Privacy Project: Google + Code of Conduct

Project Recap: Over the summer, Regina Public Schools collected all of our schools’ mobile devices, namely ipads, and took control over what can and cannot be installed. Teachers returned to their respective schools to find their ipads with a relatively small selection of board approved applications on their classroom ipads, and locked out of their school apple ids. Whyyyy?  Our initial staff meeting shed some light: privacystudent dataLAFOIP. In the blink of an eye, many applications teachers took for granted were deemed to be non-compliant with existing privacy legislation.

So Far:

  1. In order to further my knowledge base, I have been engaged in conversation with a couple of individuals with a wealth of professional knowledge in this area.
  2. I have begun to review Voxer, a neat texting  application with some definite uses in the field of education. Check out the first part of my review, where I describe its function. Still to come is an in depth look at its user agreement, and why there might be some red flags with regards to their practice with storing data.

Today… GOOGLE!:  Today, I’m going to keep us on our toes and flop to a set of apps that has become very integrated with our teaching practice, as well as supporting the administration of our schools. Indeed, for many of us, it would be hard to imagine our teaching practice without Google. Google runs a collection of apps designed for use in our schools and classrooms called G Suite. This suite of apps includes Gmail, Spreadsheets, Docs, Slides, Google Classroom and more.

Dilemma: Google, in particular, became a source of angst for teachers and staff last summer in Regina Public. A strongly worded message was out in August. By using Google, we were putting our students information at risk. We were violating their privacy, and this had to stop now. Admin came back to their respective schools telling teachers to stop recording information on Google, immediately. This message was also reinforced strongly at our first Learning Resource Teacher meeting at the board office. Amidst a very strong message that caught many by surprise, some misconceptions arose. Consider:

  1. iI using Google is so bad, why are we filling up our schools with Chromebooks? Their entire operating system is run by Google. This doesn’t really make sense. Why is it so bad now? What’s changed?
  2. What can we use instead of  Google’s G Suite, then?

These were the kinds of questions I started asking. I got some help form a knowledgeable consultant with Regina Public Schools that helped me clear away a few of my misconceptions.

1. If using Google is so bad, why are we filling up our schools with Chromebooks? Why is it so bad now? What’s changed? This doesn’t really make sense.

It’s not Google itself that is of concern to our school district. In fact, this is right from the Regina Public Schools Educational Technology homepage:  “Regina Public Schools fully supports the use of G Suite [Google Apps] for Education by students and staff.”

The Educational G Suite  of  applications our school division uses has education specific characteristics. For one, our division owns the data, not Google. Google does not mine the data or put any advertising into their applications. This question of who owns data is crucial to our school division when considering whether an app should or should not be used in our schools. Who owns the data? A privacy agreement with Google was reviewed, and specifically accepted by Regina Public Schools.

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What has changed, or is becoming concerning,  is how schools and teachers have been using Google applications. We have been storing all kinds of confidential information on google documents and spreadsheets. We have been storing information that could be used to identify students. Behaviour logs, spreadsheets with data, etc… Teachers, and schools, really need to be aware of what they are posting online, and aware of who information is shared with.

Guidelines Document for RPS

To this end, Regina Public Schools just released a guidelines document last Friday that is intended to act as a sort of code of conduct for teachers in how they use Google apps. Some highlights from the document:

Note: According to the RPS’ agreement with Google, data is in fact owned by RPS. Not Google. However, that said, the data is stored on Google servers in the United States. While our division does own the data, it does not have direct control over the data. This has implications for what kinds of things we can use G Suite for.

What We Must Do

  • As teachers, we “must take steps to ensure  that sensitive, confidential and/or personally identifiable information is not present in any emails, attachments, files and documents created, uploaded or shared…”

What We Can Do

  • We can create that includes “assigned projects, presentations, documents, multimedia products, calendar entries, emails, websites, … formative assessment, communication to enhance learning, blogs…” Educational use only!

What We Can’t Do

  • We absolutely cannot store or share:  “personally identifiable, sensitive and confidential information including home addresses, birthdates, student records, health information…
  • Store meeting notes on students.
  • Store any information that can be found in a student’s cumulative folder
  • Store information regarding suspensions, behaviour

2. What can we use instead of Google’s G-Suite, then?

This question has actually already been answered by the school division. Alternatives are already in place that allow schools and teachers to track and record information that is confidential.

Clevr: RPS utilizes clevr, a ” …cloud-hosted application that provides educators with the tools they need to implement, collect, access and analyze information…” Clevr has become widely used by dozens of school divisions across Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario. As of this year, all teachers have access to clevr,and have been learning to use several of their key data collection functions.

Without getting into too much detail on Clevr today, the main drive behind using this application is that the data is not only owned by our school division, but is stored and controlled by our school division as well. Honestly, considering the sensitive and confidential nature of the information schools deal with … wanting to control and store the information right here?

Yep, that makes sense.

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Thanks for reading!

 

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