaluated for privacy and security concerns.
After examining some documentation I found that FlipGrid is intentionally designed to be integrated at a course level.
“***Please note, Flipgrid does not support a system-wide integration or admin-level setup. Instead, teachers must individually do this for each course they want to use Flipgrid with.”
From: FlipGrid Help
A perceived pro for this is that it allows for faculty flexibility, however after digging into the FlipGrid and the power that a grid owner has – you can see that within an academic context it is very easy for this “feature” to result in former students having orphaned video work stored on a server that is impossible to remove. (More on that later.) It also loads the majority of responsibility for privacy concerns on the grid owner.
Let’s start with the documents that teachers need to confirm they have read before creating an account. They consist of:
First – a pro – these docs are all available and fore-fronted for teachers to review. A con – they took me well over an hour to wade through in their entirety. In addition, in the Parental Consent Form there is no opt out option listed. This design highlights the power of defaults. The appearance of only one option is a bit of a power move that does not favor student or parent agency.
“The power of defaults to guide people’s choices has made them an extremely popular way for policymakers and marketers alike to nudge people toward a particular decision. But it has also raised questions about how to ensure that defaults are used ethically and responsibly.”Ruth Pogacar and Mary Steffel and Elanor Williams, Fast Company, 4/9/2017
How to fix this → write your own Parental Consent Form and include AND DISCUSS an opt-out option.
The United States Department of Education offers some tools to help practitioners and administrators who are tasked with considering student privacy & security. One of the tools is a model terms of service. While the model has not been updated since 2016, I found that it hit on many of the most concerning points related to student privacy. As a test, I ran FlipGrid through a quick assessment that you can view via a Google Sheet. Items in red designate that they fall within the warning category defined by the model.
Extending the Classroom
In the terms of service in section 2.1 the option to share grids outside of the school population is mentioned, however only later in the section is it stated that:
“If Grid Owners invite unaffiliated guests (e.g., featured speakers) to participate on their Grids, they are solely responsible for (a) obtaining parental consent for sharing Student information with any guests; and (b) obtaining clearance to use the guests’ content. Flipgrid has no responsibility for Grid Owner guest activity.“
See Also: FERPA Anyone who enters your class and is not a registered student or faculty member should be aware of their responsibilities as a guest in an academic space. And as the person responsible for upholding FERPA and protecting the classroom space, you must be willing to be fully responsible for their actions. In the Do’s and Don’t’s document provided by FlipGrid this behavior is listed as a don’t:
“Don’t share student information outside the classroom or the school community.”Do’s and Don’ts from FlipGrid
How to fix this → read up on your FERPA related responsibilities. Have questions? Check in with the Registrar’s office to clarify what is ok and not ok to do.
The Scary Language You Need to Pay Attention To
Some quotes from the ToS that raised concerns for me:
“grant us a nonexclusive license to view, download, reproduce, modify, create derivative works of, distribute, and display any information provided by or collected from a Student solely for the purposes discussed in these Terms.
“Flipgrid does not guarantee any confidentiality with respect to your User Content.”
How to fix this → my take → in some ways not fixable — As a user of tech (and a parent), this is where I stopped and ruled this tool out as a viable option. Part of my determination was that video is a potentially more problematic medium than writing because it is usually less planned and more spur of the moment. This means that there is a higher chance that a student could potentially record something that they did not think out fully or that – in retrospect – they regret or feel silly about posting. It’s one thing when that happens within the four actual walls of a classroom. It’s something completely different when it’s one screen capture away from Snapchat infamy.
The only suggestion I have is to make use of this tool optional and focused solely on team building within the group for no stakes community building interactions. Make students aware of how the tool works and the policies governing its use BEFORE they use it.
Student Agency – Deletion & Tracking
In the Privacy Section the major issues returned to the concept of student agency. If we are fully in support of championing student agency over their work and likeness then they should be learning in systems in which they have control over deletion of their content. FlipGrid puts this power firmly in the Grid Owners hands. For example:
“1.2 Depending on the Grid Owner’s privacy settings for the Grid, other Users may view and share Student content.“
“Info collected from users: device type, the device identifier (UDID), the Open Device Identification Number (ODIN), date/time stamps for each visit, browser type, operating system, Internet Protocol (IP) address, Internet service provider (ISP), referring/exit pages, clickstream data, and domain name are all collected for purposes of administering, tracking usage of, and improving the Service. We may store this information in log files.“
“Cookies & Web Beacons: The Service may include web beacons and cookies from third-party service providers.“
“Companies that deliver content, such as videos a Grid Owner links to or embed, place cookies on their own. These companies use the data they process in accordance with their privacy policies, which may enable these companies to collect and combine information about your activities across websites, apps, or online services.”
A positive in this section is that FlipGrid notifies users that they have the ability to block some of these technologies…
“Each User has a variety of tools to control cookies, web beacons, and similar technologies, including browser controls to block and delete cookies and controls from some third-party analytics service providers to opt out of data collection through web beacons and similar technologies.”
However, they also let you know it might mess with your ability to use FlipGrid:
“User browser settings and other choices may impact the functionality of the Service. “
Another negative against student agency becomes apparent when we dig into a student’s ability to delete their own content. (This is the orphaned content I mentioned way back in the introduction.) They can’t. They are reliant on the Grid Owner to do this or must contact FlipGrid directly:
“Users can contact us at support@Flipgrid.com and request that such videos be removed. However, we will only be able to remove the video if (a) the User provided their email address when posting the video and (b) the User sends the email request to us using that same email address. Otherwise, we may not be able to remove a posted video. Deletion of a video removes it from the Grid. “
Unfortunately, once a student graduates or a teacher leaves a school they typically lose access to the email account that would be associated with this video and consequently – would lose all control over removing the video.
How to fix this → Delete your FlipGrids and all associated videos at the end of the semester. Also – be aware that you are being tracked and make sure that students understand this. Let them ask questions and interrogate the classes’ use of the tool. Allow them to opt out if they choose to.
Flipgrid also tells the user that they do not respond to “do not track signals”:
12.2 How We Respond to Do Not Track Signals
“We do not currently respond to “do not track” signals or other mechanisms that might enable consumers to opt out of tracking on our website.”
So What? Who Cares?
Well – actually – I’m kind of hoping YOU do! We are too quickly trading away power over our own data and choices for ease of use and that’s a BIG problem. It becomes an even bigger problem when we act as agents of an educational institution and make decisions for our students without fully examining the future consequences of our decisions. Finally – whenever we choose an option that makes it difficult (or potentially impossible) for students to access and control their data or for future college employees to help do this after we or the students leave, we have taken away our students’ ability to control their digital life and traded understanding and respect for digital fluency in for ease of use.
Let’s not shy away from these complicated conversations. We all need to be more transparent and honest about how things work and how they can potentially impact everyone. We don’t have to rule out a tool – but we should not require it either. Students deserve options and we shouldn’t hide behind the power of defaults to obscure the fact that they have the right to make those decisions for themselves.
Do you have a tool that you are interested in using with your class but would like some feedback from DLINQ? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also check out these other resources for additional critical examinations of tech tools: