Privacy in the networked classroom and the use of online educational services

Ontario teachers often use online educational tools and services in their classrooms, sometimes without the knowledge or approval of school administrators and school boards.

Online educational services involve computer software and web-based tools that students and their parents access via the internet and use as part of a school activity. Examples include online services that students use to:

  • access class readings
  • view their learning progression
  • watch video demonstrations
  • comment on class activities
  • complete their homework

While these services may be innovative, readily accessible, and available at little or no cost, their use may pose privacy risks to students and their families.

Under MFIPPA, school boards are accountable for online educational services used in the classroom. They must ensure that these services do not improperly collect, use or disclose students’ personal information.  For example:

  • Improper Collection: Some online educational services collect and retain students’ personal information for their own non-educational purposes. They may also track and record students’ online activities and interactions with others, and collect personal information from indirect sources.
  • Unauthorized Use: Online educational services may evaluate students’ behaviour and performance, and generate profiles to market learning tools or products directly to students and parents without their consent.
  • Unauthorized Disclosure: Some online educational services sell students’ personal information to third parties that market other services and products directly to students and parents without their consent.

 

Best Practices for the Use of Online Educational Services

Given the privacy risks, the IPC recommends that schools and school boards considering the use of online educational services take the following steps:

  1. Develop and implement policies to evaluate, approve and support the use of online educational services for use in the classroom. Consider carrying out a privacy impact assessment and working with other educational stakeholders. Take precautions before accepting “take-it-or-leave-it” terms and conditions. Provide educators with a list of online education services which are approved for use in the classroom.
  2. Provide privacy and security training and ongoing support for teachers and staff. Educators must be able to provide effective guidance and support to students and parents on the use of online educational services.
  3. Notify students and parents about the personal information that may be handled by the online services and the reasons for handling it. The notice should be timely, accessible, clear, and concise, and enable individuals to make informed decisions.
  4. Allow for students or parents to opt out of online educational services that collect, use, retain or disclose personal data. Provide other ways to deliver the same educational services.
  5. Develop and implement a “Bring Your Own Device” policy for students and parents who access online educational services with their personal electronic devices. The policy should clarify appropriate uses of the online services and any consequences of using a personal device – especially when installing software or mobile applications.
  6. Set and enforce retention periods for accounts and different categories of personal data. Only use the data that is collected for as long as needed. In particular, logs of interactions between students, parents and educators should be routinely purged.

 

To raise awareness of the risks of using some online educational services, the IPC developed a brochure and poster about online educational services that are available on the IPC website.120

 


120. IPC’s brochures and posters (“Online Educational Services: What Educators Need to Know”) are available at www.ipc.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/online-educational-services.pdf