Dear Commons Community,
Facebook announced on Thursday that it was working with a local charter school network, Summit Public Schools, to develop software that schools can use to help children learn at their own pace. The project has been championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, and one of his top lieutenants, Chris Cox. As reported in the New York Times:
“We’ve seen that there’s an opportunity to help apply our skills to the future of education, and we all wanted to find a way to help make an impact by doing what we do best — building software,” Mr. Cox wrote in a blog post announcing the initiative.
Eight Facebook employees have been assigned full time to work on the project, which began quietly last year after Summit’s chief executive, Diane Tavenner, asked Mr. Zuckerberg for help improving the tools developed by Summit’s lone software engineer.
“It’s really driven by this idea that we want to put learning in the hands of kids and the control back in the hands of kids,” Ms. Tavenner said in a telephone interview. The software, she said, allows students to work with teachers to create tailored lessons and projects. Teachers can also administer individualized quizzes that the software can grade and track.
The platform, which is separate from the Facebook social network, is now being used by nine Summit schools and about 20 others. Ultimately, Ms. Tavenner said, “our motivation is to share it with everyone and anyone who wants it,” including other charters and public school districts. The software would be free for all users.
Facebook and Summit said that they adhered to the student privacy practices recommended by the federal government, and that Facebook could not use student data for its other businesses.
Critics were skeptical of such commitments.
“Facebook does not have the greatest reputation when it comes to privacy,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit group that has criticized technology companies, contending that they violate student privacy.
Although the effort is still small, Facebook said it was making a long-term commitment to education. That ambition echoes the company’s other big save-the-world effort, Internet.org, which aims to bring Internet access to the billions of people who do not have access now.”
It will be interesting to see how Facebook’s entry into the education software business evolves. The issue of student privacy is real and serious. Regardless, we wish Facebook good luck with its new venture.