Let’s go to the Mall- Shopping for the Right Balance for Online Protection

This week as part of COETAIL, I was exploring readings related to the idea of authentic contributions and the importance to protect privacy. My mind and ideas tended to lean more into the protection side of the discussion. With so much information out there, it is clear that students, teachers, and schools need to work to protect student privacy. Though, at times I do wonder if this idea has been repeated too much to have lost its urgency. Essentially, we hear about large data breaches constantly such as Facebook being breached for 530 million(!!!!!) people’s data. Hearing about breaches like this make me wonder how safe my information, and that of my students, is if it is possible for these breaches. That being said, it does not absolve us as educators of our responsibilities. For this blog, I am going to try and summarize the main ideas of the key readings and hopefully represent their ideas correctly. I have linked the resources throughout for your own reading.

The Internet is a Mall

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century had a great line that I think is important for helping conceptualize how to keep students safe, where they equate the Internet is closer to a mall than a library. While there is an unlimited amount of information, tools, resources, and applications that can greatly benefit student learning available online, there is an equally unlimited amount of companies out there trying to gain access to student data or to get them to sign up for their programs or products. If we are to find the balance for students in how to be contributors to a larger online community, they need to be aware that advertising is consistently happening and it is not always altruistic.

Before, if there was a commercial on TV you could just switch channels or use the break to go to the washroom. If there were billboards on the road, you could ignore them. Now, when accessing an article or app online there is a good chance that there will be some advertising on it. For students playing games, the ads can be viewed as part of the game when you are able to purchase. This infiltration of advertising into our daily lives has led to a more blurry border between what is advertising and what is entertainment. Even more so, advertising for programs or companies that seek out our information happens daily. How often do you get asked to subscribe to a newsletter or gain access to a program for free if we just give out some basic details.Students, and teachers, are more likely to sign up for something if they just need to click into it or have Google autofill the form for them. In real life, if you have to actually fill out a form with pen-and-paper it is less likely to happen.

Image by succo from Pixabay

Image by s__grafik from Pixabay

Image by chetan kotadiya from Pixabay


By alerting students to the reality of the value of their data and how companies can use it to make money, we are arming students with more information. This is a small step but reinforced consistently and pointed out in lessons and used as a teaching point in determining credible resources is a solid step in the right direction. If students can understand how valuable their information and privacy is, they are more likely to protect it.

Teaching is Learning More Acronyms

Next time you are around colleagues outside of work and are knee deep in a work conversation, take a look at anyone who is not a teacher but is with you. Teaching is half learning different acronyms it feels like at different time and I know that my non-teacher friends can feel like I am in the CIA with all the acronyms that get thrown around. Looking at the Student Privacy website from the USA, I had a couple more to add to my repertoire.

  • FERPA- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
  • COPPA- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
  • PPRA- Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment
  • IDEA- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


The website gives a strong overview of the various US Federal Acts that protect student data and the responsibilities of school districts down in dealing with that data. Yet, in reading this I realized that it was not overly pertinent to me as I am not from the US nor planning on working there. Instead, I decided to do some searching for a similar website for Canada and came across an access guide for educators in Ontario. As education is a provincial responsibility as opposed to federal, it appears most laws follow this. It follows many of the same ideas outlined in the American counter-part but also outlines the myriad of information out there on educational privacy law. The general takeaway is that if you move to a new location, it is worth the time seeking out the right information.

The Teacher is the Target

Looking back, a couple weeks ago I would not  have thought of the role I could play in being an access point to my students data. I have been aware of the importance of being safe and thoughtful in which educational technologies I use, to check in with others if not sure. I know not to put my students work or information out in a public domain. But this reading from Common Sense Media  on inconsistent practices and privacy in educational technologies helped reinforce this. My main takeaway from this is that teachers are the target as we can bring in hundreds of students a year to a website, even if we just use the website once. It was good to go over this as I recently completed my Common Sense Educator training and as part did a mini-course on student privacy. I encourage others to up their game with the PD offered.

Never one to miss an opportunity to add in some entertainment, I equate this role of a teacher to Heimdall from the Marvel Universe. He is the protector of Asgard and is able to see all, even if it is hidden to the normal eye. In the clip below, he realizes a sneak attack is ongoing and words to defeat it. As a teacher, I need to be aware of all attempts to gain access to my students data and work to protect them. Hopefully I do better than he did in this clip…



This brings up a questions I have had for a while; do schools allow too much freedom for teachers to use educational technology? I am not against educational technology at all. But I do wonder if having students be part of multiple different tools/apps for each subject each year over exposes them and does not allow them mastery of each tool. More collaboration between teachers on which tools to use is a positive in my mind. If you can have multiple teachers using Edpuzzle or Quizlet or other tools that can be used for multiple subjects, the less stress students will have in navigating them. Further, it would force teachers to have conversations about which technologies to use and why. These could then be properly vetted and used in a way that would enhance learning. On the other hand, it does take away some creativity  and spontaneity for teachers to use new technology. It could also become repetitive for students. Perhaps the middle ground is to have a set of five to six tools/apps that teachers of a grade level use with each being allow to add in one or two of their own.

Question for the reader: How does your school navigate the selection of available technologies online? Do we as teachers use too many different online technologies?

Am I confident in my knowledge of my schools policies?

A 2018 law from the EU around privacy and security prompted TES  to create an article overviewing he changes, both for schools in the EU and abroad. The second video in this article that raised some good questions all teachers should know about their school and the use of data. While the article is focused on the EU, any school that has students from the EU should be aware of the main ideas in the article. Personally, I think I could answer these basic questions but would struggle to be confident.

  • What is processing?

  • What is personal data?
  • What data do we process?
  • What personal data do we use?
  • Who uses it?
  • Where do we keep personal data?
  • Is it ever deleted?


Toks Oladuti, Director of Information Systems for an independent girls school, outlines that it takes all teachers for as school to ensure their data is secure. I take it as the idea that the weak link breaks the chain. If one person at a school is unaware of school policies or how to properly protect data, everyone is open to attack. According to Oladuti, finding time to ensure all staff have at least a basic awareness of what data is collected, how it is protected, and who are responsible for it should be reviewed regularly.

Reflections on the Educations Toolkit

The Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy A Practical Guide for Protecting Personal Data provides a strong overview of the multitude of risks associated with online educational technology, the common sense knowledge to be careful what you post, and the realization that student data is big business.

While the document comes at the topic from an American background, there is a wealth of good information in there. Some of the examples shared within it can help illustrate the dangers of teachers posting online about their school or students. Further, it outlines that teachers should not use social media in school to communicate with students/families or friend their students. In reading this, it made me question what the teachers were taught in Teachers College. I distinctly being told as I was doing my teacher degree to never accept a friend request from a student and to ensure that any social media platform I had was set to private, scrubbed clean of any untoward photos, and even to have my name changed so I am not easily searchable. A course on Education and the Law from my Masters Course also helped outline the multitude of pitfalls that can befall a teacher in using social media with students.

I think this is an idea to bring up with students and to check in with students over the year. That what they post online is not always private and can come back to bite them. The report outlined that a majority of colleges felt that social media accounts could be used to determine acceptance. Though, students seem to be aware of this. Choi (2016) in her interaction with teens found they were aware that Facebook was for one purpose and Instagram or Snapchat was for another.

Aside from the discussion of dangers for teachers, the more meaningful take-way for me was the discussion at the end on how to make decisions when looking at Edtech and to be aware of ‘free’ programs. The ten rules to follow for social media and the best practices were both informative readings that help clarify or reinforce prior ideas. Yet, that these ideas are not part of normal teacher training or seen as often in PD speaks to an increased awareness of them.

Working at an international school, I feel there could even be more sensitive data if schools require passport information, birth certificates, or information regarding student passes for the country.

Questions for the reader-

How confident are you in your schools policies towards data privacy?

Do you think it is possible students are exposed to too many educational tools/apps in a year?

What superhero would be the best protector for your students data? I will stick with Heimdall.





  1. Coleton Tillett
  2. Diana Beabout

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