Ensuring Privacy and Security while Teaching Online

As schools remain closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, the internet, mobile devices, social media and web-based digital tools are helping teachers to sustain communication and learning networks with their students and provide pedagogical support from a distance. We in Hibernia College are hosting regular webinars and providing resources via our Teacher Support web site to help you navigate the myriad digital teaching tools currently available.

As educators, we are all responsible for ensuring the safety and security of our students’ learning experiences, whether face-to-face or online. Given the speed with which the move to online learning has occurred, it’s worth taking some time to consider how to ensure a secure learning environment as we adapt to what, for many, is a new way of teaching. During this period, it’s important to work with your school and be guided by its safeguarding and acceptable use policies regarding technology and internet use.

When you are considering using a new digital platform or tool for teaching, be mindful of data protection guidelines and best practices. Look carefully at the privacy settings and terms of use and raise any concerns with your school. Familiarise yourself with the permissions settings and what they do; as the administrator, you should have the ability to enable or disable functions such as chat, video or audio for all your students as appropriate.

You should be satisfied that the tool or service handles your data and your students’ data transparently and appropriately with regard to the following questions:

  • Is information regarding data privacy clearly stated by the provider?
  • Is it clear what data on your device and those of your students will be accessed by the tool or app?
  • Are students’ data privacy rights likely to be compromised by requiring them to download or sign up to this service?

Some third-party web sites – such as Common Sense Media and Consortium for School Networking – provide up-to-date information on privacy and data protection practices of educational technology products and services. Other sites such as Terms of Service: Didn’t Read provide quick-read ratings for the terms of service of some popular platforms. Informing students about the importance of their digital footprint is a valuable instructional opportunity in itself, so consider sharing web sites like these with your students to enhance their understanding of digital citizenship.

If you are hosting virtual classrooms via webconference software such as Zoom or Teams, be very cautious about taking screenshots for sharing on social media or via other channels. Remember that students’ faces and names may be visible, and telephone numbers are usually visible on apps such as WhatsApp. As always, be guided by your school’s policies and safeguarding principles.

Maintaining your own privacy is also important. Instead of using your personal e-mail for communicating with students, use one that is provided or approved by the school. The same principle should apply to any web-based communication services you might use.

It looks like technology will continue to play a significant role in how teaching and learning happens in the coming months. Placing online security and safety front and centre in your planning for remote teaching will enable you to focus more fully on the core business of creating a positive and enriching online learning experience for you and your students.

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Irene O'Dowd