Kodiak on privacy, COPPA, and data collection

Kodiak believes in using data to help parents and teachers improve their children’s education. We’re “big data” people who get excited about using information to do great things.

As we worked with parents and teachers to build Kodiak, we learned that data collection has gotten a bad rap. Many web service companies have abused their users’ trust and taken liberties with information that most people consider private.

Data can be your friend

Data collection in a broad sense isn’t bad. In fact, we think data collection designed to help parents and teachers is going to make the iPad an incredibly powerful educational tool.

Educational apps using our platform send data about what students are doing to our servers, and we process that data to provide insights for parents and teachers. A teacher using our software can look at a web dashboard and see that eight of her ten students are having trouble with the same spelling words, or that Billy has been speeding through an app without taking the time to answer questions correctly.

As cool as our platform is, there are legitimate privacy concerns when dealing with web-based services. Many of these have been brought to light recently as a result of FCC investigations and media exposure.

How Kodiak protects the privacy of you and your children

The Kodiak team takes privacy very seriously. Here are some of the steps we take to comply with COPPA and other legislation, and to respect your privacy.

  1. We use an encrypted, non-Apple device identifier (not your UDID). When you sign into Kodiak from one of our supported apps, we send the identifier to our servers so we can sign you into other Kodiak apps on the same iPad automatically. Since it’s not the device UDID, you don’t have to worry about it being intercepted and used to identify you to advertisers or other parties.
  2. You must be signed in to our service for data collection to take place. Unlike Flurry, Google Analytics, etc., we don’t send anything anywhere without a parent or teacher signing in to Kodiak first. We don’t want to track your kids—we want to give you insight into what they’re doing so you can help guide their learning!
  3. We ask for student’s first and last names, but nicknames are fine with us. We don’t need student’s real identities for any reason.
  4. At any time, you can visit our website and delete all data about your students permanently.
  5. We don’t share personally identifying student data with any third parties, and only the account owner can see data about their children. We use the data we collect to create graphs and charts, notifications, and app recommendations for our users when they visit our website and sign in. The data we share with developers is anonymized, aggregate information they use to improve their apps.

Check out our privacy policy for more details.

I hope this gives you a window into the steps we’ve taken to protect the privacy of our users. I’m curious to know if anyone has any ideas how we could do better? Our service is still in beta and we’re developing launch partnerships with app developers now. We want to make the iPad an outstanding educational tool, and I think we all need to nail the privacy issue to do it.

A look at student profiles and reporting in great educational apps

Here at Kodiak, we’ve spend a lot of time playing with educational apps. To understand the state of learning on the iPad, we like to study common practices, look for design patterns, and find the apps that are pushing the user-experience envelope.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve noticed an exciting trend. Apps like Mathboard, Jungle Fractions, and others are adding classroom management features – most significantly, support for multiple student profiles. This is an important step toward
usability in the classroom setting. Teachers are interested in understanding students’ use of the iPad, and parents want to be able to identify the progress of individual children. Apps that offer a global leaderboard or high-score lists aren’t very useful at the end of the day, because iPads—on a cart shared between teachers—may have cycled through the hands of fifty or more students.

We’ve taken a look at some of the apps that allow parents to create and manage profiles for each of their students. We’ve been impressed by a few of them in particular, and we wanted to call out some of the patterns we’ve identified here.

Choosing Student Profiles

Most of the apps we’ve seen let students select their account before they start playing. Quite a few of the apps, such as TeachMe: Kindergarten and Dot to Dot Numbers and Letters (below) allow a parent or teacher to add student pictures, which is a nice touch that adds an extra layer of personalization to the app. In the apps we looked at, parents could add or remove players directly within the app, making it easy to create new accounts. Each app requested the student’s first name, and for apps with multiple difficulty levels, other information to place them at the right level within the app.

When designing a student selection interface, there are a couple things to note:

  • Apps with good student selection interfaces force the student to identify themselves before they start playing. You shouldn’t assume that the same student is playing if they close and re-open your app.
  • If there are a large number of students in the class, it’s important to indicate that the user might need to scroll to see all the users. We liked TeachMe: Kindergarten‘s student selection bar across the bottom of the screen, but it’s not clear that you can scroll to see more students. A child might just tap a random name if they don’t know they can scroll over to their own. Having a button half-visible on the edge of the scroll view can help make this obvious.

In-app performance reports

Math Fact Master and TeachMe: Kindergarten have some great features that allow teachers and parents to see how children have been performing. These apps give summary-level information to parents, and also let them see which specific questions students have been answering wrong.

The reporting interface of Math Fact Master

The reporting interface of TeachMe: Kindergarten

 

MathWise goes one step further, offering detailed charts that show students’ proficiency with different numbers and topics. They offer an “All Students” option so it’s possible to see where an entire class might be struggling or need practice.

Going a step further with Kodiak

We believe that separating student profiles will help make educational apps more useful in a classroom setting, and it’s great to see apps trending in this direction. With the Kodiak Reporting SDK, we’ve taken classroom management on the iPad a step further. With many apps and many different account management interfaces, it’s an incredible challenge for teachers to set up student accounts and teach children to sign in. Adding accounts and understanding student progress can still be a major undertaking when a class is using a handful of iPads and a variety of apps. In our research, we found that the interfaces above are more commonly used by parents, who only have to put a few kids’ information into each app.

To help teachers, student account management needs to be centralized. With Kodiak, we’ve taken the approaches above one step further. Educators can set everything up on the web, and sign into Kodiak from a supported app on each iPad to link those devices to the school’s account.

Whenever students open a Kodiak app on a class iPad, they see the student list below and log in:

The student list, complete with previous achievements, saved game state, etc… are synced with the cloud. Students can be managed from our website, and changes take effect in all supported apps on all the classes’ iPads. 

In talking with teachers, we realized that many of them weren’t interested in viewing student progress on the iPad. They loved the sort of graphs and charts that MathWise offered, but they said it was more of a feature for parents, since the progress monitoring broke down as soon as multiple iPads were in use by the class.

To accommodate this, Kodiak provides a completely cloud-based reporting platform. Our partner apps can submit student questions and answers to our API, and then teachers and parents view reports on the web:

If you’re building an app that needs classroom management features, or if you think they’d be a great new feature in your existing app, check out our free SDK. Using Kodiak, you can integrate this functionality into your app without having to build it from scratch and benefit from our teacher-approved reporting platform!

Kodiak vs. SmarTots: Our approach

Over the last two weeks, we’ve talked to quite a few app developers who are looking to incorporate classroom management and reporting features into their apps. There are great reasons to add these features:

  • Your apps will most likely be used by multiple children. It might be two kids sharing an iPad in the back of a car, or thirty kids sharing a classroom set of five iPads during an activity center.
  • High scores lists just don’t cut it: teachers and parents need to be able to look at the progress of each child using your app individually, and understand their learning over time.
  • As more and more iPads find their way into homes and schools, educators are looking to use the iPad for secondary assessment. It’s no longer about drilling on multiplication facts or spelling words. Your app should help teachers gauge class progress, understand their student’s learning needs, and more.

Kodiak makes it easy to add these features to your app—using our SDK, you can add classroom management, cloud syncing, and progress reporting features to your app for free. SmarTots is similar in many ways—their SDK also allows parents and teachers to set up student profiles within your app, and they track how much time students spend in your app. But the comparison ends there.

Here’s how we offer a stronger solution:

  • The SmarTots SDK only tracks the amount of time kids spend in different apps. They claim to be able to show kids improving, but it’s all based on the assumption that time=learning. Kodiak records the questions students are answering, the amount of time they spend on each question, and other information developers feel is relevant, such as the difficulty level kids are working at within the app. Our algorithms turn the data into insights for parents and teachers and make sure it’s presented beautifully. We can tell a teacher that 7 of 10 kids using your spelling app missed the same questions, that Billy is speeding through questions without answering them, and more.
  • We provide much richer feedback to educators, and we emphasize insights from data. Because it only tracks time spent in apps, SmarTots isn’t all that useful to teachers, who—in a lot of cases—are already familiar with how long students are spending on class iPads. We want to make the iPad useful as a supplemental assessment tool, which means providing much richer feedback for teachers.
  • We’ve worked to design interfaces that will look good in a wide range of apps. We’ve spoken with developers who have complained that SmarTots interface is pretty bad and lowers the quality of their app. We’re user experience researchers and developers ourselves, and we care a lot about the way our partner apps look to users!
  • We’ve designed Kodiak for schools and one-to-one programs, not just for parents. We’re only a few months into our release, and we already have schools lining up to take part in a beta of Kodiak for Schools. Kodiak provides teachers with a live view of what students are doing in your app, and you can save student achievements, difficulty settings, etc.. in the cloud so students can use any iPad in their classroom. We plan to market Kodiak to schools heavily, which means more sales for you!
We want to create an ecosystem of the best educational apps, and we’re looking to partner with developers like you. Learn more about our SDK and join our developer program for free at http://www.kodiakreporting.com/. Help us build a platform that delivers data-driven insights to educators from the best apps out there. Together, we’ll leading the advancement of apps in education.