Sunday, May 3, 2020

Protecting Kids During and After Remote Learning

With more and more schools either extending school closures or completely shutting down for the remainder of the academic year, a focus on remote learning will continue into the foreseeable future. While many schools and districts have had to grapple with digital equity issues, their focus will continue to be offering a blended approach to meet the needs of all learners best.  However, a good amount of schools were either well-prepared before or purchased devices and WIFI for all students at the onset of the pandemic and, as a result, have been able to leverage technology to meet specified learning goals. In both cases, I can't commend enough the efforts of teachers and administrators for rising to the challenge.

For the sake of this post, I want to focus on keeping kids safe when they are engaged on devices as part of a remote learning plan.  It is imperative to know the laws in each respective country to ensure student safety. Here in the United States, there are two in particular that I am going to focus on briefly.  I go into more depth on these in Digital Leadership. Each is designed to ensure that identities and information of minors are protected.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) - A Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. As with any other "education record," a photo or video of a student is an education record, subject to specific exclusions when the photo or video is: (1) directly related to a student; and (2) maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution. You can review the entire FAQ's as it relates to photos and video HERE.

The Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA): A law that gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids. It outlines explicitly how websites, apps, and other online operators collect data and personal information from kids under the age of 13. Schools can grant COPPA consent if the tool is used solely for an educational purpose. The information collected must be "for the use and benefit of the school, and for no other commercial purpose." It should be noted that this can be a slippery slope for schools. For more information, check out this article from Common Sense Education.

Here's the bottom line. During synchronous instruction using Zoom or Google Hangouts, don't take pictures of kids and post them to social media. Even if waivers have been signed, it is better to err on the side of caution. The same can be said about recording and sharing a video with kids' faces displayed.  When it comes to COPPA, make sure students meet the age requirements for any tool that you plan to have them use. I know that this might make some educators unhappy, but Zoom is not COPPA compliant. Below is a snippet from the Zoom Terms of Service:
You affirm that You are at least 16 years of age and are otherwise fully able and competent to enter into the terms, conditions, obligations, affirmations, representations, and warranties set forth in this. The Services are intended for business use. You may choose to use the Services for other purposes, subject to the terms and limitations of this Agreement. Zoom is not intended for use by individuals under the age of 16 unless it is through a School Subscriber (as that term is defined in Exhibit A) using Zoom for Education (K-12). Individuals under the age of 16 may not create accounts or use the Services except as described herein.
That's it in a nutshell when it comes to keeping kids safe during remote learning.  There is, however, another aspect of this new normal that needs some attention, and that is helping to ensure student safety when kids are online in general.  Gaming and social media use by kids has risen dramatically during social distancing. Thus, it is vital to remind parents and students to be vigilant online.  Below are some important considerations when it comes to keeping kids safe online.
  • Utilize strong passwords
  • Regularly update software
  • Upgrade the security of your home network
  • Always back up files both offline and online
  • Manage social media profiles
  • Get passwords to all of your kids' accounts
  • Diligently check security and privacy settings
  • Never open up suspicious emails or attachments
  • Don't friend anyone you don't know
  • Use devices in common areas of the home
  • Invest in a VPN and anti-virus protection for all devices

The safety of our kids and abiding by the laws set by our respective countries is of utmost importance as learning continues during the pandemic. However, many of the tips shared in this post will be just as important as schools begin to move towards some sense of normalcy when they reopen.  The role of technology to personalize learning through blended approaches will only become more prevalent.  Stay vigilant my friends and keep up the great work.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.

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