5 steps for better protecting students and their data online
Many parents and teachers believe in online learning’s bright future but persistent cybersecurity threats raise student privacy and equity concerns, a new survey has found.
Some 85% of teachers and 74% of parents say online learning should continue as schools reopen, according to the report, “With Increased EdTech Comes Increased Responsibility” by the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit that advocates for transparent policy and personal privacy around technology.
As the use of ed-tech spreads, schools need to harden policies that safeguard student privacy, security and data online while also ensuring that all learners have digital access, the Washington, D.C.-based organization says.
“Student privacy isn’t just a safety issue—it’s an equity concern as well,” said Elizabeth Laird, the center’s director of equity in civic technology. “While our evidence suggests that schools have stepped up their efforts to close the digital divide … it’s important for schools to have policies and training in place to protect the data and privacy of these students as they come online.”
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The survey, conducted in February 2021, recognized the strides districts have made around cybersecurity: 70% of teachers said their school’s tech plan covered student data privacy and security, a 10-point increase from a similar survey the center conducted in spring 2020.
And 86% of teachers this winter said their schools provided guidance about tech use, compared to 75% who said the same last year.
However, the center’s research also revealed that three in four teachers say they have not been trained on protecting students from online threats such as Zoombombing.
With online learning likely to become a permanent part of instruction in many districts, the report urges education leaders to take the following actions:
- Continue to establish and update privacy-forward policies
- Better equip teachers to use technology responsibly
- Address the latest privacy and security risks that pose the greatest threats to students
- Engage parents in privacy protection
- Embed privacy protection in efforts to close the homework gap
“As schools begin to reopen in-person around the country, our research suggests that schools are adapting, but work remains to address the privacy and accessibility pitfalls that limited educational opportunities for too many students during remote learning,” said Alexandra Reeve Givens, CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.
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