Tuesday, May 15, 2018

You Want Me To Agree To What?

By Rachel Johnson

I would consider myself a big enthusiast of EdTech; I love finding new ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum in meaningful ways.  However, over the past year or so, I've become more aware of personal privacy and what it means when you check off that little box that says "I agree to the terms and conditions outlined here".  As the way we access information and use resources on the internet changes, we need to consider issues of personal privacy and what it means for ourselves and our students.

So what's the big deal about this anyway?

The rate at which technology and innovation is occurring is far outpacing the development of supporting policies and legislation (Davis, 2014).  Policy development takes time and requires an enormous amount of effort and debate.  Technology, on the other hand, is rapidly changing on a daily basis; policymakers just simply cannot keep up with this rapid evolution.  While technology has made the collection and use of personal information easier, it has also opened up the potential for abuse of this information; thus, we need to consider what information we are giving up in the first place!

How do we protect ourselves and our students?

1.  Create a dummy email account for student use.  

A lot of information is collected when you set up an email account; for example, gmail requires first and last name, birthdate and gender.  That's a lot of personal information just right there!  A generic account created through gmail can be used by all of the students in your classroom when you are using a new digital tool that requires a user to sign up via email to protect that personal information.

For example, this carbon foot calculator requires users to either login with facebook or input an email address.  It's a great example of an excellent digital tool that asks for too much personal information!  A generic email class account would allow you to still use the tool while protecting your students.

2.  Check the privacy policy.

Making sure you actually read the "fine print" before accepting the terms and conditions is crucial in understanding what personal information you are giving up and what is being done with this information.  Yes, I know that's painful but it's worth it in the long run!

Recently, Common Sense Education brought out a tool that evaluates the risk to the user; check out this tool here: https://privacy.commonsense.org/.  The neat thing about this tool is it evaluates it from a variety of perspectives to generate an overall evaluation score out of 100 (the higher the better) and recommendation for use.

3.  Communicate openly with parents.

At the beginning of the semester (or throughout the school year too), it is important to make parents aware and involve them in the choice of digital tools that is being used in the classroom.  This will give parents the opportunity to check out privacy policies for themselves and make an informed decision about whether it is safe for their child to participate or not.  Here is a sample letter that you can use.

4.  Incorporate digital citizenship into your classroom.

Finally, and most importantly, include digital citizenship wherever you can in your lessons and curriculum.  Common Sense Education has lots of resources to help with this or you can also check out this gamified Internet Awesome resource by Google.

These are only a few ways that you can protect yourself and your students.  What other ways do you keep yourself and your students safe?


Davis, K. (2014). Bridging the Innovation-Policy Gap. SAIS Review of International Affairs, 34(1), 87-92.

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