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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