How are Schools Responding to Student Data Privacy Concerns?

As schools and classwork become increasingly reliant on internet-based applications and software, school leaders and policymakers must ensure that student data is kept private. This task is complicated by the fact that each country, and in the case of the United States, each state, may have different rules and laws when it comes to maintaining student privacy. 

With such a wide range of laws and the huge number of education-based software and apps being created, it can be difficult for parents and students to keep track of how their data is stored and what it is being used for. Many parents place their trust in schools and teachers to do their due diligence when using apps, however, concerns around student privacy remain.  

Digital classrooms and online learning are here to stay

Over 70% of schools surveyed by the Department of Education in the United States reported that teachers were using technology to replace components of traditional classroom learning, either in a hybrid learning model or fully online classroom. Although most schools have been getting back to in-person learning, teachers are still utilizing online education-based apps and digital learning platforms to deliver lessons, including using digital assessments. 

Digital assessments are highly beneficial because they provide students with instant feedback, they can integrate multimedia with ease, and they can seamlessly integrate accommodations. In addition, secure digital testing tools allow scores to be stored online which means schools do not need to keep boxes of files with student scores in them. 

Of course, as with all digital applications, there are significant security considerations and concerns to take into account when designing a digital classroom or assessment. 

Security considerations for the digital classroom 

With the vast majority of schools using some form of virtual learning, there are some key security concerns that parents and students have. For students to feel safe and parents to feel reassured, school administrators and teachers need to take a few security considerations into account, including:  

  • Student data privacy – Protecting students from various digital attacks such as ransomware, Lateral Movement, and virtual class invasion, all of which are techniques used to steal user data and sensitive information. 
  • Student personal privacy – In a remote learning environment, students may be asked to have their video camera and microphone on. This means showing where the student lives to an entire classroom of students which can cause anxiety and discomfort because parents and students typically choose who to let into their home. 
  • Cyberbullying – with students interacting on camera there is the potential for increased instances of bullying as a screenshot can be snapped, manipulated, and shared with ease. 
  • Remote proctoring for assessments – Many standardized assessments allow for remote proctoring. For students and parents, this raises privacy concerns around room scan videos, providing identity verification on video, mistrust of proctoring software, and overall data security. 

By addressing these issues students can learn or take an assessment without worrying about what will happen to their information.  

How are schools protecting student data privacy?

Although attackers have many ways of infiltrating online learning environments, there are several steps that schools are taking to protect student data privacy. The biggest key to protecting student data is prevention, schools and school administrators can set up best practices around cyber security within their district including: 

  • Develop training for staff on how to keep a student’s personal identifiable information private and avoid online scams designed to steal information.
  • Create clear policies around what data will be collected, how it will be stored, and how will the school respond if the data is compromised. 
  • Hire a technology expert dedicated to digital security and privacy to oversee the implementation of all policies. 
  • Have a process for onboarding new education apps or software that includes specific vetting around privacy, and require that all student apps undergo this process before student use. 
  • Require that all contracts with third-party vendors that collect data include allowable uses of the data and specifically prohibit commercial use of student data. 

By implementing and utilizing these processes, schools can mitigate the risk of an attack on student privacy and ensure that student data is managed responsibly. 

Assessment software security

One of the major transitions over the past decade in education is the shift to online assessments, in particular, online standardized assessments. With online assessments, there are major concerns around student data security and online testing because typically these tests require identity verification and a student’s score has major life implications in terms of acceptance into schools or programs. Having secure testing software is essential when thinking about student data privacy. 

There are a few ways to ensure that student data remains secure within an online testing platform. First and foremost, all data must be encrypted. By encrypting data, both when the data is in transit and at rest keeps unauthorized users from accessing the information. Additionally, all testing should be conducted on a secure cloud service that has undergone extensive security procedures to keep student data safe and prevents attacks from bad actors. Last, a good testing platform will have a well-thought-out staff security policy in place to ensure student privacy is maintained throughout the entire process. 

Digital security is all about student safety

Digital security in the online classroom helps students feel safe while testing and learning and also eliminates anxiety-related privacy. Although there are a lot of aspects to maintaining student data privacy, by developing a well-rounded policy and following it, schools can take meaningful steps to keep student data private. 

Open Assessment Technologies is at the leading edge of digital security and online assessment. TAO Advance is an online assessment platform that includes security elements including penetration (PEN) tests, a Web Application Firewall (WAF), Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) mitigation, robust staff security policies, and General Data Protection Requirements (GDPR). All of this makes TAO Advance the leader in digital assessment technology, to learn more about how TAO Advance can help with your online assessments, click here.

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