Is Your Innovation Safe?

March 6, 2019


Is your school innovative in your uses of technology? Do you rejoice at pockets of teachers employing the latest web apps effectively, igniting student learning and making a difference in their classrooms? Have you asked how many of those applications are actively sharing your students’ information? 

At the Midwest Education Technology Community (METC) Conference this past week, ISTE Board President Bill Bass shared this cautionary tweet:

In our approach to technology-enabled learning, we’ve often overstepped ideas of safety (along with much of Western society) with an understandable interest to provide engaging learning experiences for students. Walking the practice of immediate adoption back to a place where we innovate within safe boundaries is an increasingly important task of school leaders.  

Three first steps for leaders

Because no change happens quickly, consider these three first steps as a way to begin the journey.  

1) Promote the cause of student data as a child safety issue

Protection of any kind involves some degree of inconvenience. Seat belts, helmets, you name it – the safety mechanisms of the physical world needed intentional marketing plans and sometimes laws before they were adopted. Protecting students’ data is the same. 

2) Publish and model an adoption process 

If no application adoption process exists, no controls exist. If no controls exist, there’s no sense of what’s actually happening with student data. Step 2 is to get that process in place.

3) Get visibility on all school-owned accounts and secure them

If you have no sense of how many school accounts your staff or students may be managing, ask someone in technology to map that out for you. As much as possible, centralize those identities and enforce the most reasonable security measures possible around that single set of credentials.  

  • Map how accounts are shared among applications
  • Centralize management of accounts wherever possible. This Identity As A Servicepresentation by Marques Stewart is a good primer and story of how Achievement First moved through the process of centralizing and securing identities.
  • Automate account creation and deletion to remove human error and provide quick access to approved applications. Jeff Puls, Chief Technology Officer for the Clayton School District, walks through his district’s automation processes in detail in his presentation, “Security, Productivity, and Transparency through Automation”.
  • Run regular reports to ensure that data across systems is in sync

Securing student safety fuels innovation

While these three steps aren’t the only measures a school leader should consider, they do represent a strong forward motion towards protecting digital student safety. In the long run, they deflect the distractions that breaches and cyberattacks might bring. Without distractions, educators and education leaders devote their energies where they matter: instructional innovation that sparks student learning.