A student data privacy wish list

A student data privacy wish list

The New Year is here and a couple of weeks ago the kids wrote what they wished for in 2015. It was interesting to read what they hoped for in the New Year (good grades, help people and can my little brother leave me alone). We all have our wish lists for the New Year, so I stepped back and started to think what my wish list for student data privacy would look like.

It is hard to name one issue I would like addressed in the education technology sector when it comes to student data privacy, my list is much longer than my kids wrote but here are my top picks. With the ed-tech industry stating it is all good (somewhat) and some privacy advocates saying it is all bad (some of it, but not all), it is difficult for parents and schools to know what concrete steps shall ensure the privacy of student data.

For starters, I would like to define who owns student data. We need to take a close look at the definition of ownership and acknowledge students, so our conversation shifts from one in which privacy (and education) sometimes happens to a conversation in which students are telling us what is important to them when it comes to their education and privacy. As I have more and more conversations with students of all ages, I realize they are increasingly aware of how they contribute data about themselves to a system that does not give them much attention. 2015 should be the year we learn to listen.

Parents need to be informed. And I don’t mean just by issuing boilerplate press releases in which companies tell parents they care about privacy. Or School Districts sending home flyers that say student data is safe. We must invest in workshops and informational sessions in which parents can have a genuine conversation about what is important, why it matters and what we can do about it. The conversation about data collection has to turn from one of what data should and should not be collected to one in which we discuss the best ways to use the data to help our students.

Which brings me to the value of data. The phrase “data is the new oil” can certainly be true. There is arguably, great profit to be made with data in many different sectors. But I hope that in 2015, the value of data for parents and students is not strictly a monetary one; for the value lies in its impact on improving our children’s education. Parents ought to be shown the direct benefit for their kids. Unless they see these benefits, the conversations about Big Data sets in education will remain irrelevant.

With the different data breaches that occurred in 2014 in the education sector, we need not only ask the companies and schools holding student data to be responsible. We must be able to hold them accountable for misuse of student data.

My list could go on and on but if I had to pick the one thing that I think is the most important it’s  – data privacy training. Training for parents, teachers, schools and students. We need to understand the system better. I want education sessions that inform students on their data, how it is used and how to be responsible owners of their data, empowering them to be responsible digital citizens.

Last year was an interesting one (to say the least). My focus is on taking advantage of the lessons learned and moving the conversation forward. If 2015 is anything like last year, we are in for an interesting debate. How will new platforms use student data? What new studies and research shall be funded to “improve” educational outcomes? Can data truly be de-identified? What biases are being unintentionally created when some students opt out of data collection? What learners are being left behind when there are opt outs in data sets? Are we being sensitive to other cultures and addressing their concerns when it comes to their privacy? How does privacy or lack thereof affect a student’s experience?

I don’t think we will be able to answer all of these questions in one year but I am sure we will be discussing them. All of them. In the meantime, I wish you all a most wonderful 2015! What’s on your wish list?


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