Trust and Privacy in Education


It’s been a busy month for data privacy. We had Data Privacy Day, President Obama announced new privacy protections for students and the Department of Education is working on a National Education Technology Plan. Inherent in all these initiatives is trust. Learning to trust is probably one of the most difficult things we need to learn in life. Choosing to trust an organization with personal information is probably not as important as the decision we must make when we trust someone to educate our children. So if we trust our schools to educate our kids why can’t we trust schools and service providers with our children’s data?

Fears about the misuse of student data have become a central part of the debate in education. And the data breaches at Target & Sony only instill greater concern among parents regarding the security of their children’s data. Further, it is difficult to dismiss concerns when we read privacy policies in which companies might be able to classify student data as an asset to be transferred to a third party purchaser in case of bankruptcy. It is clear to me that we need to build trust amongst service providers, schools, parents and students. Trust is more than just being compliant with the law. Trust is about building relationships so that we all understand the sensitivities around data. Trust is about designing an ecosystem that enables learning to take place but protects student privacy.

Data privacy is difficult, it takes work, it’s complicated, it’s emotional. It seems that as much as we want to simplify the use of technology we inherently complicate it. We need to think about what is “right” and “what works.” We can’t continue to look at privacy as a right or wrong alternative. We have to be able to discuss the implication of the use of student data and what we are willing to do to reach out and trust each other to do the right thing. Trust is about transparency and transparency enables trust.

If parents and schools assume that technology service providers are “preying” on student data we are getting off to the wrong start. Everyone is on the defensive. Parents don’t trust technology, technology doesn’t trust parents and so it goes. How does technology mistrust parents? By not being fully transparent of their practices because of fear of being shut down. On the other hand, service providers are not going to gain our trust just by changing privacy policies. It is important that privacy policies align with protecting student data. We cannot accept a privacy policy that complies with legal technicalities just because they were called out on a blog or newspaper article. Why not have adequate policies from the beginning? Why must we feel, as parents, that we need to scrutinize these policies because if we don’t we are leaving our children vulnerable?

We need to work on creating opportunities to educate different stakeholders in education. We must recognize that students are central but their data is critical if we are to create opportunities that service them in the best way possible. We can’t get this wrong. We have an opportunity to work together to develop a thoughtful and comprehensive student data privacy plan. Our students, our kids, have too much at stake. If we do not build trust, work on it, and maintain it we stand to lose. Once trust is lost, it is almost impossible to get back.




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    February 3, 2015 - Reply

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