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Maintaining Student Privacy Amid Coronavirus Challenging, Says Center for Democracy and Technology

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Photo of Center for Democracy and Technology Senior Fellow Elizabeth Laird courtesy of CDT

June 18, 2020 — The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shift to primarily-online learning have placed students’ privacy in jeopardy, said participants in a Thursday webinar hosted by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

 

The shift to online schooling in the wake of the pandemic has left millions without access to educational resources. But even for those able to access their online learning, the transition presented a real danger, said Elizabeth Laird, senior fellow at CDT.

 

“What we care deeply about is… ensuring that any use of technology and data is in no way endangering or jeopardizing the wellbeing of students and their families,” Laird said.

 

Among the threats that unsuspecting students online could face were Zoombombing incidents and hacking, she said. 

 

“They’re not only potential legal violations,” she said, “but have a direct and negative and potentially harmful impact on students, and that is the problem that we’re trying to solve.”

 

Laird laid out six steps that states and other organizations could employ to reduce the risk of such events.

 

The first, she said, was to “utilize existing data and technology governance structures.” She noted that governmental organizations could make better use of the tools they already have at their disposal.

 

Laird also said that states should provide teachers with privacy training and secure telelearning tools.

 

Erin Mote, executive director of InnovateEDU, said that these concerns were valid and that educators did not have “adequate training around how to configure permission levels, how to set up waiting rooms [and] how to mute and unmute students during discussion.”

 

Further, Laird said user agreements for learning technologies were outdated and did not take into account the changes caused by the coronavirus. She noted that the ability to delete their data is something that users need more than ever. 

 

“One of the issues that we hear from students and their families is that they are concerned about students accumulating a permanent record or information being used out of context to potentially limit opportunities for them,” she said.

 

Marcia Bohannon, senior consultant at Point B Inc., said that tech companies lost the ability to delete data in their rush to get students online. 

 

“Everybody was so conscious of getting the kids back to a learning environment,” she said. “Some of these processes and steps were seen as very onerous and legalistic… so they didn’t really want to follow that.”

 

Finally, Laird said that internet equity and the availability of access to Americans of all backgrounds was a modern imperative.

 

She noted that while large numbers of children were unconnected to their classrooms due to an inability to afford broadband or the devices that would make telelearning possible, issues of access for disabled children were also pertinent.

 

“The first step today is just, know what you’re dealing with,” she said. “Understand what the level of access to devices and internet is, as well as the different kinds of needs that your students have, and [be] thoughtful and deliberate about that throughout the process.”

 

Bohannon added that in her home state of Colorado, the virus had highlighted widespread access issues.

 

“We’ve still got over 50 thousand students that we have not been able to identify actually where they are, because the families don’t have internet access,” she said. “They can’t pay for it. Or they may not have devices. Somewhere in that supply chain of getting internet to the student in the home, someplace… it’s broken.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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