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Schools Share Strong Measures That Protect Student Data

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At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jun Kim, technology director for Moore Public Schools in Oklahoma, watched as teachers began expanding their use of free digital resources. He understood that instructors were racing to bridge the gap between school and home to keep student learning on track, but in the back of his mind, a question lingered: What impact would these new resources have on student data privacy?

“We were trying to do the right thing, and we had to get these resources out there, but nothing is truly free,” Kim says. “Teachers might be able to use an application at no cost, but what information is being pulled in exchange for that access?”

It’s a question that has vexed IT and educational leaders at K–12 schools for years — but increasingly so since the unexpected explosion of digital learning that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote learning in the spring of 2020. Districts are taking a harder look at the privacy policies of the applications they use, and taking more proactive steps to safeguard student data.

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    In 2017, the Consortium for School Networking launched its Trusted Learning Environment initiative, giving districts the opportunity to demonstrate that they have taken strong and measurable steps to ensure student data privacy. To date, 17 school districts across the country have received the seal, but many more are in the process of pursuing it.

    CoSN CEO Keith Krueger notes that the TLE seal requires school districts to put 25 different practices into place, including vetting processes for vendors, ongoing staff training and regular security and data privacy audits.

    “These practices are not something a technology leader alone can accomplish,” he says. “You have to work with finance, you have to work with the technology and learning department, the superintendent has to be supportive — it’s a complicated enterprise.”

    RELATED: What should IT leaders know about student data privacy on school-issued devices?

    Evaluating Technology and Vendors with Student Data Privacy in Mind

    “We saw a big influx of technologies during the pandemic that were perhaps not designed for classrooms, and with that came a lot of questions,” says Linnette Attai, project director for the TLE program. “Frankly, districts didn’t have a lot of time to make this pivot to online learning. Student data privacy is critically important, and this is hard work for districts.”

    Without a framework in place to address student data privacy, Attai says districts tend to view each new technology tool as a challenge. “Where we see districts struggle is when the leadership is not strong on privacy and security,” she says. “When leadership is not engaged, then we tend to see weakness across the board.”

    Kim says that Moore Public Schools has been slowly adopting TLE-recommended tools and practices. Particularly important, he says, is an effort to vet all new tech applications.

      Linnette Attai

      Student data privacy is critically important, and this is hard work for districts.”

      Linnette Attai

      Project Director, CoSN Privacy Initiative and Trusted Learning Environment Program

      “The first question is, does it meet the curricular needs of the district?” Kim says. “The second question is about interoperability: Does the tool meet our single sign-on standards so we can manage it effectively? And then the final part is about data privacy. That’s where we really get into whether the application meets the data privacy standards that we have established.”

      In some cases, Kim says, the district has asked vendors to sign an addendum agreeing to follow the district’s data privacy requirements. “I haven’t had one company say no.”

      In addition to adopting and following best practices, districts can lean on a variety of tech solutions to enhance their security and privacy posture, including cloud access security brokers, phishing awareness training, data encryption, and identity and access management tools.

      Moore Public Schools trains teachers to avoid phishing attacks and also requires multifactor authentication for user accounts that have access to sensitive student data.

      Implementing Cybersecurity Improvements for Students and Staff

      Rockingham County Public Schools in Virginia began pursuing TLE certification in 2019 and achieved it in June 2021. But the pandemic and the switch to remote instruction presented a “seismic shift” in how schools used and thought about digital resources, says Kevin Perkins, technology director for the district.

      FIND OUT MORE: How did one rural Virginia school earn its TLE Seal?

      “We were already using a lot of digital resources, but when you think about the changing educational model that provides instruction to children who are not physically in your classroom, you are forced to use digital tools to provide that instruction,” Perkins says. “Now, you need to ask, what do we have to put in place to provide virtual instruction and keep student data safe?”

      Rockingham school officials took several crucial steps. They provided additional cybersecurity awareness training to staff, with an emphasis on phishing. They also created a data privacy agreement for vendors, focused on the sharing of student data. “We want to ensure that we have awareness of and control over student data shared with any vendor,” Perkins says.

      Perkins and his team also implemented a system through which teachers can request digital resources. As part of a new workflow, when educators want to start using a new resource, they put in a request, and the IT department then vets any new technologies to ensure they are safe.

      Mike Van Vuren, interim deputy superintendent for curriculum and technology at Bozeman School District 7 in Montana (a TLE district), says that remote learning presented a host of new challenges to student data privacy — from parents and siblings observing remote lessons to students’ inappropriate use of chat boxes, as well as securing platforms outside of the school walls.

        number of K–12 data breaches found between July 2016 and May 2020

         

        The district kept tabs on students’ online behavior by requiring them to access all digital resources, including third-party resources through the district’s learning management system. The district also ramped up professional development for teachers on how to provide online instruction and other procedures.

        “One practice that we shared was that if somebody entered the room, students could disable their video,” Van Vuren says. “We also provided PD about what third-party apps and platforms can and cannot do, and what they should and should not be used for.”

        Photography by Shane Bevel



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        CITE 2022: Where Should Schools Start When Building an Esports Program?

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        Esports is growing in schools around the country, and organizations are working with districts to build this activity into curricula and after-school programs.

        “We’re working to legitimize esports,” said Carolyn Navarro, an executive assistant for the North America Scholastic Esports Federation, during the California Esports Roundtable at the California IT in Education conference.

        Heidi Baynes and Steve Hickman, educational technology coordinators for the Riverside County Office of Education, also spoke on how their office is supporting schools’ implementation of esports programs.

        “We’re really trying to lay the framework for how we want to get schools involved,” Hickman said. “We want to showcase what different programs are doing for esports. We want to lure more and more schools in to get these programs working.”

        In addition to speaking with panelists — including JuanPablo Larios, a CTE teacher and esports coach at Orange Unified School District, and James Hicks and Phil Lucero, IT liaisons for Los Angeles Unified School District — roundtable host Doug Konopelko, national esports manager at CDW Education, opened the floor to questions from the audience, which led to discussions about student participation and console options in esports.

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        Create an Esports Community with Student Needs in Mind

        Being at school leads to success, Konopelko said, and esports helps keep kids at school who might not otherwise be there. He advised attendees in the audience to let the students’ and the program’s goals guide the choices educators make as they build esports in their own districts.

        “If we make it too hard for them to stay here and play, our students will just go home and play,” Konopelko said. “What we want them to do is build that community here at school, so that they can play and find their peer group.”

        Panelists also noted that the esports community wasn’t limited to just the players.

        “One of the things our league did last year was host a fan art contest,” Baynes said, noting that more 80 students submitted art. “They aren’t necessarily playing the games, but they’re completely involved in their esports club.”

        Consoles Affect Gameplay, but Schools Can Start Small

        Audience members had many questions about consoles, wanting to know how to secure consoles when hardware is hard to come by, as well as what models are necessary for different levels of competitive play.

        MORE ON EDTECH: Discover popular trends in K–12 esports arenas.

        Members of the roundtable agreed that it might be best to start with Nintendo Switch consoles, because they’re not as expensive as other devices and there’s a low barrier to entry for students.

        Larios noted that all of his team’s equipment had been donated by the Orange USD community, allowing him to build an esports program with limited resources.

        Panelists did, however, point out that competitive teams likely would need gaming PCs to compete at the high school level. Konopelko explained that the resolution and frame rate can make a drastic difference in an athlete’s performance, but added that this doesn’t need to break the bank, depending on which games schools choose. “Three machines make a competitive team for Rocket League,” Konopelko said.

        Lucero said LAUSD is in the process of building an esports lab with the help of CDW, which Hicks noted could be used as a CTE lab during the day before transitioning to an esports arena after school.

        Ultimately, panelists agreed, it’s best to start small and focus on the goals of a district’s program when deciding what titles to play and what hardware to purchase for a new esports team.

        Bookmark this page to stay up to date with our CITE 2022 conference coverage, and join the conversation on Twitter when you follow @EdTech_K12 and use the hashtag #CITE2022.

        Photography by Rebecca Torchia



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        CITE 2022: IT Leadership Hinges on Good Communication

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        Sessions at this year’s California IT in Education conference highlighted the importance of communication, internally and externally, as a facet of IT leadership. District leaders shared how they made various changes to improve their image, strategies and leadership styles. These changes helped their IT teams — and their schools as a whole — lead and communicate more effectively.

        Updates Help District Convey the Right Message

        Before updating its district’s branding in 2019, Palo Alto Unified School District had what some called a “Charlie Brown logo,” said Sarah Patanroi, a business systems analyst for the district.

        In her CITE 2022 session, “Nerds and Words: How IT Got Communication to Work,” Patanroi explained that the district didn’t want a logo that looked as old as Charlie Brown, so they commissioned a new design as the first step in revamping their communications.

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        The new look incorporated many important elements for the district, such as the El Palo Alto redwood tree the area is named for.

        The next step involved updating the district’s website. Previously, the site was hosted on a platform that was difficult to use, which created a bottleneck in the IT department when only a single staff member knew how to make site updates. This also resulted in various groups and departments making their own websites, rather than waiting for a webpage on the main site.

        “We ended up with a forest of content and an alphabet soup of unmemorable URLs,” Patanroi said.

        Building a new website on a more user-friendly platform allowed Palo Alto USD to simplify one of its primary tools for staying in touch with the community. The website can also be accessed as a mobile app for families that rely on their cellphones to get online, and the district included translation features on the site for its many Spanish- and Chinese-speaking families.

        LEARN MORE: Today’s parent-teacher meetings are happening virtually.

        Thoughtful Internal Communication Builds a Strong Team

        On Wednesday, Jon Carrino, technology services director at William S. Hart Union High School District, also spoke on the importance of good communication. In the session “So you want to be a better leader? Me too!” Carrino shared how IT leaders can work with their internal teams. He fielded an engaging discussion from the audience, inviting conference attendees to share advice, pain points, quotes and more.

        In response to a question on how to handle conflicting leadership styles with your superiors, audience member Juan Pablo Rodriguez, a database manager for the San Diego County Office of Education, stressed the importance of understanding those you have conflict with.

        He shared a story about a time he worked with a difficult supervisor. “One day I started asking questions, and I found she was going through a medical situation, a kidney transplant,” Rodriguez said. “After that, I adapted my style to fit hers. Sometimes you need to give up something to the other leader so they understand you and you understand them.”

        Another audience member, Nick Powell, senior computer training and support specialist at Elk Grove Unified School District, agreed that it’s important to listen to others. “I find very often I’m quick to want to have an answer, instead of taking the time to stop and listen,” he said.

        Carrino also discussed with the crowd the importance of not making assumptions when communicating. “Don’t assume intent when hearing about behavior,” one audience member added.

        “What you focus on, you’ll find,” said Nancy Baum, a data reporting coordinator at the San Diego County Office of Education. Baum added that she shares this advice with everyone, because she’s found it applies to relationships and life in general, in addition to good communication at work.

        Bookmark this page to stay up to date with our CITE 2022 conference coverage, and join the conversation on Twitter when you follow @EdTech_K12 and use the hashtag #CITE2022.

        Photography by Rebecca Torchia



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        CITE 2022: Women Boldly Approach Tech and Leadership Roles

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        This year, California IT in Education had a record number of female attendees at its CITE conference, panelists said in Wednesday’s “Every Role is a Starring Role for Women in Technology” session.

        Speaking to an audience of men and women, panel host Ari Flewelling, professional development manager at CDW Education, celebrated that word about the conference had spread. “That means the people who have been coming, whether it be our female- or male-identifying attendees, are telling people, and they are bringing someone with them,” she said. “And that is a great strategy to help with recruitment, employment and mentorship.”

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        Hiring practices were talked about at length in the panel discussion and in CITE 2022’s Tuesday keynote session, which featured Danielle Feinberg, a visual effects supervisor at Pixar Animation Studios. In the keynote, Feinberg explained her own early career experiences and what it took to make the leap to her current position.

        Women Should Confidently Apply for the Jobs They Want

        When Feinberg started at Pixar, she worked primarily on lighting in animated films because she was awestruck by the way it could change a scene and tell a story.

        She showed examples from films she worked on, including “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E,” “The Incredibles” and “Coco.” Each project had unique challenges. “Finding Nemo” needed to appear believably underwater, “Wall-E’s” setting needed to look more like post-apocalyptic Earth than Mars, “The Incredibles” pushed the team to animate a character with long hair and “Coco” featured more lights than any previous Pixar film: 8.5 million in a single scene.

        Feinberg CITE 2022

        Danielle Feinberg, Visual Effects Supervisor at Pixar Animation Studios, demonstrates the effects of lighting in an animated film with a scene from “Coco.”

        With each challenge, Feinberg and her team rose to the occasion, often under tight deadlines. After the success of “Coco,” she applied for the visual effects supervisor position on the movie “Turning Red.”

        “This has typically been a very, very technical job, and I’m not very technical. People tend to think of lighting as one of the less technical jobs,” she explained.

        However, the new film’s director was Domee Shi, who had just won an Oscar for her work on the short film “Bao,” and rumors were circulating that Shi wanted the new feature to be a combination of art and technology. “So, I decided to apply,” Feinberg said.

        She got the job and added that the first thing she did was stick out her neck and recommend the use of a new technology, which turned out to be so successful for animating bodily movement that the team decided to use it for facial expressions as well.

         

        On Wednesday, panelists spoke about the discrepancies in women and men applying for jobs, citing a survey that found women typically will apply only for positions they’re 100 percent qualified for.

        “I know I can do this, so I feel confident now applying for those jobs, and I want to integrate that into my own female coworkers’ minds,” said Lisa DeLapo, director of informational and instructional technology at Union School District in San Jose, Calif. “I feel like they’ll never try because they don’t feel qualified, and they are.”

        Hiring Practices Need to Change to Include Women and Minorities

        Participants in the women in tech panel also talked about the changes they can make from within an organization to support hiring and retention practices.

        “When you start looking at people’s resumes and comparing what you’re hiring for, what are the things on that list that are essential? What are the things that would be nice? What could be taught?” Flewelling asked. She also pointed out that many responsibilities are collaborative and won’t need to be handled solely by a new hire.

        LEARN MORE: What does it take for women in K–12 to make it to the top?

        “You have to engage your HR department,” added an audience member after raising his hand. “If you’re not proactive with them, they will overlook potential candidates because of their own bias.”

        From the corporate side, Danielle Pinta, program manager for Google for Education, said she’s already seeing the effect of companies mentoring and hiring candidates more thoughtfully. “I’ve been in positions numerous times where I’m the only woman in a room full of men, and over the last five years I’ve started to see that shift. Whenever I do see it shift, it feels really good.”

        Pinta pointed to the programs Google has around hiring minorities as a way tech companies are moving in the right direction.

        Bookmark this page to stay up to date with our CITE 2022 conference coverage, and join the conversation on Twitter when you follow @EdTech_K12 and use the hashtag #CITE2022.

        Photography by Rebecca Torchia



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