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Security Guidance for Choosing Online Tools

What’s the Problem?

We all know there are thousands of online and digital resources that can help students and teachers with the learning process. Many of these tools are great additions to the classroom but some can put staff, students, and families at risk. As you may already know Jeffco central staff are reviewing the security and privacy related purchased software and iPad apps.

When choosing free online software or applications that may not require approval please keep the following in mind:

  • Is it the right tool? - Does the software support the instructional purpose? Is there an already approved tool that accomplishes the same functions?

  • Does it gather the right data? - Does the software collect the appropriate data needed for instruction or is it collecting too much data?

  • Is the data being used correctly? - Does the software protect who can access the data or is the data being used for marketing and/or being sold to other organizations?

  • Is the data being protected? – Is the software designed in a way that utilizes technologies such as encryption and logging to protect our students and their data?

The topics below will guide you in answering the questions above and choosing technology that will protect students’ digital privacy and security. Please contact Chris Paschke or Mary Beth Bazzanella if you have additional questions.

Keeping Kids Safe

Jeffco students’ safety must be maintained when choosing a website or application. Student safety is especially important when choosing a tool that allows students to collaborate with staff, community members, or other students. We need to ensure tools are chosen that will help protect against common threats such as bullying, harassment, and account theft. When choosing a tool that facilitates collaboration look for the following:

  • Unique Logins - Students and staff members must have unique logins to the system and activity on the system such as chats or discussions must be associated with the logins

  • Staff Moderation – Staff must have a way to moderate the conversation. This can be accomplished in many ways such as: staff members controlling if information can be posted publicly or privately, staff members having the ability to view their classroom conversations.

  • Activity Logging – Staff must have the availability to view log information outlining what student posted what content at what time from what computer. So Logs will show user names, timestamps, and IP addresses associated with activity. You may have to ask your vendor if the tool you are interested in has this capability and if they will let you see the information in an emergency.


Keeping Privacy in Mind

Students’ privacy must also be considered with choosing tools that require students log into a website or application and with applications or sites that can track students’ progress. Take a few minutes to review your site or application’s privacy policy looking for the following. This is often found as a link in small print at the bottom of the tool’s main website.

  • Does the site or app claim to own data created or stored on it?

  • Does the site or app use information collected on the site for advertising or marketing?

  • Does the site or app sell information to its partners?

  • Does the site or app keep our information even after we have canceled our service?

It’s best to find another tool if you answered yes to any of the above questions.

Also look to ensure that the site or application protects our students’ data by encrypting it both while it is sitting on the systems servers and while it's being sent across the internet.

A great site or application will also protect metadata created by the system in the same way as it protects other system information. Metadata is basically information about the information on sites such as logs that are regularly used to protect students and their data but can also be misused by system owners to re-identify data that you may think is de-identified.

Remember that de-identification of students by choosing random usernames or passwords is not a solution to privacy concerns. That’s because this information can always be re-identified using the metadata associated with a user’s activity.

Being Proactive with Parents

Digital Privacy and Security is everywhere in the news. Technologies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are often common national news topics. This raises privacy awareness with our parents. As partners, we can continue to build trust with our parents by proactively communicating what technology tools are being used in your classroom and what you are doing to protect student data. Show that we are using the right tools, gathering the right data, using that data correctly, and keeping it safe!

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