Privacy and Student Data

As I drove to work earlier this month, I heard a story on CBC Radio from a parent who refused to sign a consent form for their child to use Google Classrooms in their school. They had privacy concerns and were upset that there was no alternative considered for those who may not sign the consent form. In this scenario, the student was able to complete their work, using Google Classrooms, signed in as the teacher – obviously not ideal.

The parent is also from British Columbia, so as I researched the article further and realized this, I understood some of their concerns. In Canada, British Columbia and Nova Scotia have some of the strictest privacy regulations when it comes to storing student data. In most cases, the data must be stored within Canada; however, in this scenario Google Classrooms information was being stored in the United States.

I understand the concern for privacy, but my reservations are here:

  • How valuable is the data of K-12 students (this situation)? I’m sure someone well-versed in data analytics might be able to explain this to me. I admittedly am ignorant in thinking “how will that student’s book report become monetized or valued otherwise?”
  • With all of the skimmed through and accepted privacy policies for everything we interact with online, I feel as though education is a smaller fish to fry in terms of sharing information. Am I wrong?
  • Where will we be 10-20 years from now if we refuse to allow our children to access valuable resources within the classroom?

I pushed all of this aside for a few weeks, and then last night I ran into this interesting Educause article, Setting the Table: Responsible Use of Student Data in Higher Education, and it got me thinking about student data again. This article is related to student data use in higher education, so it’s a bit different than the concerns discussed in the CBC article, and the article is written from an American lens, so I’m confident there would be further implications related to student data use in Canada (at least in British Columbia and Nova Scotia).

In any event, the Educause article discussed a project aimed at generating a set of principles “that might frame institutional policies on the use of student data in the digital era.” (Kurzweil & Stevens, 2018) The article further discussed innovative ways institutions are using student data, such as admissions, enrolment management, and to enhance overall student performance. From their research, four main tenets emerged:

  1. Shared Understanding
  2. Transparency
  3. Informed Improvement
  4. Open Futures

These tenets are meant to guide the responsible use of student data across institutions, which is great. However, I’m still left thinking that there is a lot to do in terms of institutional policies with regard to use of student data, and I still don’t think the framing principles respond to the concerns of vigilant K-12 parents.

Basically, I’m confused. How do institutions move forward and ensure student data is protected and that privacy regulations are respected, while attempting to leverage innovative technologies that may increase student engagement, performance, and overall satisfaction? If you have any insight, please leave a comment, because all I have are questions upon questions.

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  1. Stephanie Coggins says

    Hi Ashley,

    Thank you so very much for this blog post! I am a veteran K-12 educator/instructional coach/professional developer and am currently working on making the shift to instructional designer. I too wonder about student data and feel this is an extremely important topic/post to get us thinking and talking. This is a huge challenge we have regarding student data. However, as instructional designers, we probably all see this as a fantastic opportunity for learning.

    Here are my thoughts for what it’s worth. I like to think that education is the answer to pretty much everything. (A little biased, I know!) I believe there needs to be a clear process for designing, implementing and evaluating tools for protecting and utilizing student data. However, and more importantly, actions that build collective understanding must be embedded in every part of this process.

    As to your thinking that these principles in the article don’t address parental concerns about student data privacy, you are spot on. This parent received and filled out an form over email. Period. I can tell you that we used Google Docs in our schools and there wasn’t any intentional educational opportunities for parents to discuss it, learn about it, and/or share their concerns. It was a small part of a more comprehensive acceptable use policy that parents had to sign off on.

    I once took a course on program evaluation and it changed my thinking forever. The key factor that connected every part of the process was engaging stakeholders. This engagement consisted of creating a group including all key stakeholder groups, building understanding, gathering feedback, collaboratively analyzing data, researching, seeking expert guidance and brainstorming. The tenets from the Educause article (shared understanding, transparency, informed improvement, open futures) speak to this idea of intentionally building collective awareness . All of these tenets get people talking and, more importantly, allow them to be heard. Consider how much learning is generated in these experiences!

    In my time here in US K-12 public education, I’ve concluded that we are slower to integrate more and more processes and practices such as those mentioned above in our systems because they are very complex and require a great deal of change management and organizational development expertise. I can speak from experience that these are not topics that were a key part of courses of study for many people currently in roles (especially in education) that require these skill sets.

    Thankfully, all of that is changing, albeit at a snail’s pace. Undergraduate and graduate programs are including both change management and organizational development as key focal points within their programs. Likewise, many educational institutions are expanding their scope of talent acquisition by hiring experienced change managers and data specialists/managers, etc from a global pool of candidates as opposed to only educators from within the institution or from a pool of only educators. Another helpful step (as crazy as this sounds) is that K-12 education is just beginning to intentionally engage parents and community members in planning and operations. (This was helped in part by including parent/community involvement as a specific component measured within all administrator and educator performance evaluations.)

    This is more of a big picture perspective on why we are where we are and on where we need to go moving forward. Not sure if all of this is what you were looking for Ashley but your post sure got me thinking! Thanks!

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