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The Need for Privacy and Technology in our Schools: Rethinking Privacy in Education

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 educationcrop3The Potential of Technology in Education

Protecting children, while also allowing them to learn by taking reasonable risks is the foundation of both parenting and education. Technology can make this task both easier and more difficult. The adoption of new technology in the education sector has the potential to create the next generation of innovators. Personalizing learning for students, the use of data analytics to allow school administrators to optimize resources, and the ability to offer exciting digital educational curriculum, all create enriching opportunities for students, parents, teachers and administrators. However, with the potential there are important concerns. The privacy and security of student personal data are critical to create protected spaces where students can take risks, attempt to solve difficult challenges, and trust that the information related to those efforts will only be used appropriately. Students need to be able to trust their use of education technology and the private nature of their academic work.

In just the past four months, state legislatures have introduced more than 80 bills that touch on student privacy. States will need to react to constituent concerns about student privacy, and industry must inform policy makers about technology that protects privacy and allows for data use innovation. All of this activity at the state level runs the risk of creating a patchwork of confusing and conflicting laws. It is important for stakeholders to foster robust discussion of these issues of trust in the use of technology, and to explore what role state and federal legislation can play to address these privacy concerns.

Experts Discuss the Issues

Last week, I was honored to moderate a panel convened by the E-Learning Caucus led by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) to discuss the timely and important issue of data privacy in education. The event was sponsored by Intel and the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training. The full title of the discussion was Data Privacy in Education: Ensuring Student Security While Encouraging Innovation in K-12 Education.

The event was particularly relevant given that only one week before inBloom had announced it would shut down its efforts to make better use of student performance data. The inBloom statement came on the heels of the Pew-Research Internet Project release of its report titled “US Views of Technology and the Future.” The Pew report analyzed the degree to which individuals feel comfortable with new technologies. One important finding from the report is: “Despite (respondents) general optimism about the long-term impact of scientific advancement, many Americans are wary of some controversial changes that may be on the near-term horizon”.


The panel last week comprised an all-star cast of experts in education and privacy. Richard Culatta, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the Department of Education, described the extensive efforts the Department is taking, including the resources they make available at the Department’s, Privacy Technical Assistance Center. Kecia Ray, the Chair of the International Society for Technology in Education, provided insights about the privacy assessment tools that would be helpful to assist school administrators in their task of understanding the privacy implications of new education technologies.

Rich Contartesi, the Assistant Superintendent of Technology Services for the Loudon County public school system, built on Ms. Ray’s comments by describing the challenges involved in putting effective contracts in place to manage risk, and the need to have processes to manage issues like security breaches. Jules Polonetsky, the Executive Director and Co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, announced his organization’s initiative to evaluate education technology privacy issues. Mr. Polonetsky focused on how organizations can implement policies and processes that enable schools and students to benefit from the value this innovation offers while protecting the interests of students and their families.

The Need for Continued Discussion

The demise of inBloom and many of the findings of the Pew research point to a need for continued dialogue on the issue of education privacy. For over 30 years, Intel has been a leader in promoting the importance of education. We understand the critical role of technology and privacy in empowering education systems worldwide to develop students. And we recognize that those students will create the next wave of innovation -- innovation that promotes economic growth and addresses our most challenging social issues. It is critical to bring in all stakeholders to the discussion around the use of student personal data.

As the Pew report makes clear, people see value in technology, but they also have important concerns related to the personal impact of innovation. Parents and teachers are right to feel passionately about how student data will be used, and what data will be created from observing students and their work. We need to turn that passion into positive action. Industry needs to do a better job of describing its use of the data, and demonstrating it will be accountable to engage responsibly. Fortunately, some stakeholders are leading the way. In addition to the organizations listed above, there are others doing valuable work in education privacy. The Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University has done exceptional work on privacy and cloud computing in public schools. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University leads a Student Privacy Initiative.   Also, the Consortium for School Networking has created a tool kit as part of their Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning initiative.

Rethinking Education Privacy

As I have noted previously on this blog, Intel is “Rethinking Privacy” and identifying ways to protect individuals by making sure companies process personal data appropriately and are accountable for the way they use and protect it. Privacy laws which focus largely on notice and consent put an undue burden on parents. While transparency and parent engagement are critical, we need to supplement them with a better understanding of how organizations should use student data. We ask all of you to join us in that effort, and help us describe what “the appropriate and accountable” use of data means in education. The future of both technology and privacy is only limited by our creativity, our willingness to collaborate and the extent of our effort. If we bring all of these to bear on this issue, we create the possibility of realizing our highest hopes for education and for students around the world.