Classroom Apps, Technology, and Privacy Concerns

Vol. 13 No. 10

trustees eletter vol13 no10 apps

As classroom technology becomes more prevalent, especially with teachers using computer apps to track student performance, student privacy issues also become a concern. Teachers are now integrating interactive whiteboards, tablets or electronic readers, and even handheld devices like smart phones in their lesson plans. This does not come without risks, however. Providers of online educational services and apps can “harvest” personal student information (email addresses, phone numbers, and numerous other data points) that can be used for marketing and analysis, or even shared and used inappropriately.

Many states (most notably California) have introduced legislative bills on student-data privacy, but few have been passed into law. The federal government has legislated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which provides certain rights to parents and adult students concerning distribution of student education records. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that websites obtain parental consent to collect data on children under the age of 13.

In another effort to curtail privacy issues in educational technology, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the think tank "The Future of Privacy Forum" developed a Student Privacy Pledge for companies that make products for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The pledge is meant for education service providers to commit to an industry set of standards on the collection and use of student privacy information—in short, that they will not go beyond the educational purpose of the services they provide, sell data concerning students, or use any of the information for targeted marketing purposes. At the time of this writing, more than 100 companies have signed the pledge.

Obviously, there are loopholes in these laws and efforts, and schools must still be vigilant and take measures to circumvent any privacy problems. Some schools now provide an approved list of learning apps that faculty may use, or require teachers to get approval from the school administration for classroom technology.

As Trustees, you are stewards for the school and its students. Ensure that the School Head is aware of these privacy concerns and is taking the appropriate precautions with the school administration—perhaps by retailoring the school’s policies and procedures and including the faculty in the acceptable use policy (AUP). (Keep in mind the Board must guard against involvement in day-to-day school management. These precautionary measures should be orchestrated by the School Head.) If necessary, the school can turn to legal counsel and/or technology experts for assistance in addressing these issues. Make sure funding is available for these purposes.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Trustees Vol. 12 No. 1 "Getting Schooled” on Security Issues: A Multi-Tiered Approach

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 36 No. 16 The 21st Century School: Technology and Small Children

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