CS Teachers on the Front Line in Protecting Student Privacy

Data, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and privacy appear in the news nearly a daily. The article, “Privacy, Data Combination, and Why PII Can Be a Red Herring,” caused me to think about how valuable you as a CS teacher can be in helping other teachers, administrators, and school boards in making decisions about the companies and tools being used to store student data…including grades, educational programming labels, subjective assessments, and comments.

You are probably one of the more informed individuals in your school when it comes to understanding data and how it can be analyzed and used. You probably also have a deeper than typical understanding of where data can end up as revealed in the privacy policies of these companies and tools regarding user ownership and control of their data.

I must admit that this article made the hair on the back of neck stand up. I had not thought about many of the implications and possibilities of student data escaping to the wild, nor the not-so-remote possibility that it can happen more easily than we might think.

The author, Bill Fitzgerald, suggests that “we need to start looking at privacy, data collection, the lack of understanding of abusive dynamics, trends of tech and EdTech funding by venture capitalists, as related.” Even though privacy issues can seem overwhelming, as a CS educator not only do you understand data concepts but are able to help others understand the fine print and think about the questions to ask before putting student data in the hands of third party companies. Fitzgerald offers several suggestions for addressing privacy issues:

  • We start improving privacy when we call out abusive dynamics online.
  • We start improving privacy when we let a vendor know we will not be using their app with students because of their privacy policies.
  • We start improving privacy when we talk to our colleagues about how privacy – and respect for student data – informs our tech choices.
  • We start improving privacy when we talk to our schools, our school boards, and our elected officials about the ways that current practice needs to improve.

Let us know about your experiences and challenges in protecting student data.

Pat Phillips
Editor, The CSTA Voice