Chaimtime Blog

Educational Technology is Still A Privacy Nightmare

Thoughts of School Year 2016

It is the weekend before school starts, and once again, I’m excited to see all my students. I’m also sad that the summer is ending. Either way, I’m in awe about how much technology has been put into our schools. As a technology teacher, I am very happy to be a part of this tech explosion, but I’m noticing that not everyone knows how to implement it correctly.

Currently, there is money, lots and lots of money to #disrupt #education. Everyone wants to make the next great app to help students succeed. Most of these developers are missing key elements in good education, and more importantly failing to address privacy issues. I want to say that I am very pro technology, but it needs to be properly implemented.

Most notably are social networking apps that are being kluged together to inform students. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (yes, this is a thing), are social networks, not networks for students. Twitter and Facebook was never meant to be used by teachers. I mean, 8 years later, I still don’t know the point of Twitter. Teachers should not be tweeting their students. Teachers should not require students to follow them on social media.

Having separate accounts is cumbersome. One of the accounts will suffer, or worse, things will be said accidentally on one of the accounts that was meant for the other accounts. If you are trying to have real student engagement, show them your life, not a sanitized account. Students will find your other account, and will follow it. Not to mention that separate accounts is a ton more work. Having students check a service they don’t use doesn’t add to the convenience that educational technology is trying to solve.

I constantly fight the segregation of school and personal data. For two years, I am still explaining to teachers that school documents need to be edited with a domain account, not a personal account. It is a very sore subject, but if you are going to create multiple social media accounts, why do you refuse to do it with your school email?

Not just with social networks, other learning solutions are being forced on students. As a teacher, I question any site that requires a student to have an account. If they are required to have an account, I am forced to thoroughly vet the privacy policy to make sure the collection of data doesn’t violate any rules. Most likely, I will have to make the assignment optional. I never want students to have to put their information somewhere they don’t feel comfortable with. A student’s concern should never be dismissed.

I want to show an example. I like Prezi, and Prezi has its purpose. As a teacher I do recommend them if you comply with their terms of use. Since I teach seniors, this is not a problem for me. Back in 2014 Prezi changed their Terms of Use to say that students under 13 are not allowed to create accounts because it violated COPPA guidelines. Prezi instead of trying to be compliant, sent out emails saying, they choose not to comply. Obviously this angered many, but this is a business decision, and teachers and students are not lucrative financially. Teachers obviously got mad. Here are two threads that show this.

  1. Here is Prezi Terms of Use
  2. Can children under 13 use Prezi?
  3. School Accounts without educational emails

Again, I’m not out here to fault Prezi. They realized that they need to enforce COPPA, and rather not be sued by the FTC. Here is what the FTC has to say about violating COPPA

Each teacher thinks their learning management system or ed tech is the best out there. I do. However, we can’t force students to have 9 different accounts. We also can’t force them to check them. It doesn’t make sense to force students to check nine different websites, two times a night for work, on the off chance their teacher had an announcement. For my club I thought Slack was it. Many kids like it, for the reason that it did notify them. Again, another site for students to check.

A school should have an educational technology policy that states, which social networks are allowed. A good school should probably say, email students only, or some approved Learning Management System. Students are considered minors, and with that come rules that dictate what information can and cannot be given away. The above social networks are not compliant, but they never claimed to be compliant. As we have seen nothing is unhackable. Not that students hold lots of information, but why should put students in a situation. As a teacher, anything I communicate with students, I want a backup. I never want to be put in a position where there is no written evidence of all communication. In addition to protecting myself, I want to protect my students.

At R00tz, the kids security conference at Defcon, I spoke about the violations of student’s privacy, and some ways to mitigate them. I told students to be proactive, vocal, and passionate about their right to privacy. I did tell them to not call their teachers out personally, but to speak to them in an adult tone, privately. Most students have never learned what is appropriate behavior online. I integrate appropriate online behavior, but other than some infographics, or a Friday discussion, there is no formal course that teaches digital citizenry (courses are coming, but not here yet).

You can see my video here: Chaim at R00tz

As we start the new year, please stop reading the blog posts of teachers who had some success using some esoteric app that didn’t have student privacy in mind. Someone who has never taught probably created the app, without thinking it through first. Use your many years of teaching experience to figure out if this is the best for your students.