Teaching online can be similar to George Orwell’s 1984. With a click of the mouse I can use our Blackboard Learning System to track students’ progress, collect data and monitor the number of hits or openings of an assignment. I can even look at the exact time they post an assignment and how much time students spend viewing an assignment online. It’s like student surveillance or an online stake out. But I don’t want to be the big brother, always watching. Am I effecting their online privacy?
Students tell me they’re used to being monitored at school or by their parents, being prohibited from visiting certain websites at home or at school, having their lockers or bedrooms inspected, some even tell me their parents installed a GPS on their car to track where they were driving. But most of these examples stem from students’ high school days. They enter College of DuPage as adults. They are 18 years old and the rules have changed. But what about online? Is their digital identity public and open for access in the electronic frontier as part of an online class?
Different types of education technologies can collect data for different purposes. And there can be risks associated with using student data. It is easy to see a privacy risk in considering how districts store personal information from students’ school records. But many of the mobile apps used in education store and use student data, as do many of the computer programs used to personalize learning by targeting a student’s individual skill level and interests.
On our current Blackboard system I can access these types of reports:
- All User Activity Inside Content Areas displays a summary of all user activity inside content areas for a course. This report determines which students are active in my course and which content areas they are using.
- Course Activity Overview displays overall activity within my course, sorted by student and date. Data includes the total and average time spent per user and the total amount of activity a user had in my course. I can also click an individual student’s name to access the Student Overview for Single Course report. This report can help determine which days of the week students are active in my course and see how much time overall students spend.
- Overall Summary of User Activity displays user activity for all areas of your course, as well as activity dates, times, and days of the week.
- Single Course User Participation Report displays the number of user submissions in your course for assignments, tests, discussions, blogs, and journals within the chosen time frame.
- Student Overview for Single Course displays an individual student’s activity within my course, sorted by date. Data includes the total overall time a student spent in my course as well as detailed information about a student’s activity, such as which items and content areas a student accessed and the time spent on each.
- User Activity in Forums displays a summary of user activity in discussion board forums in my course. I can see which forums are used the most.
- User Activity in Groups displays a summary of user activity in groups for my course. I can see if students are active in their groups.
There are a number of federal laws related to student privacy, one of which is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which has undergone regulatory changes in recent years. But does FERPA meet the challenges of the digital age? Two recent documents, National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Data in the Cloud and the U.S. Department of Education’s Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services address issues of student privacy in the cloud-computing era.
At College of DuPage, the FERPA guidelines are on our College website: https://www.cod.edu/about/…/pdf/ferpa.pdf
I also encourage students to be mindful of their digital footprint and protect their online privacy in a variety of ways:
- Be sure to have security software installed and set to automatically update so your information isn’t stolen by a virus or other malware program.
- Establish tight privacy settings on your online accounts.
- Use strong unique passwords so your information – and don’t share your passwords.
- Use search engines to look for information about you, then contact individuals, schools, or other sites that share more information about you than you are comfortable with and ask that your information be removed.
- Set your search engine preferences to enable private browsing – which means that services cannot not retain information about the sites and pages you visit.
- Request services remove your information – remove images of your home from Google Maps, remove phone numbers and addresses.