Digital Data, Security & Privacy in Educational settings

Modern tracking systems involve assigning students to different levels of the same course, or to a course with a different curriculum that is either more or less demanding. In some schools, student tracking starts with kindergarten screening and continues through high school. IQ and early achievement tests are ways in which some of these schools measure students’ “ability” and determine the trajectory for 12 years of schooling. Moreover, with the advancement of technology, state longitudinal data systems can now track students from pre-K through college and work. An issue raised is the ethical concern of whether such programs online involve tracking and sorting of students that might lead to discrimination, which can occur depending on student data used, the profile used to categorize the student and the recommendations offered. Through this process also, an incredible amount of data is collected from educational systems and as part of educational research. Schools and Districts as well keep detailed data such as academic performance, behavior and educational needs on all their students that can be easily accessed when needed. In addition, applications used for learning by students store information that involves their decision making processes, which can be collected by software developers and researchers. While there are some benefits to these processes such as creation of innovative technology for educational problems, it also poses a significant concern to the privacy of users, including excessive data gathering, unclear security protocols, a lack of transparency, and insufficient policies on data archiving. Furthermore, there is a common concern around students’ information being placed in the wrong hands or put to nefarious uses. These concerns focus mainly around privacy breaches, hacking and the use of data by commercial software developers for marketing purposes. There is also a possibility in which sensitive information e.g. learning disabilities, behavior problems or test scores if accessed, might limit students’ future opportunities. 

These privacy concerns have led to some major policy changes that will prevent students’ data from being misused. Emerging state and federal legislation have put a focus to create a limit on how much data can be collected, how long they can be stored and how they are being used for commercial, research, and other purposes. Such actions include preventing research that is not directed at improving learners’ outcome, making it a requirement for parents to opt in, and requiring institutions to delete student records once they leave. Moreover, student privacy laws restrict types of information collected, limit access by third parties, and improve ways in which data are secured. With proper guidelines, researchers can access the right data that can be used to understand and improve learning and teaching outcomes for all students. But the privacy of students and families must be protected to achieve this.

Bienkowski, M. (2017). Implications of privacy concerns for using student data for research: Panel summary. Workshop on Big Data in Education. Accessed March 4, 2018, from

Burris, C. C., & Garrity, D. T. (2008). Detracking for excellence and equity,” see especially Chap. 2 “What Tracking is and How to Start Dismantling It.” Accessed March 15, 2016, from

Kurshan, B. (2017, July 10). The Elephant in the Room With EdTech Data Privacy. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from 

Regan, P. M., & Jesse, J. (2018). Ethical challenges of edtech, big data and personalized learning: Twenty-first century student sorting and tracking. Ethics and Information Technology, 21, 167-179.