In today's dynamic digital landscape, the integration of technology in education has unlocked unprecedented opportunities for students to learn, collaborate, and prepare for their roles in an increasingly interconnected world. As responsible stakeholders, encompassing educators, parents, community members, and leaders, we bear a collective duty to harness these advantages while safeguarding the privacy and security of our students' data.
In response to the recent initiative from The White House dedicated to countering cyberattacks on US schools, educators are turning to EdTech companies for guidance. The digital transformation has ushered in a new era of technology that supports and advances education. However, it has also introduced pressing challenges that demand our immediate attention – namely, the collection, storage, and sharing of student data through EdTech tools.
The protection of our students, both in the online and offline realms, is paramount to ensuring their success, well-being, and empowerment. EdTech providers must actively engage in safeguarding student data. In this article, we will explore strategies for teachers, principals, district leaders, and parents to ensure that the EdTech tools accessible to our children do not compromise their security.
Tech is Essential, and So Is Our Students' Data
EdTech tools have revolutionized the educational landscape by offering personalized learning experiences that cater to individual needs, identify learning gaps, and enable precise interventions. The undeniable benefits notwithstanding, we must remain vigilant regarding the potential risks associated with students' digital interactions.
Cybersecurity breaches pose an escalating threat to school districts as they embrace technology to support students and educators. The adoption of technology provides more opportunities for breaches, including phishing attempts, ransomware attacks, denial-of-service interruptions, and identity theft aimed at accessing district resources. Notably, Sophos reported an alarming 50 percent increase in ransomware attacks between 2022 and early 2023, with over 80 percent of IT directors affected.
Beyond the financial implications, cyberattacks can lead to the theft of sensitive student and staff data. This is especially concerning for our young learners, who may remain unaware of data compromises until they reach an age where they apply for college loans or credit cards.
What Can We Do to Ensure Student Data Is Secure?
Our paramount objective is to protect our children and prepare them for their futures. To achieve this, we must acknowledge the risks associated with data exposure, take proactive steps to safeguard their data, and educate them about data protection. This encompasses not only sensitive information such as social security numbers and addresses but also guarding against the sale of their contact information to third parties.
Our students often lack the capacity to advocate for themselves and may not recognize data compromises until much later in life. Consequently, data security demands unwavering focus from teachers, education leaders, and parents alike.
Nonetheless, informed implementation of EdTech applications offers substantial benefits to students. The data collected can inform effective teaching, aid in identifying and addressing learning gaps, measure progress, and provide targeted support. Moreover, these apps expand and enrich the learning experience, fostering collaboration skills and giving all students a voice in digital conversations.
Here is a list of questions to consider when evaluating EdTech tools:
● Where is student and teacher data stored, and is it encrypted?
● Do your data centers uphold industry-leading certifications?
● Does increasing privacy settings result in feature loss?
● How frequently is the technology audited to ensure security and privacy standards?
● Can you provide a comprehensive list of all collected data and its storage locations?
● Is student data shared with third parties?
● What is the data retention period, and for what purposes is the data used?
● Can users request the deletion of their data?
● Are you a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge 2020?
The Student Privacy Pledge 2020 represents a public commitment by companies to responsibly collect and utilize student data. However, it is crucial to delve deeper and pose inquiries about the specifics of data collection, storage, utilization, and duration.
Empowering Educators and Students Alike
While technology complements the indispensable role of educators, it does not replace them. EdTech enhances the learning experience by personalizing education, fostering collaboration, and extending learning beyond the classroom. A balanced approach entails understanding each app's purpose, minimizing redundancy, and ensuring strict adherence to safety protocols.
EdTech tools should not burden educators but rather seamlessly support their daily practices. While educators, school leaders, and parents should remain vigilant regarding potential risks and cybersecurity practices, the primary responsibility for safe student data practices lies with EdTech companies.
As we strive to prepare students for their futures, the principles of data privacy and security are non-negotiable. As we equip learners with digital fluency, we must equally safeguard their sensitive information. A unified effort among educators, parents, education leaders, and technology providers is indispensable to ensure that our students not only learn effectively but also navigate the digital landscape confidently, knowing that their data is secure, and their futures are bright.
About the author
Kris Astle is an experienced educator with a passion for elevating student voice. She has a global understanding of trends, research-based best practices, educational needs, and the facilitation of change in the education landscape. Kris started her career in the classroom, teaching first in Switzerland and then in the US. She has launched both IB and ESL programs in schools she has worked in. She is passionate about meeting both students and teachers where they are and helping them use technology to follow their passions.