Education Apps: Helping or Hurting?

Privacy Pitfalls as Education Apps Spread Haphazardly, an article published in the New York Times March 11, 2015, discusses the proliferation of educational apps that can be downloaded and used by teachers. District Technology directors are scrambling to keep up with “which companies are collecting students’ information – and how they are using it.” Not an easy task.

PrinSurvIn the fall of 2014, MCH Strategic Data conducted its 4th annual survey to over 500 school principals where we asked questions concerning the role and use of apps within their schools.

We found that technology coordinators and teachers frequently choose specific apps, whether they are curriculum related or productivity tools, but it also appears other school personnel choose, too.

“A teacher can sign up for anything, without the knowledge of anyone else in the district,” said Steve Young, the chief technology officer of the Judson Independent School District, a school system with some 23,500 students in San Antonio. “Already, some districts have experienced data breaches with software they purchased from vendors; in a few cases, student records have been publicly posted on the Internet. And online security researchers have discovered weaknesses in a couple of dozen popular digital learning services. Some legal scholars contend that the practice of signing up teachers directly — rather than their school districts — skirts federal privacy laws.”

Are schools and their leaders concerned? MCH asked principals: “Now that teachers and students are bringing apps into the classroom on their personal devices, are you concerned that downloading apps might compromise your network security or student privacy?”

The answer? Yes: 45.3% and No: 54.7%. Forward looking districts are already concerned. However, the majority of principals are unconcerned, perhaps leaving the security questions to school district staff. The Times article continues: “Yet guarding against the potential pitfalls — data breaches, identity theft, unauthorized student profiling — is a herculean endeavor.”

Young says the challenge for big districts is huge but for smaller districts it’s an even bigger challenge.  These concerns are likely to widen as education technology proliferates. Last year, the market for educational software aimed at prekindergarten through 12th-grade students amounted to nearly $8.4 billion, up from $7.5 billion in 2010, according to the Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group.

Yet, for now at least, each school district, of which there are more than 14,000 in the United States, is confronting these challenges and devising solutions on its own.

Stay tuned for more on this topic …