Privacy Project Roundup

CHAPTER 1: The PRoject

Ending my experience in ECI832 with a look back over my major learning project, dubbed the Privacy Project. The project itself was borne out of an email exchange with Alec Couros revolving around my uncertainty on where I was going. While not yet feeling confident enough to spearhead a social activism project, I wanted to go a little further than a review of some applications.

Through my conversation, and as a product of the first couple of classes, I thought back to the summer, when we came back to our schools to find out that our division office had collected all of our schools’ mobile devices, namely ipads, wiped them clean of their applications, and took control over what can and cannot be installed and used. Teachers returned to their respective schools to find their ipads with a dramatically smaller selection of board approved applications on their classroom ipads, and locked out of their school apple ids. Out of this confusion and minor turmoil, 6 months later, my privacy project was born!

A muddled message came out during our beginning of the year staff meetings. In order to stop schools from installing apps that might potentially compromise the privacy and confidentiality of our students, the district has taken control of our ipads. They’ve assessed which apps have policy agreements that comply with our own requirements, and put them on for us.

Why? Is this not going a bit too far? What are we worried about? Knowing how important using these kinds of digital media is to the future employment prospects of our youth, do the concerns outweigh the importance of using them? These are the kinds of questions that were/are still swirling in my head. I decided to tackle these questions through a broad study of student privacy, along with a  review of a couple apps with a student privacy.confidentiality focus in mind.

CHAPTER 2: SLEUTHING

Some questions formed that would serve to guide my entire project:

  • I will investigate, through reaching out to relevant personnel with Regina Public Schools, how the decision was made.
  • How are individual applications assessed? What is looked for in user or license agreements?
  • What does non-compliance look like? What could be done with our data? Worst case scenario?
  • Seesaw: How was this application assessed to be compliant? Was there a negotiation (this app was originally not allowed on ipads, and was changed early on this school year)
  • What are we going to do with Google?  It is so entrenched and prevalent in our practice…
  • Based on my communication with personnel with our district, I will look into a few more applications and evaluate their license agreements.
  • I will look at relevant legislation that is guiding our current course of action.
  • What is the impact of our interpretation of LAFOIP? Is this what was intended?

I began tackling these questions by first running a minor investigation into the topic in a more broad sense. I began making contact with some knowledgeable professionals. Through a conversation with Bill Fitzgerald, he led me to consider the idea that student data is an asset, with monetary value that companies may/do covet. He made me aware of some higher profile cases where student information was passed along without consent, and for reasons that had nothing to do with student learning. It truly did unnerve me that a university sold data to a loan collection agency that employed predatory practice to collect on loans.

CHAPTER 3: VOXER

In conversing with Bill Fitzgerald, he mentioned Voxer as being an application that carried particularly bad privacy terms. With this in mind, I chose Voxer, the “walkie talkine app” as the first of my apps to review from both a utility standpoint, as well as a privacy and confidentiality perspective.

The first part of my review focused on functionality. I tried to use the app myself as a communication tool with my LRT partner, and considered the potential benefits for educational ends. I did see potential benefits to using the application, and some teacher testimonials helped me visualize how it could possibly facilitate a PLN that wouldn’t be bound by location.

There were also some potential uses, like leaving meaningful feedback for parents on their kids progress at school. I liked the idea of recording myself giving feedback to a student in small group reading, and passing that recording along to parents through Voxer. That said, I did not find the app to be very user friendly, and many of its functions are covered by applications I already know and am more comfortable with, like Seesaw and Whatsapp.

In part two of my review, I focused on its privacy policy and user agreement. As Bill Fitzgerald said, while their agreement is honest and forthright, the terms they are being forthright about are not good at all. Among other things, Voxer provides for sharing user information with third parties, allows itself to use your provided phone number to market, and they allow themselves to transfer our data in the event of a sale or acquisition by another company. Clearly, our data is an asset and they intend to use it as such.

CHAPTER 4: SEESAW

Having done a review of Voxer, I wanted to do a more in-depth review of an application I am growing dependent on, Seesaw. This application was of particular interest to me because it was approved by our school division very early on after returning our ipads. I wanted to know what set it apart from other applications that I find useful, like Hearbuilder.

In part one of my review, I again focused on utility. It will probably  come as no surprise that I find all kinds of utility with Seesaw, in a variety of contexts. I spoke to there being all kinds of benefits involving student engagement, teacher engagement and parent engagement. It is incredible for sharing learning artifacts with parents and facilitating their meaningful involvement with their child’s education. It also has a very active develop and user community that is constantly coming up with new ideas on how to use the application. In short, this is an application that I have a hard time imagining myself living without.

In part two, I once again turned towards considering their privacy policy and user agreement.Seesaw’s privacy policy was clearly designed with current issue and controversies in mind. They repeatedly emphasize ownership of data residing with schools and school divisions. They also emphasize student artifacts being set as private to the classroom by default.

I specifically wanted to know why Seesaw was approved, and what that process entailed. This took some work and conversation with a couple of very supportive RPS staff that  are very involved with technology implementation: Stu Harris and Eric Vandussen. I found out that approving Seesaw was more than simply evaluating their privacy policy, as it stands (although that is part of the process). Regina Public Schools, with support from their legal team, drafted an appending privacy agreement of their own to address concerns specific to our school board. Seesaw accepted this agreement, and voila an approved application for our use!

CHAPTER 5: THANK YOU!

This process, especially my review of Seesaw, as very enjoyable and educational for me. For one, the privacy concerns are being considered very deliberately and seriously by our school division. The decision to centralize control over application installation was thought out with many things in mind. I am also more aware of just how much time and work is put into making sure an application is appropriate and for use by our children, and that its data collection policies are ethically compatible with our own duty to protect our kids.

This makes sense to me. My initial frustration over not having that personal control over installing applications was perhaps a product of my ignorance of the real underlying issues, and how important they really are. While I do still feel strongly that I have a duty, as a teacher, to make sure that I prepare kids to function in our emerging digital world, I know that I have to balance this with the real concerns around protecting my students. The stakes are very high!

 

 

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