Privacy Advisor

Creating the Armor for the Future of Education: The Balance Between Innovation and Privacy

July 2, 2013

By Emily Leach, CIPP/US

Researchers, innovators and thought-leaders all over the world are thinking about education. From danah boyd to Sugata Mitra to the Aspen Institute, they’re discussing ways the Internet, social networks, mobile media and gaming technology are affecting our youth and the way they learn.

With innovations such as online grade books and collaborative classrooms being used in schools, how do educators intend to navigate the privacy challenges they are bound to come up against? Will there be a privacy pro in every school district at some point in the future to make sure the new learning mechanisms comply with the laws of the land and protect students’ information?

Mitra, an education innovator, says that in 20 years the three Rs—reading, ‘riting and ‘rythmetic—may be obsolete, and, in fact, they may already be. While he points to reading comprehension as one of the future Big Three, another, he says, is information search and retrieval—and he thinks it may take the place of arithmetic. You can hear him talk about it here—fast-forward to 9:55 if you’re in a hurry:

Then there is Mitra’s third of the Big Three of the new educational age: arming children against doctrine. Perhaps it’s the most important and overarching. This idea of armor, it seems, translates into the world of the privacy pro because it addresses just the idea you deal with every day: How do we create a world in which we can take advantage of all the wonders of technology and yet keep people safe online?

The Aspen Institute just announced the launch of a task force to address just this question. The Task Force on Learning and the Internet includes a diverse group, from a superintendent of schools to former FCC and NTIA commissioners to Microsoft CPO and IAPP Chairman Brendon Lynch, CIPP/US.

The task force was developed with the “recognition that there’s a real promise for the Internet, technology and connectivity to change the way people learn—both inside the school and outside the school,” Lynch told The Privacy Advisor. “The concept of connected learning is about a new way for people to explore learning pathways—connecting with each other, learning from each other—as a supplement to the traditional education system. And it’s not just young people; it’s people of all ages. But the increased connectivity and data use can cause concern, and that’s the reason that privacy and safety expertise people are involved. The task force is looking at how to achieve the benefits of this innovation in a way that also protects people.”

Their first meeting was June 10-11, and the group plans to meet regularly over the next eight months or so, issuing a report at the end of the process summarizing its conclusions about “this intersection of innovation—what’s possible—and how to bring it forth into society in a protected way,” Lynch said.

Quick to point out that “there are certainly no preconceived answers to this,” Lynch said the first meeting was about “framing the problem, getting people’s perspectives, talking about where learning is going, the opportunities the Internet provides, and to get a sense of what the problem statement is,” adding, “This is the beginning of the exploration.”

Lynch has a pointed interest in the intersection between privacy and innovation in general, which may have something to do with why he was chosen for the position.

“The ability to analyze data can provide breakthrough improvements in education,” he said, “so that’s a lens through which I’m looking at this task force, as an opportunity to advance data-driven innovation in a way that the end solutions that get deployed are trusted solutions.”

So, education is changing; schools are putting student data online; kids are using the Internet to learn stuff, and COPPA, FERPA and a host of other laws need to be taken into consideration when that happens. Okay, now what does it all mean? Will schools need CPOs?

Lynch’s instincts: “Already, school districts and schools are experimenting with their online capabilities, and as they utilize those technologies and solutions, they need to make sure they’re addressing privacy concerns that parents and children may have. So, I think already today, that’s a reality. If we project forward and we look at the opportunities that technology is going to provide to the field of education, just like every other field, privacy is something that’s going to have to be a competency that’s inherent in the decision making.”

So, maybe not CPOs, but there’s definitely a privacy skill set that is integral to this evolution.

“For my children, I want there to be greater technology innovation in education, because I see that’s the way of the future and I want them to be well equipped,” Lynch said. “I think everyone learns differently, and I think technology is going to provide more variety and more personalized learning that’ll help people reach their potential sooner. But I also want to make sure that all the tools that they’re interacting with are safe and privacy protected.”

Read More by Emily Leach:
What’s the Geolocation Equivalent of Shouting “Fire!” In a Crowded Theater?
From Beavers to Smart Cars to Ivory Coast with Sandy Pentland