With the ongoing global pandemic, schools around the world have had to embrace the use of technology to power their classrooms and educate their students. However, in the rush to address these challenges, less attention has been paid to the privacy of data shared by online learning tools.
Most online learning tools, such as Zoom or Google Classroom, interact with data collection from their users. Yet, there are still a lot of questions and a lack of information around privacy for education. With schools going fully virtual this school year, it is now a fundamental necessity to ensure that these tools are protecting the rights of their users, the majority of which are millions of minors or students. It’s also vital to determine whether these same tools are giving the collected information away without consent.
Many countries have laws designed specifically to protect the privacy of students. As an example, in the United States, there is The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which is a federal privacy law that gives parents certain protections to education records, such as report cards, transcript of records, family information, as well as class schedules. Although parents should bear in mind that private and parochial schools at the elementary and secondary levels that do not receive government funding are not subject to FERPA.
To ensure our students’ protection and security as far as their personal information is concerned, here are a few insights and tips around privacy to consider in our new ‘normal’.
With any online classroom experience, double-check whether the tools your children are using meet the requirements of your local privacy laws.
Something else for parents and educators to consider is the type of learning resources used in online classrooms. Yes, there are many easy-to-use platforms with free access for all educational institutions but as they say, nothing is ever free. In this case, free access also means free access to collect and disseminate information or data. You might remember it wasn’t that long ago when random strangers started jumping into online classrooms.
Always check data policies before introducing a new tool/website/platform at school if they have access to Personally identifiable information (PII).
Normally, it’s up to IT administrators or technology integration specialists to ensure that schools have some format of security that will help prevent any sensitive data leaks. In online classrooms, however, students (and teachers) log into these tools remotely, with the possibility of having little to no security supervision. Adding to this complexity, the devices used are also personal, making any group security near impossible.
Ensure that students’ personal data is not susceptible to unauthorized use. This is a personal responsibility for teachers, administrators, and parents to ensure that all personal devices are protected.
While personal devices can offer flexibility and convenience, they create risks of data privacy leaks when unsecured devices are connected to the school’s systems or platforms. Apply strict bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and require those devices to have security controls before allowing them to access any protected environment.
Given all of that, it’s important to note that collecting data is not a negative thing. It’s a necessity for schools to operate, from counting student populations to keeping track of grades, and when done safely, data collection provides essential information that helps schools refine their curriculums and educational systems. For the education sector to advance and progress in areas like personalized learning, there is no doubt that data will continue to play a key role. However, there is no requirement to keep data in a way that can be traced back to students and teachers.
For example, when someone uses BSD Online they can be assured that their data is stripped of any personally identifying elements. We only collect private information that our customers willingly give us, such as name, email address, and school affiliation. Any other information collected is aggregated so that we can continue to improve our services but is not shared beyond BSD.
Unfortunately, this is not the standard for many online companies and users are unaware of how their data is collected and shared. As we go more digital with classrooms and schools, data privacy will be critical to protecting all the individuals in the education system.
When it comes to your children or student’s education, at a time when everyone has rushed to virtual learning, it is crucial to step back and ask questions about the educational tool they’re using. Is your data anonymous? Is this “free” program actually sharing my data?
Education is on the cusp of incredible innovation with technology and how students are able to learn and engage with the material. With new tools, teachers can be even more creative and for the most part, this is an exciting time for the future of education. But as we adopt technologies into our classrooms and embrace innovation, we also need to take a moment to consider how these tools affect the safety and privacy of everyone involved but especially our students.
Over the last 12 years, Nickey has become an expert in developing and maintaining technology solutions, working with large scale digital transformation projects, digital marketing, and the effective use of social media to drive business success and harness the power data. His work experience spans development, publishing, and digital marketing with experience in agencies, corporate, and hospitality markets. He specializes in developing teams in organizations to create sustainable and effective solutions themselves with a combination of consulting, training, and execution. Nickey is the co-founder and CTO of BSD Education, Refugeek, and also is an educational advisor to the HKU faculty of education.