Being Mobile Blog

App Security: Yet One More Thing Teachers Are Being Held Accountable For

By and large, districts make decisions about the choice of textbooks; districts and schools make decisions about the choice of curricula; and districts and schools make decisions about the choice of hardware.

But teachers are typically left to figure out how to integrate that technology into those curricula and textbooks. Elsewhere in this blog, we have argued that identifying appropriate software and/or integrating that software into the classroom is a significant burden, a task for which teachers have virtually no preparation.

Well, a teacher’s burden just got bigger!

The New York Times reports that, “Scores of education technology start-ups … are marketing new digital learning tools directly to teachers.” Not surprisingly, teachers are trying out these new apps. But, in addition to deciding how to use an app with their students, a teacher now needs to figure out if that app provides adequate privacy and/or security for their students’ data.

Teachers who are trying “adaptive technologies” — software that tries to determine what problems/information each child should receive — are potentially causing privacy and/or security violations.  That is, these personalized learning apps collect data about the student and use that information to decide what a student should do next. But, the Times reports, “…some districts have experienced data breaches … in a few cases, student records have been publicly posted on the Internet and online security researchers have discovered weaknesses in a couple of dozen popular digital learning services.

The article also notes, “When it comes to privacy and security, it’s a little unfair to put the burden on the teacher…” A “little unfair”? A more accurate description comes elsewhere in the article: "Guarding against the potential pitfalls — data breaches, identity theft, unauthorized student profiling — is a Herculean endeavor.“

Besides teaching 30 children, a Herculean task if ever there was one, we have now burdened the classroom teacher with making decisions about software security and privacy.

Really? REALLY?

 “Administrators … want teachers to have free access to the best learning apps.”

Yes, teachers should always be allowed to bring in materials, but the school/district needs to give support and guidance. However, as noted above, while districts and schools have procedures to make decisions about curricular materials, they often leave technology decisions up to the classroom teacher.

Data privacy and security are serious, serious issues. Look at what happened to Target — and the administrators who were ostensibly responsible for protecting their customers’ privacy/security.  With the current policies putting decision about selecting apps on the backs of teachers, it is only a matter of time before a parent will sue a teacher for allowing their child’s data to be published on the Internet.

Really? REALLY!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at