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Protect Student Data and Privacy in the Cloud - Come Join the Conversation

By Beth Holland — January 13, 2016 2 min read

A critical conversation about student data and privacy has been unfolding within the bounds of the Independent School Educators (ISED) listserv. Tomorrow (January 14, 2016) that conversation will extend to the broader education community, and I invite everyone to join. Beginning at 8:00 pm EST, Justin Reich (co-author on this blog), Leah Plunkett and Paulina Haduong from the Berkman Center, and Bill Fitzgerald from CommonSense Media will be serving as panelists during a public webinar discussion moderated by Jennifer Carey, Director of Educational Technology at The Ransom Everglades School. Registration is FREE, and you can also join the conversation on Twitter at 9:00 pm EST via #ISEDchat.

In early December, several items sparked the initial discussion. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint with the FCC regarding Google and the privacy of student data. As alleged by articles published in the Wall Street Journal and NPR, Google Apps for Education violated the Student Privacy Pledge, a legally binding document that a number of companies signed in January of 2015 to help protect our students. In response to this complaint, Google changed a number of settings in its services and offered this response on their blog.

A few weeks ago, another article from the Washington Post - Google is tracking students as it sells more products to schools, privacy advocates warn - launched another incredibly thoughtful conversation within the Independent School listserv. Several educators shared excellent resources to help the community better understand the the issue such as the 2015 Year in Review from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Bill Fitzgerald’s blog post about wading through Google’s Terms of Service for Education.

For several months, CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, has been working in partnership with the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society on three initiatives to support the protection of student privacy. First, they developed the Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal.

This initiative will allow school system leaders from across the country to communicate their privacy efforts to parents, communities, and other stakeholders while ensuring that the school system is adhering to best practices and taking steps in the right direction." - CoSN

Next, in collaboration with the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), they published 10 Principles to Guide the Use and Protection of Student Data. Finally, they have published The Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning Toolkit (login required) to help educators better understand the nuances of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Protecting Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).

Student privacy also plays a crucial role in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan. While the Department of Education recognizes the need for student data in order to better personalize learning, it also acknowledges that teachers, administrators, and families also need access to resources to help them understand how they can best protect their students.

I will admit that I am not an expert in this area and have been working to understand the nuances of the conversation. In discussing the matter with Justin, I asked, “what’s the worst case scenario that student information is used for advertising?” Justin’s response truly helped to frame the real issue.

The worst case scenario is that we use the compulsory power of schools to indoctrinate children into a world where it is assumed that corporations assemble massive dossiers on their behavior and demographics without their awareness and that they sell and use that information without consent. It will be the complicity of our schools in eroding not only our student's privacy, but their belief that they should ever have privacy. That change won't have a big bang moment, but a slow crawling cultural change. That worst case scenario needs to be balanced with the incredible benefits of learning and working collaboratively in the cloud, and the potential for corporations to create tools and resources that have great possibilities for improving learning."

Again, I invite you to come join this crucial conversation tomorrow, January 14, 2016 via the LIVE webinar and the #ISEDchat. Follow-up resources, the webinar recording, and an archive of the Twitter chat will be posted to this blog. Many thanks to ATLIS, EdTechTeacher, and ICG for their efforts in producing this event.

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