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Tech Tip: Keeping student data private in the cloud

3 min read


Tech Tips is a content collaboration between SmartBrief Education and GreyED Solutions.

As the number of districts taking advantage of cloud-based services increase and learning environments move more collaboratively outside of the typical brick and mortar walls, the understanding of data use and privacy have become clouded. More computing devices arrive on desks loaded with applications from app stores managed and unmanaged from district sites. While those education apps are meant to help teachers manage their classrooms, concern is growing over the management of student data tracked by those apps. We live in an age where everything in a student’s past is captured, collected, stored and therefore, remembered.

There is a growing need to measure an application’s use of student data and give transparency to its gathering of personal information. Sensitive information can include names, birthdates and demographic information that are then used to correlate information in helpful ways at a higher level (finding trends, comparisons, tracking or monitoring of progress, etc). Districts should establish policies and guidelines for the use of cloud services by teachers and other staff members. Through a vetting process done by a technology standards committee, districts can outline what cloud services teachers and staff can safely use with student data. Students should have an opportunity to have a voice in the vetting process around data privacy, providing a great learning opportunity for digital citizenship.

Many companies are responding by signing the “Student Privacy Pledge”, a site sponsored by multiple organizations in the K-12 arena. This is a great start to bringing awareness to student data privacy, but we must ensure that there are appropriate safeguards in place at the district level. The Pledge is neither intended as a comprehensive privacy policy nor to be inclusive of all requirements to achieve compliance with all applicable federal or state laws. More information about the pledge is available online.

Rob Dickson is the executive director of Information Management Services for Omaha Public Schools and co-founder and vice president of GreyED Solutions. Dickson’s technical understanding of how technology should support student learning contributed to his previous district’s ranking among the “top ten” digital districts in the nation four of the past five years. Among Dickson’s accomplishments are leading the first VBlock cloud data center installation in K-12 education and advising many schools across the country with their technology planning and integration. Dickson was recently named 2014’s “20 to Watch” from NSBA for innovation and technology integration work.