Teachers Turned to Social Media as a Remote Learning Tool During the Pandemic, But Privacy Experts Warn the Trend Could Open ‘Pandora’s Box’ of Proble…October 5, 2020
When the pandemic forced schools to shift to online learning with little warning, teachers got creative. Some utilized Facebook’s live video feature to connect with students. Others shared lessons on TikTok, the video-sharing platform popular among young people that President Trump has sought to ban, citing national security concerns.
But the trend makes student privacy expert Amelia Vance cringe.
“I’ve been a little horrified over the pandemic at the number of teachers who have not been told” about the privacy implications of using social media for classroom instruction, said Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum. Vance urged teachers to steer away from social media as an educational tool during a webinar last week hosted by the privacy forum and George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, which centered on a need to improve teacher training on student privacy issues and education technology. “It’s something where we desperately need more training and, in this case, not only of teachers, but of administrators on the potential harms and consequences.”
Social media sites offer teachers a convenient way to connect with students remotely, but the privacy forum warns that they may not comply with student privacy laws and carry equity issues. For example, many social media companies explicitly prohibit children younger than 13 years old from signing up for their platforms because they collect user data for targeted advertising — a practice that runs afoul of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Additionally, posting lessons to Facebook could disadvantage students who don’t have an account or struggle to stream videos because they have poor internet connectivity at home. Relying on social media for school could also have consequences for educators and open up a “Pandora’s box” of legal issues, said Lorri Owens, the chief technology officer at the San Mateo County Office of Education in Redwood City, California. Such issues could include accusations of sexual misconduct against educators.
TikTok Helped Teachers and Students Stay Connected During the Pandemic. Now Trump Has Moved to Ban It
Almost all schools use education technology in some form — especially this year — but student privacy laws vary greatly across the country, with several states taking a more aggressive approach to the issue in the last several years. A California law, for example, prohibits education technology companies from collecting and monetizing student data. However, a new George Mason University report found holes in educator training on education technology. In a survey of elementary school educators from 111 schools across nine states, 62 percent of respondents said school administrators encouraged them to use education technology, but just 44 percent said they were given training on how to actually navigate the platforms.
About half of surveyed educators…