Teachers Need Help With Protecting Student Privacy Amid Explosion of Tech Use

By Alyson Klein — October 22, 2020 2 min read
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Education technology has never been more important than in the 2020-21 school year, with millions of students learning partially, or entirely, online. But parents, students, and teachers need more training and support on the privacy issues that go along with the explosion in tech, according to a report released Thursday by the Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit organization.

For instance, nearly half of teachers who participated in the survey have received no training at all on student privacy, beyond simply signing a form. And while 65 percent of teachers say they are using video-conferencing technology, just 19 percent say they have received training on those platforms. That’s despite problems with things like hacked video conferences (aka “Zoombombing”) or teachers accidentally exposing grades and class schedules when they share their screen with a class.

What’s more, more than half of teachers—53 percent—said they had discussed privacy with their students. But many students say their teachers never talked about the issue with them. That might mean that, “even though teachers may have believed they are having [these conversations], they have not absorbed,” said Elizabeth Laird, a senior fellow at CDT on a webinar sponsored by the Education Writers Association.

Parents are more likely to be concerned about student privacy than teachers, with 62 percent of parents saying it’s an issue, and just 44 percent of teachers. And one in three parents say their concerns about privacy have been heightened since the start of the pandemic.

Most parents—70 percent—trust schools to handle their child’s personal information. But more than half say they, not the school, are most responsible for safeguarding their kid’s data. Only roughly 40 percent of parents said their school has explained how it protects student information.

“Parents don’t know what they don’t know,” Laird said.

Male parents and those with higher incomes are more likely to worry about privacy than others, the survey found.

What’s more, parents are more likely to become more concerned about student privacy when they have gotten more information about the issues, she explained.

Teachers who work with students in special education are more likely to have a firm understanding of privacy issues. That’s partly because those teachers deal with more student information than most other educators, including Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, Laird said. And teachers at schools that have a specific technology plan reported getting more training than those at schools that didn’t have one.

The surveys and focus groups highlighted in the report were conducted by Edge Research in May-August 2020. The parent survey included a representative sample of more than 1,200 parents. The teacher survey included more than 1,000 K-12 educators.

Image: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.