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They say the fastest way to learn to swim is by jumping or getting pushed into the water. The same seems true for teachers navigating online waters as districts migrate to remote learning amid COVID-19. Whether teachers were adequately prepared or not, when it comes to student data privacy in the digital world it can be sink or swim. The hastened push to online learning has only exaggerated existing risks to student data privacy. Those risks include the unauthorized use of students’ personally identifiable information (PII), behavioral tracking, and targeted advertising.

Many educators may be tempted by non-educational fremium online tools originally designed for social media, gaming, webinars, and other services to communicate and engage with their students. However convenient, easy-to-use tools, such as free video-conferencing platforms like Zoom weren’t designed for classroom use. Not only do these free platforms pose significant privacy risks to student data privacy, many actively collect, exchange, and profile students as if they were consenting, more technologically sophisticated, adults. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and many state-specific student data privacy laws govern the use of student data and expressly forbid these practices. Consequently, many non-education online tools, while free and convenient, run afoul of student data privacy laws.

Unless your school or district has an agreement with online technology providers, it’s unlikely they’ve been adequately vetted for security and compatibility with student data privacy laws. To maintain student data privacy compliance, teachers should only utilize education technology (EdTech) service providers their districts have an existing contractual relationship with. For instance, many K-12 curriculum/content providers, like Savvas Learning Co. (formerly Pearson K12 Learning), have online learning platforms accompanying the textbooks students already use. From a productivity suite perspective, tools such as Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams have a higher degree of privacy and security features available to school districts. Using EdTech providers previously vetted by district IT and legal departments diminishes any data privacy concerns while broadening students’ remote learning experiences.  FERPA/Sherpa, a non-profit resource dedicated to student data privacy, put together a helpful list of student data privacy compliant online resources specifically for teachers HERE. Stay safe everyone, from our team to yours! 

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About the Author – Ryan Johnson is a certified data privacy attorney, experienced IT engineer, and published author with over 15 years of experience with enterprise technology. In his current roles, he serves as Chief Privacy Officer, Subject Matter Expert, and Adjunct Professor specializing in Data Privacy law.


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Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson

Certified Data Privacy Attorney

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.