Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 2, 2014

How Educational Technologies Improve Learning

Policy Director for Personalized and Blended Learning, Foundation for Excellence in Education

Every day before leaving the office I do a refresher scroll through the next day’s agenda to make sure I haven’t forgotten about anything. My work Outlook calendar is in red, personal Gmail calendar is in blue, travel plans from the TripIt app are in yellow, the Washington Nationals schedule is in gray (in case I have a chance to walk to the ballpark), and the Philadelphia Eagles schedule is in green (it’s where I grew up, and those times must be kept free this fall).

Lots of data, from multiple technology sources, that all help me manage my life more efficiently. Like the reminder I just added to be sure to wear a suit tomorrow on what is unfortunately not a casual Friday.

Many schools also use data from multiple technology sources to help teachers and other staff more efficiently – and effectively – manage student learning and school operations.

Different kinds of technologies used in schools can be used to improve instruction, simplify a teacher’s work, or smooth operational challenges. These include:

  • Students and teachers using Google Docs  to share live feedback on the draft of a paper through comments or chat windows;
  • Students using a math program like DreamBox Learning that differentiates what activities come next based on what mistakes a student did (or didn’t!) make, how long it took to respond, and many other factors;
  • Students working through a playlist of resources (e.g. articles, presentations, videos) curated on Activate Instruction to learn about topics their teacher is covering;
  • Teachers using a message service like Remind to inform parents about upcoming conferences or nudge students to study for a test;
  • Teachers using the webcam on their laptop to instantly score student quizzes through Mastery Connect so they immediately know which topics may need re-teaching; and
  • School districts using route planning software to map out the most efficient bus routes. 

All of these products rely on – and also create – different types of data in order to be of use to students, teachers, and other district staff.

If no student names were shared with a math program, teachers wouldn’t be able to review how a student used the program and help them if they’re stuck on a particular concept. If no student names were shared with an assessment tool, teachers wouldn’t be able to import students’ results on tests and assignments into their gradebooks. If no student addresses were shared with the bus route planning company, operations staff would have to waste hours manually creating routes and managing bus capacity.

This sharing of student data, and their Personally Identifiable Information (PII) like name, birth date, or Social Security Number in particular, is a matter teachers, schools, school districts, and outside technology providers take seriously – because it’s the right thing to do, and also because federal and state laws require it.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) only permits schools to disclose PII under a very limited set of circumstances. When it comes to the education technologies discussed above, schools can only share information that technology companies need to provide a service to the school. So a math program doesn’t need students’ addresses and a bus route planning company wouldn’t need data on student grades.

FERPA also requires that outside organizations be under the direct control of schools when it comes to the use and maintenance of PII, which means they can’t use or re-disclose PII to others for purposes like marketing products or selling advertisements.

Protecting student data is something schools – and education technology companies – need to take seriously, so parents should feel free to ask schools what tools are used and whether those tools can provide parents with access to data about their children.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.