‘It was creepy’: the parents opting out of technology in the classroom

Earlier this year, Marie-Claire discovered her eight-year-old daughter was being filmed at school without her permission.Well-meaning teachers uploaded the footage to Seesaw, a popular app founded by a former Facebook executive which sends parents regular updates on their children’s progress.

This includes test results, photos of students’ work and clips of class presentations that they can comment on.“It was creepy,” she said.“I didn’t know where the data was stored or for how long.”After the Melbourne mother raised concerns, the school stopped using the app and contacted lawyers at the Victorian Education Department.

Six months later, students were sent home with “opt-out” forms which Marie-Claire swiftly signed.As parents increasingly raise privacy concerns about technology in the classrooms, these sorts of permission slips are becoming more common.

The Victorian Education Department now provides schools with template opt-out forms for six education technologies, including Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G-suite for Education.Information packs published by the department detail exactly what information is being collected and where it is stored.

For instance, G-suite for Education, which is used by 60 million teachers and students around the world, collects students’ names, year levels, home groups, schools, location information and stores their schoolwork.This information is stored in data centres in the United States, Chile, Taiwan, Singapore, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland and Belgium.

Marie-Claire said she would opt out of G-suite for Education if it was introduced at her daughter’s school.As well as her privacy concerns, she’s not convinced of the educational benefits of the technology.She refers to a 2015 OECD report, which found students who used computers very frequently at school performed “a lot worse in most learning outcomes”.

Monash University education professor Dr Neil Selwyn said while technology played an important role in the classroom, parents were right to be concerned.“There is often no due diligence or broader thinking about what the consequences are,” the digital technology expert said.

“A lot of these apps are based on collecting data.”According to Dr Selwyn, this data is used to improve products and then often sold to other companies for the creation of new services.

“Data about how people learn is very commercially valuable,” he said.“These products are often free. If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.”

He said schools were having to deal with data and privacy issues that they were not equipped to handle.“It’s complex legal stuff,” he explained.

Australian Privacy Foundation vice chair Kat Lane said schools should always provide parents with detailed information about pros and cons of technology. And she said they should replace opt-out forms with opt-in forms.

“We should get to choose. Opt-in should be the default position. I am talking about informed consent, not ticking a box. We need to be talking about safety in the classroom.”