The Future of Privacy Forum released a parent survey appropriately called “Beyond the Fear Factor” that asked parents how they really feel about data. I didn’t participate in the survey so I don’t get to skew the results but I can certainly report on it. What the survey tells us is that most parents understand the technology used in their child’s school but don’t really understand the laws protecting student data and have, understandably so, concerns about the security and privacy of their children’s data.
One could argue that the survey is saying that parents are fine with the indiscriminate use of student data and that even though they are concerned about privacy and security, well, we just go with it because the school is going to use technology anyway. But that really is not what the survey is saying. Rather, parents are telling us that they do care how student data is used and that they care how technology is used in the classroom but that they are concerned that the information is not being protected adequately. This is a fair concern, I would say. Particularly when most of us don’t fully understand the laws protecting student privacy and what our rights as parents are.
As I have stated before, my kids are going through new school experiences and so am I. And I am really fascinated by the amount of technology that is deployed in their schools. But more importantly, I am even more fascinated by the amount of paperwork and electronic communications that come home regarding the use of technology in their schools. While impressive, some things definitely could have been done better. For example, nobody told me my kid’s information was being uploaded onto an online portal, the directory information opt out is an all or nothing option and there is a lot more technology being used in school than I am aware of. But on the positive side, I have received communications that are informing me of some of the technology used in my kid’s school and that matters. It matters because now I know that if I wanted to dig and make a decision whether I want my kid using a certain app I can at least find out what it’s about. But something came home this past week that caught my eye. It was a notice asking for permission to setup a student email account for my kids, through Google Apps for Edu (of course). We can argue the merits of GAFE but what is interesting is that the school sent home a notice explaining what it was doing, how the emails were going to be setup and what the purpose is. Further, there is a section on the rules and responsibilities that students have when using this email and they are surprisingly close to what we would ask of an Ed-tech company – students will respect the privacy of others by not using someone else’s files without permission or posting pictures, apps and computers will only be used for educational purposes, respect their privacy and that of others by not disclosing personal information on the computer system etc. I really appreciated this section, not only because it is explaining to us what is expected of the kids but they are working on teaching the kids good digital citizenship, and that is very important. If we instill in kids from an early age how to use technology appropriately and what their responsibilities are we are already moving our conversations forward as these kids increasingly use technological devices at school and home. This school district form had to be signed by parents (giving permission) and students (acknowledging the rules around receiving school email). So when I asked my kid to sign the permission form he looked at me surprised. I asked him to read what he was signing and he rightfully said “if I sign this that means I can’t do all these things but the companies I use in school can’t do the things listed here, right?” Yes, happy dance moment! But I really hope that just as we are asking our kids to be responsible, tech companies are in turn being responsible to kids. So much so, that kids can hold them accountable if they don’t “follow the rules” so to speak.
At the end of the day, what parents want is what we all want when it comes to anyone accessing our information. We want a clear understanding of how data is collected, used and protected. We want transparency of how data is used through the educational system. Parents are willing to be active participants and collaborate with schools on how data and technology can be used to improve the educational process. Don’t ignore parental concerns, let’s address them, discuss them and present to them, to us, with the information we need to trust and in turn collaborate with everyone in the educational system. A top down approach doesn’t work. Parents need to be brought into the conversation in a meaningful way. There is a great opportunity for everyone in the educational system to open the lines of communication now and build trust with parents. If there is one thing the survey clearly states is parents want the data used in a way that can help their kids but make sure we are using the data ethically and protecting it. And I think that is a fair ask. Let’s not dismiss it.