Technology, Data Security and Privacy

The best advice makes simple sense, and we really enjoy reading advice especially when it pertains to use of technology, data security, and privacy in the classroom. Tom Vander Ark, who is the Founder and CEO of Getting Smart, wrote a solid piece earlier this week, Privacy Bills Block Personalization, Seek Private Benefit.

Tom’s main focus surrounds the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center’s (PTAC) “new guidance” on student privacy, educational resources and data management. He offered a very candid critique that we are not living in 2009 anymore, and both the technology to enable better user experiences, data security and privacy in the classroom in 2014 offers significant advancements. Those involved with shaping public policies on education need to recognize that antiquated policy red tape are impacting the velocity of modern american education and use of technology. We agree with Tom’s main point that these antiquated IT policy bills could prevent personalized learning — which is arguably,  “the most important development in the history of education.”  Tom goes on the say, “…(antiquated policy and red tape) could eliminate the ability to create and transfer portable student records. They could even limit a parent’s right to share student information with a tutor or after school program.”

In looking at other countries’ policies and education models as a guide, there is a widening gap in the adoption and use of technology pervasively in all facets of the American education experience, and it’s imperative we leverage and modify best practices to accelerate progress, not prevention in education. We wanted to amplify Tom’s commentary by adding comments of our own, and welcome your input to keep this important discussion moving;

  • There is an enormous latent problem with public policy makers not keeping pace with compliant and secure innovations in technology. Considering the extent we as consumers rely on secure technology and access to our private information across banking and eCommerce alone suggests the policy makers should focus on accepting current standards and cutting red tape to innovation or public acceptance of it.
  • eLearning education platforms began more than a decade ago and represent one of the fastest growing segments of education today. Today there are more than 7 million students enrolled in online classes. This didn’t occur by accident, as both the convenience and affordability of online education in comparison to the rising costs physical enrollment and attendance continues. In fact, schools are responding to the demand, with 64% of colleges surveyed in 2012 offering fully online degree programs, compared to 32.5% in 2012, according to Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States (The Sloan Consortium 2012).

So effectively the policy makers accept present standards for our older children in higher education, but seemly don’t for our K-12 age children?

It’s up to each one of us to factually challenge widespread misinformation being disseminated to parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers alike. Technology adoption and the use of data to improve both individual and nationwide learning against best practice benchmarks is one of the most critical elements to modernizing the educational system in the U.S. We all have an obligation to ensure that we prevent further delays that will put our children further behind. In the end, this hurts students and overall progress to solve these problems and improve student achievement.

  • FERPA and COPPA are the places to address the issues, not in state legislatures. Information needs to flow between all stakeholders. We need more global collaboration among everyone in the loop — educators, parents, and yes, students, the learners. School districts can better inform their stakeholders about the safety nets already in place that protect student information. It is there.
  • The focus of the Ed Dept on advertising is entirely misplaced and it appears to be an attempt to damper and quell reaction from some parent groups’ insistence that children are vulnerable prey and ed tech companies are lying in wait, ready to pounce as personal data is being secretly downloaded.
  • We can keep education stuck in the 20th and even 19th centuries by writing policy that is not factually, but rather emotionally based and creates clear double standards between K-12 and today’s ever growing online educational offerings. Privacy is just as important and yet seemingly a decade of technological evolution and adoption of online learning and data analysis isn’t clearly demonstrable evidence.
  • Teachers should have the freedom to engage their students in new ways of learning and teaching. Why? The world has already changed and kids are interested in dynamic and immersive learning experiences that embrace technology they were born using. The best education technology vendors work collaboratively with districts and educators to help incorporate individual student assessment and personalized learning resources into their daily classroom routines, which helps kids be more engaged in their learning and achievement.

The Education Department should very quickly re-think how its outdated policy concerns and antiquated guidance are creating administrative roadblocks for proven technological enhancements to education. Technology is the most powerful tool we have to measure, compare and focus resources for the right things in the right places to most efficiently modernize American education and at least place it on equal footing to compete with a growing list of other countries who have surpassed us. Concentrate on helping parents and kids stay engaged and learn new things but also help teachers improve getting these hungry minded kids the resources they need.


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Posted: March 20th, 2014