[Libs-Or] Apps and Privacy in Schools - A Tuesday Topic

Krista Reynolds kmreynolds at cu-portland.edu
Tue Apr 19 09:28:12 PDT 2016

Welcome to Tuesday Topics, a monthly series covering topics with intellectual freedom implications for libraries of all types.  Each message is prepared by a member of OLA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. Questions can be directed to the IF Committee member who sent the message or to one of the co-chairs of the IFC.<http://www.olaweb.org/intellectual-freedom-contact-us>


Apps in Schools

The Oregon Department of Education has a statewide agreement with Google<https://sites.google.com/a/oregonk-12.net/googleapps/policy-faq> to use their apps in K-12 classrooms. But do teachers in your district use other apps, such as ClassDojo<https://www.classdojo.com/> or Edmodo<https://www.edmodo.com/>? What data might be vulnerable when students and parents use a school district app for news and events?  As reported by the Star-Telegram<http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/education/article52728555.html>, parents and school administrators in Fort Worth, Texas are grappling with this very issue. And how does FERPA intersect with apps used by educators, students, and parents?

Many of us are familiar with FERPA, which protects the sharing of students' educational records and COPPA, enacted to safeguard online privacy of children under 13. However, neither law recommends specific security standards (CoSN, n.d.).  With recurring revelations about security weaknesses in apps and other software, one wonders why products are not regularly rated on their security and privacy<http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/02/tech_reviews_should_assess_gadget_app_security_and_privacy.html>, especially those used for educational purposes.

What are problems with apps? When using the web, it is easy to determine whether data is encrypted by looking for the https in the URL, but whether data in apps is encrypted is more challenging to detect. While apps with security issues are getting attention in the media, protecting users' privacy may not be a priority for software developers who want to release their products quickly (Singer, 2015, February 8). Teachers may use apps in the classroom that have not been officially adopted or vetted by a district.

In 2015 Oregon passed the Oregon Student Information Protection Act<http://www.osba.org/~/media/Files/Event%20Materials/AC/2015/Saturday%20materials/StudentPrivacyResource.pdf>, which will become effective July 1, 2016. The law applies to K-12 schools and dictates what educational technology companies may do with student data and requires that security measures be in place.

Resources for Evaluating Apps

What resources can librarians use to educate on these issues and help teachers, students, parents, and school leaders identify secure apps?

*         Common Sense Media App Reviews<https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews>

An independent non-profit organization "dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology" has reviewed thousands of apps. Reviewers consider educational value, its consumer focus, language, violence, and sex, and they highlight privacy concerns and provide tips for maximizing apps' privacy settings. While reviewed apps are youth-centric, information on popular "adult" apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tinder, along with lesser known apps, such as Telegram Messenger and Yeti - Campus Stories, is also available. They also promote digital citizenship through their curriculum<https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship>. Materials could be adapted by college and public librarians to meet the needs of those populations.

*         Student Privacy Pledge<https://studentprivacypledge.org/privacy-pledge/>

This voluntary program gives K-12 school service providers an opportunity to pledge their commitment to protecting student information and be transparent about their data sharing policies. Companies that sign the agreement are accountable to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if they do not adhere to pledge guidelines. Click the Signatories link to view a list of complying companies.

*         Secure Messaging Scorecard<https://www.eff.org/secure-messaging-scorecard>

This Electronic Frontier Foundation initiative helps educate people on which messaging apps and software encrypt their data and apply other data safeguards. A clear chart indicates what data is secure and whether security design has been properly documented.

*         Virtual Privacy Lab (San Jose Public Library)<https://www.sjpl.org/privacy>

The SJPL allows users to create a custom toolkit to help users protect their privacy online. While not specific to apps, one module is devoted to social media and online sharing. Intended for all ages, the language used in the lab is probably sophisticated enough to be best suited to high school students and adults.

*         Security Questions (Consortium for School Networking)<http://www.cosn.org/sites/default/files/03_SecurityQuestions.pdf>

CoSN is a national association of school district chief technology officers which has provided questions related to security to ask of software providers. Membership is required to access most resources, but the linked handout alerts stakeholders about issues to consider when evaluating software.

Many districts, such as the Houston Independent School District, are also conducting their own reviews of apps and are making that information available online<http://www.houstonisd.org/webapps>.


Teachers and students can use apps effectively to stay organized, communicate, and participate in engaging learning experiences, but let's ensure they are using tools that also protect students' information. Learn more about this issue in Media & Educational Technology Instructor Beth Miller's article, "Can I use this app or website for my class?" published in the March/April issue of Knowledge Quest.

References and Other Resources

Consortium for School Networking. (n.d.). Security questions to ask of an online service provider. Retrieved from http://www.cosn.org/sites/default/files/03_SecurityQuestions.pdf
Engaging Every Student. Digital citizenship for all ages [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.engagingeverystudent.com/digital-citizenship-for-all-ages/
Singer, N. (2015, February 8). Uncovering security flaws in digital education products for schoolchildren. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/09/technology/uncovering-security-flaws-in-digital-education-products-for-schoolchildren.html
Singer, N. (2015, March 11). Privacy pitfalls as education apps spread haphazardly. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/technology/learning-apps-outstrip-school-oversight-and-student-privacy-is-among-the-risks.html?_r=0

Krista Reynolds, MLIS, M.Ed.
Reference and Instruction Librarian
Concordia University
t 503-493-6246   f 503-280-8697
2811 NE Holman Street   Portland, OR 97211

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