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Harvard Reports Examine K-12 Student Privacy

A Harvard University research center that studies the impact of cyberspace on life has turned its attention to student privacy, in both K-12 and higher ed. As a product of a student privacy initiative, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society has released three reports that touch on aspects of cloud computing and mobile device usage in the K-12 environment.

Student Privacy & Cloud Computing at the District Level: Next Steps and Key Issues is a 10-page document that examines the privacy issues that surface when K-12 schools adopt cloud services. The content came out of a workshop held in 2013 by the student privacy group and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) with a focus on two broad areas: law, regulation and policy; and norms, values, attitudes and practices. Under the first area, participants offered next steps, such as development of a guide that succinctly summarizes relevant laws and guidance for districts about technology contract creation. For the second area, one suggested "next step" was encouraging schools or districts to work together to create a "centralized and vetted internal application store for teachers." Another was to foster "transparency and clarity around data collection and use."

K-12 Edtech Cloud Service Inventory is a 12-page report that provides summary information about 16 of the most popular cloud services in use by schools, such as Amazon Web Services, a set of infrastructure offerings; Edmodo, a Facebook-like social networking platform for students and teachers; Pearson PowerSchool, a student information system; and Voki, a program that lets teachers create cartoon avatars to explain educational concepts. Along with the descriptions, the report provides information about who can sign up for the service, who's expected to use it, what the pricing model is, how extensible it is, and whether it's available as a mobile platform.

Youth Perspectives on Tech in Schools: From Mobile Devices to Restrictions and Monitoring is an 18-page document that examines the attitudes of students regarding how they feel about current cloud computing practices. The results were drawn from 30 focus groups in five geographical areas around the country with a total of 203 participants ranging in age from 11 to 19. The average age was about 15.

Among one of the biggest concerns cited by the young people who participated was blocking and filtering of Web sites within schools. Most schools do that in the context of complying with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires implementing Internet filtering measures in return for federal funds toward the installation of broadband or internal data connections. According to the report, "Many participants who encountered blocking while at school reported frustration, especially when the blocking impeded their ability to do their schoolwork." As one student reported, "Often, school Web sites that we have to use for homework are blocked. And that ends up happening a lot. Like, Khan Academy, which we use for math, ends up getting blocked because it uses Facebook to log in." The authors added that restrictions seem to be of "limited effectiveness" since the majority of focus group participants said they knew about workarounds or had friends who could help them to circumvent filters; another quarter don't use workarounds but said they know of peers who do.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.