Leah Plunkett, Alicia Solow-Niederman, & Urs Gasser on K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014

Cloud-based ed tech facilitates educational innovation — such as new connected learning frameworks — but also poses privacy challenges as more and more potentially sensitive data about students goes into the cloud. In this talk the Student Privacy Initiative team presents recommendations from their recent report, Framing the Law & Policy Picture: A Snapshot of K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014, to guide policy and decision-makers at the school district, local, state, and federal government levels as they consider cloud-based ed tech.

Click here to watch a video of the talk.

New Report from the Student Privacy Initiative: A Snapshot of K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014

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As part of its ongoing Student Privacy Initiative, led by Executive Director Urs Gasser, the Berkman Center is excited to offer a new publication, Framing the Law & Policy Picture: A Snapshot of K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014. This analysis, intended to guide policy and decision-makers at the school district, local, state, and federal government levels, first captures the current state of play and then puts forward pragmatic recommendations that aim to protect student privacy while harnessing the generative potential of cloud-based ed tech.

You may also be interested in our previously published reports and guides, including a synthesis of prioritized open issues and recommended next steps in the K-12 ed tech space, Student Privacy & Cloud Computing at the District Level: Next Steps and Key Issues; a survey of the kinds of cloud computing technologies (categorized by the affordances each offers) that may be adopted in K-12 educational contexts, K-12 Edtech Cloud Service Inventory, and a research brief that presents empirical data on student privacy attitudes drawn from a series of nationwide focus groups, Youth Perspectives on Tech in Schools: From Mobile Devices to Restrictions and Monitoring.

The Student Privacy Initiative team looks forward to continuing to develop additional materials in the months to come, with an eye not only to conducting legal analysis and producing practical resources on existing laws, policies, and practices, but also to considering privacy and ed tech opportunities and challenges that may lie ahead and creating shared good practices that both bolster privacy and preserve space for innovation as the educational sector continues to evolve.

About the Student Privacy Initiative

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Student Privacy Initiative, led by Executive Director Urs Gasser, explores the opportunities and challenges that may arise as educational institutions consider adopting cloud computing technologies. In its work across three overlapping clusters – Privacy Expectations & Attitudes, School Practices & Policies, and Law & Policy – this initiative aims to engage diverse stakeholder groups from government, educational institutions, academia, and business, among others, develop shared good practices that promote positive educational outcomes, harness technological and pedagogical innovations, and protect critical values.Please visit http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/studentprivacy for more information about the project.

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. Founded in 1997, through a generous gift from Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman, the Center is home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates working on projects that span the broad range of intersections between cyberspace, technology, and society.

More information can be found at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu.


Please contact Student Privacy Initiative Team Member Paulina Haduong at phaduong@cyber.law.harvard.edu with questions or media inquiries.

Framing the Law & Policy Picture: A Snapshot of K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014

A growing number of primary and secondary (K-12) school systems nationwide are adopting cloud-based educational technologies (“ed tech”), tools which “enable the transition of computing resources—including information processing, collection, storage, and analysis—away from localized systems (i.e., on an end user’s desktop or laptop computer) to shared, remote systems (i.e., on servers located at a data center away from the end user accessible through a network)” in the course of educational and / or academic administrative work. Cloud-based ed tech possesses unique innovative potential that can best be unlocked when the opportunities it presents are considered alongside the importance of protecting student privacy.

This paper, building upon findings of the ongoing Student Privacy Initiative under the auspices of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, provides a snapshot of key aspects of a diverse—and heated—law, policy, and implementation debate that is taking place in the rapidly evolving cloud-based ed tech landscape. It aims to provide policy and decision-makers at the school district, local government, state government, and federal government levels with greater information about and clarity around the avenues available to them in evaluating privacy options. This analysis focuses on three overarching questions: who in the educational system should make cloud-based ed tech decisions; when is parental consent needed for the adoption of these technologies; and how can data transferred, stored, and analyzed through these products be kept secure and, as necessary, de-identified?

Though there is often no bright line rule that can strike an ideal balance of these and other imperatives—including normative commitments, innovative educational opportunities, and evolving privacy attitudes and expectations—the authors offer the following pragmatic recommendations based on the cloud ed tech landscape at this moment in time:

  1. Employing (temporary) centralization of cloud-based ed tech decision-making at the district level to foster the legal, technical, and other expert oversight necessary in this complex space without stifling capacity for local experimentation;
  2. Examining the adoption of user-friendly labeling of cloud-based ed tech products to increase transparency and encourage compliance with parental consent and other legal requirements; and
  3. Adopting FIPPs (Fair Information Practice Principles) and other best practice standards by industry providers to increase data security and protection.

Critically, any such recommendations must preserve room for future development as the student privacy and ed tech picture continues to evolve. The authors also recognize that the proposed practices are in flux and have to be read as a supplement rather than a substitute for careful consideration of more fundamental reform of the current student privacy framework.