In both formal and informal educational settings, increasingly powerful and innovative ICT products and services—many of which depend on cloud computing technologies, particularly Software as a Service- (Saas) based tools—offer tremendous potential for schools to provide educators and students with new platforms and tools to shape, improve, and expand learning experiences, even in the face of continually shrinking budgets.
However, the significant benefits that cloud-computing technologies may afford do not come without associated tradeoffs and potential costs. Specifically, in education just as in other sectors, customers moving from on-premise products and services to cloud-computing solutions must grant the cloud provider access to potentially vast amounts of customer data. Significant questions about precisely what information the vendor might access and collect and what the vendor might do with this information are rapidly emerging in a number of areas where cloud services are being deployed, and educational settings tend to illustrate and amplify many of the most critical privacy questions and concerns.
Against the backdrop of these opportunities and challenges, the Berkman Klein Center Student Privacy Initiative—part of our growing suite of Privacy Initiatives—will begin and sustain a multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder conversation on student privacy. This Initiative, led by Executive Director Urs Gasser, will consider privacy and technological issues in a grounded way that accounts for how they may intersect with existing policy regimes as well as with emerging developments in educational theory (e.g., connected learning) and institutional practices (e.g., refining technology policies within an individual school), each of which may raise new costs, risk factors, and opportunities. Moreover, on the commercial side, the Initiative will take into account emerging business models and pressures tied to data collection and “big data”, trends that only increase the stakes associated with this inquiry. By bringing together representatives from these diverse perspectives alongside students, parents, and teachers, the Student Privacy Initiative hopes to consider student privacy and “the cloud” in a holistic way that balances the needs and objectives of each group. We endeavor to ultimately hone a shared set of good practices designed to support the many potential benefits of cloud-based technologies in educational settings.