Students are at the center of all data generated in education and the debate centered on privacy, data access, and security needs to acknowledge data ownership. Who should be the owners of student data? I like to think that the answer is clear – students should be the owners of their data, even when cloud providers are being employed. Kathleen Styles, the US Department of Education Chief Privacy Officer said – The provider never “owns” the data, and can only act at the direction of the school or district. We need to define the roles in the education system so that we can make decisions of how student data is used. If we recognize students as having ownership of their data we can in turn trust parents and schools to act as stewards and technology companies as processors of such data.
Students should be able to decide what data about them is used, who has access and how security is maintained. Students every day provide information about themselves, and parents should not be asked to relinquish the personal information of our children unless there is a tangible return for this exchange of information.
However, we need to recognize that today schools are using technology in a variety of settings, from interactive dashboards and personalized apps for students with disabilities, to recording test scores, running reading records, class exams and sometimes, parent feedback. There is more record keeping of how students learn and information about them than ever before. But all this information would not be generated absent a student sitting in a classroom. Once we acknowledge students as owners of their data we can have a conversation in which our focus becomes improving educational outcomes. But if we do not do this we reduce them to innocuous data points in which the only debate is whether the information should be shared or not.
For the conversation on data ownership and privacy to move forward, we need interactive communication between the owners, stewards and processors of this data. Technology needs to acknowledge parental concerns and show value to students. The success of data analytics depends on having access to the sources of data. And in order to address student and school needs, technology companies can look at their datasets in order to gain insights about their students with the goal of increasing the learning potential in the classroom. Students empowered to help make decisions about their data can inform app developers what works and what doesn’t so that in turn technology can adapt and help them.
The conversation needs to be transparent and respectful of student privacy. Acknowledging the challenges in protecting student privacy while using technology and working together with students at the center of the discussion enables all stakeholders to collaborate at all levels to create trusted environments for learning. The guidelines for creating and using student data will need to evolve as technologies present new challenges that require new approaches to privacy, but we must not prevent the conversation from happening. Parents and students need a consistent and enforceable commitment to student privacy from the technology community to protect student information. If we recognize students as active participants and owners of the data we can move our conversation away from concerns of commercializing data to a cooperative environment that benefits everyone.
I am an advocate for using technology in the classroom, I have seen first hand the positive impact it can have when used appropriately as a complement to the instruction students receive from teachers. I am also fiercely protective of my children’s privacy but firmly believe we can achieve a balance. Let’s recognize who owns the data, who processes it, and together make decisions to protect and use it efficiently.