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Addressing Data Privacy in a Time of Online Learning

by Rachel Jane, Guest Author
data privacy

With October designated as cybersecurity awareness month, there’s a great deal to focus on. Indeed, the argument can be made that the conditions we’re living through in 2020 have brought cybersecurity to the forefront of people’s attention more than ever before. With more people working, teaching, and learning remotely, we are simply relying more on technology — and navigating all of the risks that come with that reliance.

This set of circumstances can open up all sorts of interesting and important conversations. In this one though, we’re going to look specifically at some ways to address and protect data privacy in an online learning environment. For teachers, school administrators, parents, and students alike, it’s important to keep data privacy in mind. And the following tips and ideas can help with that effort.

Take Advantage of Encrypted Ed Tech

The term “encrypted ed tech” would have sounded obscure, to say the least, just a year ago. Now, however, it’s something more school systems are looking into as a means of making sure that the vast troves of data changing hands in remote learning environments are protected. Naturally, it’s already expected that teachers, students, and administrators will take basic security precautions when handing this data — device passwords, good judgment, and so on. But encryption can add another layer of data security.

The idea of endpoint encryption for data protection is simply that information changing hands — between students and teachers, teachers and administrators, and so on — is encrypted within ed tech programs. This all but eliminates the possibility of data being intercepted or improperly exposed in the course of its transfer and storage, thus protecting the privacy of all involved.

Use Well-Made Devices

Much of the focus in ed tech and remote learning concerns software tools, but plenty of teachers and students are also working with devices more frequently — from laptops and tablets to mobile phones, and even smart speakers and voice assistants. By and large, these devices don’t pose many privacy risks people aren’t aware of. They can be protected against through passwords, encryption, secure network usage, and standard precautions. But more dependence on devices also means that the devices themselves have to be well made and secure.

Ultimately, more goes into the security of modern devices than most of us take the time to recognize. It begins with the internal printed circuit board, which is basically the instrument through which electric signals are passed. Once upon a time, these were relatively standardized, but today, the thickness of a printed circuit board and the style of its design can help to make it more secure and durable, even if it’s facilitating complex connections. By a somewhat similar token, a robust and modern battery is also a necessity. A weak or unreliable battery can easily overheat or die out quickly where modern device usage is concerned. And in fact, the same goes for an internal processing chip.

These internal electrical and mechanical concerns have more to do with security than privacy. Inadequate parts can make it all the more likely that a device in heavy, day-to-day use will break down or malfunction in such a way as to compromise student or teacher data. For that reason, even though they can be more expensive, well-made, and reputable devices are best whenever it’s possible to obtain and use them.

Adopt Cloud Storage

This is something a lot of schools and school systems have already done or looked into, and fortunately, in 2020, the idea of cloud storage is fairly ordinary. But it is still something that should be considered with specific regard to data privacy in online learning situations. Cloud networks are designed in some cases to be both more accessible and more secure than local storage, making them excellent choices for the storage of class-related data. Additionally, cloud storage can be backed up on a regular basis so that even a perfectly innocent system or device failure won’t result in the loss of saved data.

Specifics can change according to a schooling situation, but generally now would be a wise time to set up cloud environments that teachers, parents, and students can all access, so that all relevant data can be kept in a reliable digital location (ideally with tiers of access or separate folders for different purposes).

Be Transparent About New Tools and Processes

The final point is that it’s also important for all involved to be open, transparent, and communicative about new tools and processes that are being implemented to assist with remote learning.

Between communication programs, storage options, digital learning tools, and devices, there can be a lot for people to get used to as they adjust to remote learning. This is all well and good, but it also poses a challenge. Anyone using an unfamiliar system or tool without full knowledge of how to use it can make himself vulnerable to data breaches unwittingly. Thus, it’s important that when new tools and processes come up, there is open and thorough dialogue about how to use them, and how to do so in a way that protects privacy.

Photo via Pexels

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