COVID-19 Brings Ed Tech, Data Fears to Home Computers

By Samantha Cleaver

All students in Seminole County, in central Florida, will check in to school Monday from home.

They will log in, many on their own computers and devices, to the district’s portal and participate in lessons, complete assignments and practice skills.

Students will do regular learning activities, Tim Harper, the district’s chief technology officer, told Digital Privacy News.

But, he said, “It’s a big shift for a lot of people who have never experienced online learning.”

Across the country, more than 55.1 million students now are learning from home because of COVID-19 closings. At the start of school each day, students log into online platforms and access software.

As school, and its technology, come home, concerns about the type of data that will be collected and how it will be used for accountability are being debated.

Many states already have canceled high-stakes tests for the school year. These drills often are connected to grade advancement and school-accountability decisions.

Without those measurements, however, the question is whether schools will be collecting online learning data to hold students accountable during the coronavirus closings.

Tracking Learning and Data

Many schools, like those in Seminole County, have established educational-technology platforms and products that students are accustomed to using.

“In today’s cloud environment,” Harper said, “things are web-based [and] all of our resources are available in the portal.”

That’s a positive, he said, because it gives the district control.

When students log in to educational technology products, legal protections are in place to ensure compliance with federal and state laws, said Amelia Vance, director of the Youth and Education Privacy Project at the Future of Privacy Forum in Washington.

But that doesn’t mean data is not collected. 

Education platforms use information they gather from students to create a profile, Max Bleyleben, managing director and chief privacy officer of SuperAwesome, told Digital Privacy News.

The company, based in London, provides tech solutions for kid-safe digital engagement.

The profiles from the platforms include information about assignment completion and grades. However, if programs are following the law, the data won’t be sold or shared.

Ed tech programs also collect learning analytics: how long a child spends reading an article, how many math problems they complete in a period of time, their assessment scores.

But can this information be used to measure accountability?

What Can Parents Do? Right now, parents can expect schools to be flexible. If you are using your personal devices for digital learning, here are ways to maintain your privacy:


“Do not share the devices you are using for work with your child,” said Daniel Eliot, National Cyber Security Alliance director of education and strategic initiatives, “as that opens up a host of security concerns.”

Request “Asynchronous” Options.

If you opt out of having your child log in from a home device, request asynchronous options or a school provided device.

Log off – Log in.

Teach your child to log off school accounts and switch browsers as they move between home and school use.

Parental Controls.

Put parental controls on your child’s devices, but don’t forgo the conversation about safe online behavior. “Parental controls are not a replacement for conversation,” Eliot told Digital Privacy News, “because they don’t teach anything.”

Local Decisions on Accountability

Decisions about how to hold students accountable for work during closures is currently localized.

Seminole County has a long history with digital learning and in tracking student participation and engagement with online platforms.

As teachers send assignments, give feedback, and post grades, Harper said he anticipated using that data to give students credit for this learning period.

Meanwhile, other states are waiving attendance and grades during the quarantine.

North Carolina, for instance, said seniors would not be barred from graduating because of the shutdown. Massachusetts has relaxed attendance policies, while Utah waived end-of-year tests and attendance requirements.

During this time, Vance told Digital Privacy News, school leaders know that students aren’t going to be at their best.

“This is not the time to dig in on the soft sides of monitoring that could, in better circumstances, be used as a valuable measure,” she said.

Samantha Cleaver is an education writer in Charlotte, N.C. 


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