Education Framework Blog

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What Is Student Data Privacy?


School and district leaders know they need to protect student data, but effectively adopting and implementing a student privacy plan that includes parent, educator, administrator and policymaker input and approval, is a lot easier said than done. Efforts like this require dedicated time, commitment, clearly defined roles, a concrete understanding of what student data privacy actually is, and if you're lucky, tools to help you get the job done right.


While there are a myriad of checklists, to-dos and best practice recommendations available to help educators and administrators up their game, there is still much uncertainty surrounding this issue. But it's no surprise considering that there is, ironically, no set definition for student data privacy. And despite it being a relatively self-explanatory term, it is still complex and more-often-than-not, fraught with confusion. 


To put it simply, student data privacy is the idea of safely, securely and privately introducing online technologies into the classroom - in the form of apps, websites, surveys, assessments, etc. - without risk of compromising personally identifiable student information (PII). But it also so much more than that. 


Student data is protected under federal law (COPPA, FERPA, PPRA) and requires thorough knowledge and understanding of data collection, data use, data retention, data deletion and data integrity for all online technologies used in a school or district. It means reading endless privacy policies to know precisely who has access to student data, for what purposes and for how long. And it demands ongoing maintenance and monitoring to ensure there haven’t been any changes to the privacy policies that could compromise PII.   

Knowledge is Power

Protecting student data privacy starts with knowing precisely what technologies are being used in the classroom. Conducting a comprehensive audit of the technologies currently in use is a necessary first step towards establishing a baseline understanding and gaining a big picture view of the technology usage in a school or district.

Once there is an understanding of what technology is being used in the classroom, the next step is to conduct a thorough privacy assessment for each and every online technology to ensure student data privacy is indeed private and protected. 

For many, this step can be quite daunting, especially when considering the sheer volume of online technologies available to schools today. But with the right tools, this process can be relatively straight-forward, simple and streamlined.

Education Framework Inc. tackles student data privacy with the goal of protecting student PII while providing a great resource for industry leaders to connect with parents and their communities.

The Rise of Student Data Privacy 

Student data privacy has been a rapidly growing administrative pain point over the past few years. The massive push for 1:1 and other digital learning initiatives are major factors in this, but the equally explosive growth of new learning technologies created by third party vendors has changed the way we view student privacy. No longer can we assume that student privacy is safe, secure and protected, especially when it can be accessed by so many different entities, at different capacities, for different periods of time. Because of this, it is imperative that education leaders establish user controls that determine precisely who has access to what student data, for what purposes and for how long.


Besides the exponential growth of technology in schools, it's worth noting that there are a few contributing factors that have led to the rise of student data privacy as an immediate and necessary need, all of which are tied to the increased usage of digital media and online technologies:


1. Parents are technologically savvy. Parents are technology users themselves, so naturally they’re becoming better acquainted with security and privacy issues, especially when it comes to online technologies and services they use every day.

Many parents, especially those that are actively involved in their child’s online usage at home, want to know precisely what technologies they are using in school. More importantly, they need reassurance that they’re child’s privacy is being considered and respected.

Parents want a window into their child’s technology usage in school. Providing a way to communicate this information in a clear and concise manner helps connect the dots and bring parents into the loop, engaging them in the privacy conversation. This approach goes a long way towards building trust, as it conveys that their point-of-view is valued.

2. Technology forces transparency. One of the most unique ways the Internet has affected our society is the quick transmission of information. Education leaders have never been more powerful or in a better position to make informed decisions than they are today. 

With the right tools and approach, educators and administrators can discover safe learning technologies for students, measure growth, use actionable data to make classroom, school or district-wide improvements, and communicate with parents and communities in a way for all to understand. 

Student data privacy is about accurately and authentically conveying what technologies are being used so that stakeholders, community leaders, and parents can easily understand the health, safety and vitality of a school or districts' student privacy efforts. It is also about providing reassurance that students, schools and districts are safe from risk.

Transparency engages all interested parties and allows everyone to work together towards a greater good. Automated student privacy protection is one way for school and district leaders to adopt transparency measures and gain greater control of student privacy efforts, without heavily increasing the administrative workload. Utilizing tools that do much of the work for you - in an open and transparent way - are helpful in saving time and ensuring student privacy is, in fact, protected.

3. The right tools make things a whole lot easier. Knowledge is one of the most powerful benefits of the Internet age. Twenty-five years ago, when there was no Internet, student privacy was hardly a consideration. When technology usage started to go mainstream, particularly in schools across the country and around the globe, we simply couldn’t fathom where we’d be today. But with all this technological growth and opportunity has come an overwhelming need to increase privacy protections.

Educational development is no longer only about exploring and discovering the best learning solutions for students, but it’s also about finding technologies that are safe for use in the classroom. 

Automated solutions are the best way to capitalize on this theory, which is why Education Framework Inc. exists. We help position school and district leaders as experts in managing student data privacy by providing services that produce information at the ready. With over 1100 (and counting) online technologies assessed to date, we’re able to help educators, administrators and IT leaders make quick, yet safe and informed technology decisions for the classroom. All while minimizing the risk of exposing student information.

Food for Thought 

While there are plenty of factors that have led to student privacy’s rising value, these macro elements are the key reasons why protecting student data privacy is more relevant and important than ever before. 

Educators, administrators and IT leaders who establish themselves as pioneers in this space are positioning themselves to be helpful resources for their communities and models for other education leaders to follow. More importantly, those that take the necessary steps to ensure privacy is protected will be education leaders that parents will appreciate and trust.

The Importance of Automation in Protecting Student Data Privacy


If you visit Apple’s iPad in Education page one of the first things you’ll see is this: 

“The App Store features over 80,000 education apps — designed especially for iPad — that cover a wide range of subjects for every grade level and learning style.”

Over 80,000 apps.

Now, unless your district is the one district in the country with an IT department and teachers with a whole lot of time on their hands, your staff doesn’t have the time to go through each app and countless websites to ensure their student data privacy policies are up to your district’s requirements.

 A mish-mash of federal laws, state and local laws, industry standards and each app company writing their own rules make it even harder to know that what you’re agreeing to fulfills your present legal requirement.

Short of reading hundreds or even thousands of Terms of Services for each app and website your teachers use, you have no idea how apps are storing your data, what information they are collecting, when they delete it, or who has final say over the data.

It can take 20 minutes or more to read, complete and approve one policy for one app or website. 

Multiply that by the thousands of apps and websites a district with multiple schools over twelve grade levels can use and you can see how this can quickly turn into hundreds of hours of work. 

Add the task of monitoring policies for changes and reassessing approval when there is a change and the task becomes a full-time job. 

Finally, expecting that person to also keep up with changing legislation and understanding the nuances in legal language and it becomes impossible. 

The result right now is many districts just not doing the work, putting their student data at risk for abuse and their schools at risk for litigation.

Of course, there’s a smarter way: automation. 

By automating the approval process for student privacy, you free up hours of time while knowing the job is getting done correctly.

EdProtect by Education Framework is one such solution that automates the entire process for you, taking the guesswork out of managing student privacy. 

This approach ensures student data privacy compliance for you by analyzing the apps and websites your district uses and monitoring their privacy policies to see if they are aligned with the standards you set. 

When an app policy or the law changes, EdProtect lets you know in plain language if the app is no longer in compliance, giving you the opportunity to keep using the app or not.

What would need to be a full-time job to do well can be done by our software automatically in the background, alerting you only when you need to make a decision. 

With EdProtect, teachers, administrators, and parents know exactly how student data is being used in schools, ensuring complete compliance with all laws and peace of mind for all involved. 

As student data privacy become more and more both the expected standard and the legal requirement, automation of student data privacy policy management is the best and perhaps only way to ensure complete compliance, provide transparency for parents, and reduce the risk of fines from the misuse of student information.

Now is the time to make a commitment to protecting student data. 

Get started today with our FREE Policy Change Monitor, and learn more about how EdProtect makes protecting your students simple


Student Data Privacy Best Practices


Understanding that you need to do something and knowing what to do are two very different things. But simply breaking things down into smaller chunks often allows one to see more clearly, understand how the pieces fit together, and determine how to tackle each piece individually to achieve a positive end result. 

Today, we are utilizing this approach with regards to managing student data privacy. By breaking it down into simpler components, we are condensing a vast and often confusing array of information into a manageable set of guidelines for educators to follow. 

Based on best practice recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and other leading education organizations, we have assembled three easy-to-remember recommendations to help protect student privacy. They are as follows: 

1. Be Knowledgeable - Understand the privacy landscape and your legal obligations.

  • Know your student privacy laws. Federal laws include FERPA, COPPA and PPRA, but new state regulations are being implemented all across the nation, so it is important to know what is going on in your state. 
  • Create data inventories to fully understand the scope of information being collected and shared. 
  • Track which online and educational services are currently being used in your district.
  • Monitor privacy policies for changes.

2. Be Accountable Establish a data governance plan and guidelines to follow. 

  • Make a plan that addresses the full life cycle of data, from acquisition - to use - to disposal. Ensure the individual privacy and confidentiality of education records by defining rules.
  • Have policies and procedures in place to evaluate and approve online educational services. Determine who has purchasing authority and proactively define the scope and limitations of that authority. 
  • Use written contracts or legal agreements laying out security and data stewardship, data collection, data deletion, data use, data retention, data disclosure and data destruction provisions. 
  • Consider parental consent even in instances where federal law does not require. 

3. Be Transparent - Communicate your plan and engage parents in the privacy conversation. 

  • Post information about your student data policies, practices and usage on an easy-to-locate public webpage. Utilize parent-teacher dashboards, if possible. 
  • Be explicit about what information you collect about your students, and what that information is used for. 
  • Explain what, if any, personal information is shared with third party service providers, and how that information is safeguarded. 
  • Let parents know where they can get more information.

By following these recommendations, school and district administrators are taking necessary precautions to protect their students and their districts from harm. As mentioned in our previous blog entryPTAC has a wealth of resources available to help. They have even created a specific checklist for developing school district privacy programs. 


There are also automated student data privacy solutions available to help schools and districts proactively manage privacy obligations with transparency and accountability. Solutions like EdProtect take the guesswork out of managing student data privacy and offer an added layer of security, providing peace-of-mind for those tasked with protecting student information.  

Student Data Privacy Automation Session at GaETC 2015

Be sure to join us in Atlanta at the Georgia Educational Technology Conference (GaETC) where we are hosting a session to help school and district administrators better understand student data privacy management and the importance of automation.
 
Avoiding the Mess: The Importance of Automation in Student Data Privacy
Participants will learn how automating the process leverages computing power to decrease costs and increase the safety & privacy of student information.


Day: Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015
Time: 9:45am - 10:40 am
Room: German 1-2
Capacity: 110

Interested in attending? GaETC registration information here

Also, please plan to stop by Booth 420 to discuss how to set up a student privacy assessment for your school or district.