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How much do teachers know about students’ privacy? Researchers say that’s not enough

Spark Global Limited Reports:

What should teachers know about student data privacy and ethics?

Given that much of their work now revolves around student data, it’s a pretty simple question — one that researcher Ellen B. Mandinach and colleagues were tasked with answering. More specifically, they want to know what guidelines the state has on the matter. Is this information included in the educational code of ethics? Or curriculum requirements for teacher training programs?

“The answer is, ‘Not really,'” says Mandinacci, a senior research scientist at the nonprofit West Sted. Other than policies that deal with FERPA or proper handling of data, “there are very few state standards that deal with privacy or even data protection,” she said.

While organizations have historically played hot potato over who is responsible for educating educators about data privacy, according to Mandinacci, the pandemic and its massive push for digital learning have cast a new light on the issue.

Mandinacci says the use of data ethics has a real impact on students, like the sixth-grader in Atlanta who was accused of “Zoombombing” because of his computer’s IP address, or the Dartmouth student who was acquitted of cheating.

“There are a lot of examples that come up when we’re in this uncharted territory, especially when we’re virtual,” Mandinach said. “Our goal is to provide resources and raise awareness for the educational community and professional organizations… So [these tools] can be widely used to help educators better prepare for the present and the future.”

This week, Mandinach and her partners released two training resources for K-12 teachers at the Future of Privacy Forum: “Student Privacy 101” and “A Guide to Working with Data Ethical Scenarios.” The course is based on their report, which examines how much data privacy and ethical preparation teachers accept while in college.

Juliana Cotto, policy director at the Future of Privacy Forum, said the training tools show teachers how students’ data Privacy and ethical issues arise in their daily work lives. A former classroom teacher, Couto recalls that her own privacy training came down to an hour-long seminar at FERPA, which manages how to publish and display student data.

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“At the outset of the report, we learned about the unique role educators play in protecting students’ privacy,” Cotto said. “What is privacy? What is ethical and responsible use of data? Here are 99 examples of what that means, and the consequences.”

Think through questions
The scenarios cover themes emerging in the digital age, including how to witness cyberbullying on social media and how to deal with student misbehavior in virtual classrooms. But they are also prompting teachers to consider more simulations of student data, such as when processing tests with student scores or when students are suspected of coming to class with infectious diseases.

Mandinach says the course, which has been piloted at five universities, is designed so that any professor can use off-the-shelf data privacy knowledge, regardless of their own expertise.

Cheryl Forbes, director of teacher education at the University of California San Diego, said about 60 graduate students in her department had piloted the course during the spring semester. They range from students in early teacher training programs to students already in the classroom.

Student teachers especially praised the program, she said, because they had experienced firsthand the scenarios presented to them for discussion.

“It really calls on participants to take a stand and say, ‘This is what I’m going to do,'” Forbes said. ‘”

Before the outbreak, Forbes said, little teacher education involved student privacy because Zoom brought schools into students’ homes, making issues like child abuse more visible. Previously, discussions about privacy and ethics might have been limited to advice from mentors to student teachers, such as “Don’t talk about your students at the grocery store.”

One scene in the course focuses on what a teacher should do after noticing a student on Zoom playing with a toy gun. In fact, Forbes says a similar situation happened at one of her schools for student teachers. The school called police after a teacher reported seeing a gun in a student’s home over Zoom.