Online learning comes with its own set of student data privacy issues that are typically reflected in various activities, including peer reviewing, collaborative projects, and sharing of student information.
Online learning is a convenient and effective learning option for many students. However, even as we redesign our learning boundaries, the need to enhance data security and protect our students becomes even more apparent.
And because online learning requires students to reveal a lot of personal and private information, it’s important to ensure that this data doesn’t end up in the hands of the wrong people.
This is what authorities and cybersecurity professionals term ‘student data privacy.’ It simply refers to keeping safe, private information relating to students’ names, birthdays, addresses, parents’ names, and billing information from hackers and online criminals.
According to one source, six out of ten children are exposed to various online cyber risks. Threats such as cyberbullying, hacking, and manipulative phishing scams that trick students into giving up their personal information. These are dangerously on the rise. If successful, these threats could have serious consequences.
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take, even as an educator, to ensure online safety for your students. In this article, we’ll cover some of the best practices for educators to protect student privacy in online learning environments.
Learn More About Student Data Privacy Laws
Because cybersecurity has become such a huge global issue, regulatory bodies and lawmakers are constantly passing laws to combat the growing terror of cybercriminals.
Apart from the ethical burden, teachers now have a legal burden to learn, follow and adhere to these laws. Some of the most popular and standard data privacy laws for students include:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): FERPA ensures that educators maintain the confidentiality of student records. It grants students and their parents the right to access and control these records. It means teachers and school staff must keep grades, test scores, and other related information private.
- Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA): CIPA requires educational institutions to implement measures that filter or restrict access to harmful or inappropriate content on the Internet.
These, and many other related laws, ensure institutions observe student data privacy. You’d do great to learn more about these laws, how they affect you, and how to comply with them.
Encrypt Sensitive Information
As an online educator, you constantly interact with sensitive data, including emails, text messages, voice messages, and student records. The institution you work for should have data privacy policies in place to ensure the protection of this data.
However, any form of personal, confidential, or private information should be protected. Failure to do so only puts you, your students, and their parents/ guardians in danger. The reason is hackers or online criminals can intercept your signal and steal this data.
To stop this from happening, consider encrypting all personal, confidential, or private data. In detail, encryption simply refers to a security technique that transforms information into a code, making it unreadable to anyone without the appropriate key.
Encryption prevents anyone without authorization, whether a hacker or a fellow teacher, from accessing private data. Fortunately, tons of encryption services and tools in the market add this extra layer of security.
Educate Your Students to Protect Data Privacy
Sensitizing students about online risks and safe cybersecurity practices is one of the best ways to prevent threats and data breaches. Of course, different learning techniques will apply to different students, but young and older students generally benefit from cybersecurity lessons.
Here are some sensitive areas to consider teaching your students to protect their data privacy:
- The risk of oversharing online: Many students are subscribed to online platforms and sometimes overshare. However, encourage them to avoid sharing private details, such as home addresses, phone numbers, and even daily routines. The reason is hackers and other online criminals can access them.
- Sensitize them on the risk of weak passwords for their student accounts: Hackers can easily guess or crack a weak password. Such weak passwords typically include numbers in natural order, birthdates, pet names, addresses, and relatives’ names.
- Public wifi and its risks: Public Wi-Fi networks, such as those in coffee shops or airports, are often less secure than private networks. For this reason, advise against accessing sensitive accounts or conducting financial transactions while on public Wi-Fi.
If they must use public wifi networks, encourage them to use VPNs when connecting to less secure networks. VPNs are tools that encrypt internet traffic and mask your online identity. Regardless of whether they use a laptop, smartphone, or Chromebook, explain how to use a VPN tailored to their device.
Don’t Stay Logged In
One often-overlooked yet important practice is the habit of logging out of accounts after use. This seemingly simple action has significant implications, including maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of student data.
When you log out of your accounts after using them, they effectively close the door to potential unauthorized access. And while it might seem like a small gesture, its impact on student data privacy within online learning environments is substantial.
Learning online and sharing information publicly is becoming important with each passing day. However, as educators, you are in a prime position to respect and protect your learner’s privacy, especially in an online learning environment where privacy issues bear adverse consequences.
One of the best ways to ensure student data privacy is by staying on top of legislation regarding the same. Regulatory laws regarding privacy have been passed in the multitudes. And for this reason, it would be in your best interest as an educator to familiarize yourself with such to ensure complete and smooth compliance.
Other ways to ensure student data privacy as an educator include encouraging the use of VPNs, using encryption software, adding an extra layer of protection to student accounts, encouraging students to keep up with cybersecurity trends, having strong passwords for their accounts, and backing up relevant data.