Resolving Your New eLearning Tool’s Data Issues Before They Arise

You have found an exciting new learning tool.  It engages students, deepens learning, helps with grading, and students have responded positively to the idea.  Great news, right?

With so many positives, the dean might respond well, but the IT folks might not be so enthusiastic. They might have questions about data, privacy, and compatibility with the current LMS.  And, as many of us know, the IT personnel hold a critical perspective when it comes to adopting a new tech tool. 

In anticipation of the questions that could arise, let’s walk through some of the main concerns and how to respond.

Data Privacy

Student data privacy has been a growing issue as more and more companies have monetized data collection. Universities have had to respond and adapt to this ever changing field.  

Privacy is a main factor when it comes to evaluating a new vendor in any industry, and edtech is no exception. In fact, it’s even trickier because the end user, the student, is not signing off on the terms and conditions, but still remains concerned about keeping their data, opinions, and identity private. Ultimately, this affects many parties; the vendor, the university, the professor and the students.  

The Takeaway: Not all edtech companies have committed to the same level of data privacy vetting.

Finding a responsible, well researched partner is a critical step when communicating with administration about student privacy issues.  Some companies have done their homework while others have not. 

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Data Security

Another important factor in completing your due diligence when vetting a new technology is data security.  Multiple security risks threaten systems everyday, and schools are often seen as soft targets.  As University Business puts it, “The vast benefits of accessing and stealing this PII are enough of an enticement for threat actors to target schools.”  

Any information that a school has, both internal and external, in the wrong hands can be costly, and ensuring its “safe return” can be even more so.  Data breaches, due to hacks, ransomware and other malicious activities are on the rise in the education sector.

The Takeaway: A well vetted, respectable company who has done their data security homework. 

This can be complex when it comes to edtech companies, which seem to spring up overnight.  Reading the fine print is an important step, and if you do the homework on behalf of the IT department, you will be one step closer to breaking through the red-tape of the university to support students in their learning. 

Regulations and GDPR

The lawyers and IT professionals will know all the ins and outs of the tech regulations… and there are many.  With that being said, the more proactive you are, the better.  While you might not be an expert in GDPR, it helps to know where the edtech tool stands in relation to it.  GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and was first developed in and for the EU.  Many countries adhere to it as an agreed upon standard of data protection.  

The Takeaway: Even though GDPR only applies to Europe, it is important to keep data safe everywhere in the world because of the ease of access to student data. 

The reality of this landscape is that more regulations will be coming, not fewer, so the companies who you work with will need to be ahead of the game when it comes to protecting data. 

Your Tech Provider Trustworthiness Checklist

Here are some final tips for navigating the world of IT, administrators, regulations, security and privacy as you vet vendors you want to work with:

  1. Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policies, and Usage Agreements need to be thorough and explicit.  Most of us just skim these when we agree to use a software or tech tool, but in the interest of protecting our students (and avoiding a ransomware attack), this is an important step. 
  2. Ask them whether they’re GDPR compliant.  While not necessarily a dealbreaker, this will definitely indicate how serious the company is about protecting data. 
  3. Pay attention to the other institutions that they work with. If they are being used by Ivy League institutions or elite European universities, that is a good sign that their product has already been thoroughly vetted and their practices are up to high standards.  Ask them for references or others who are trustworthy sources of this kind of information. 
  4. Ask if they integrate with major LMS like Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard.  If so, this is a good sign.  The data sharing agreements that must be in place for the companies shows that the tech tool has been vetted by others in the business.

While none of us have the time to become legal experts on all things data related, these few tips of guidance will help as you explore opportunities for your students.  

In the end, students are the primary focus. Their learning can deepen with the use of technologies like collaborative online discussion boards.  Therefore, it is worth jumping the hurdles it might take to put something like that in place.  By doing some homework about data sharing, privacy, and security, the IT department and administration will be that much closer to committing to your vision of learning.

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