Last spring I walked into a third grade classroom and watched the students engage with their devices. Some were reading online, some were working together while others were creating videos. As the Director of Educational Technology, this is exactly what I wanted to see in a classroom where technology was being used as a support to instruction. Peering over the shoulder of a student, I saw he was using an online tool I was not familiar with. I asked the student what site he was using and how he began using it. He told me the name of the site and shared that his teacher signed him up for it. He excitedly showed me a QR code that was laminated with his full name, date of birth, grade level, email address, and student number.
Over the last decade we have seen many new and exciting innovations in education. Our schools have become filled with electronic devices and students logging into websites and apps used to support learning. These online instructional resources are making it possible for students and educators to create, collaborate, think critically, and share ideas more easily than ever. In the educational setting, when it is so easy to click, “Sign in with Google,” how do school districts ensure the privacy and protection of all students and their data?
Traditionally, student data consisted of things like attendance, grades, and health records. Access to that data was locked in a filing cabinet which was placed in the administrator’s office. Access to these records would be limited to the administrator, counselor, teacher, or other school officials who had a legitimate educational interest to view the information. As schools have moved toward using online instructional resources, such as applications and web based tools, traditional data is shared with companies that provide Student Information Systems, Learning Management Systems, and apps that are used within the classrooms. When schools use technology, students’ data, including some personally identifiable information is collected by both the teacher and the companies that provide apps and online services. Privacy-related concerns have risen related to the extent of information collected digitally about students and how that information may be used today or at some time in the future in ways that could exploit or even harm them.
What are the federal laws educational staff should be familiar with?
Two main federal education privacy laws are important to note when providing a foundation of protection for all students and their families online: the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive federal funds. This law grants a number of important rights that provide some control for parents over what personally identifiable data can be collected and shared about students.
Is there a vetting process in my school district?
To make the most out of opportunities for teachers to try new online instructional resources, school districts must help educational staff understand why a vetting process is needed and create a pathway to approval. The vetting process should help assist educational staff in utilizing online instructional resources while maintaining data privacy, equity, and responsible tech use.
Some questions to help staff quickly evaluate whether an online instructional resource will protect students’ information:
- Do you have to make an account in order to start using the online instructional resources? If so, did you have to provide personal information (email, name, age, etc.)?
- Does the resource require parental permission?
- Does the developer share personally identifiable information with others?
- Does the resource collect additional information such as location or contacts?
A strong vetting process will vet the online instructional resource for content quality, curricular alignment, data privacy and security. When creating a vetting process, school districts should:
- Develop clear adoption guidelines for educational staff to make the selection process easier for both the district and staff.
- Make sure the vetting process is thorough, but also quick and clear. If getting online instructional resources approved is too cumbersome, staff may be likely to avoid the vetting system altogether and try a tool anyway.
- Inform educational staff of the vetting process. Make sure it is clear that staff are not responsible for vetting resources, but the information is being shared with them so they can be more informed users of online instructional resources.
- Inform families. Provide families with information about the vetting process and a list of online instructional resources that are being used in the classroom
We are in an amazing age of educational technology. Online instructional resources help provide learning that is engaging, productive, and student-centered. Using online instructional resources are a valuable part of today’s classroom and keeping students safe online is of utmost importance to school districts. Having a system in place to vet online instructional resources is a responsible, important part of education in the digital age.
To help with creating a vetting process for your school district, visit these valuable resources:
Student Privacy Pledge – https://studentprivacypledge.org/
FERPA/SHERPA The Education Privacy Resource Center – https://ferpasherpa.org/educators/using-apps-in-the-classroom/
Common Sense Education – https://www.commonsense.org/education/teaching-strategies/protect-your-students-data-and-privacy