Privacy questions on connected learning with students

Well, great session from Alec on Connected Learning. It brings a big question in my mind about privacy issue, that I've had for a while.

In BC, we have strict privacy laws, which prevents teachers and school board to put student's personal information on a server that is outside Canada (follow this link, article 30.1). This makes our life really complicated. It basically means that we cannot legally let students freely use services like Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr, Google Apps and other social media with their personal name for school use. Also, as teachers, it means also we cannot use tools like teacherease for gradebook or even managebac to manage IB classes, because these companies are based in the US and their servers as well. I know of many teachers, schools and school board using these services, either because they don't know about the law, they have parental approval, they ignore it or they found a other way around it (that I don't know of....).

On the other hand, I understand the reasoning behind this law and the importance of it. For us Canadian, the US patriot act is quite scary and the fact that servers can be breached pretty easily by hackers to retrieve personal information makes you wonder about our actual privacy on the internet.  To respect this law, our schoolboard provide blogging and wiki platform, similar of what is found on the web, that we can use with our classes and students. They are hosting these servers in our offices and have staff directly managing them. Unfortunalty, those services compare sparcely with the functionnality of Google Apps and other services and it's definitly not twitter. (It would actually be pointless to have a privatly hosted twitter service anyway, since what's nice about it is its openess to the world). So what is offered by our schoolboard is limited compare to what is available on the web.

At the same time, students create their own account on these services and use it often without their parent's knowledge. As an example, I created a list of over 40 students of my school with twitter account, created even before we talked about it in my info-tech class.  So we are at this crossroad that I cannot ask students to create account for school use, but they still can create an account on their personal time for their own use. (unless I get parental approval, but it's big undertaking)

Also, what is personal information? Do we have to consider a homework or an assignement personal information? If we answer yes to this question it means that a student cannot publish assignement on the internet under it's name for school use. My personal answer to this question is this: address, phone number and grades are the uttermost important personal information about a student. Those are my primary concern and I want it on a canadian server. But the rest, really? 

I personaly do my best to respect this law. When I learned about this law many years ago, I changed my hosting service for a canadian one (I hosted and administered my own moodle site for a while) and I made sure their servers were in Canada. Also, when I make students use web 2.0 tools, they use pseudonyme (not their real name) or they use an account I created and everyone use it.  But I find it difficult not to use web 2.0 tools with my classes, especially my info-tech classes and not in their name. If I want to open my class and have them learn from the world, they need their own identity on the web and it need to be as close to themself as they are ready to share.

Do you share these concern? How do you live with it? Shall we lobby for a change in the law or we should find way around it? 


Do you have students email you work? Do you or your school email them any info, grades, attendance etc? What is their email? You'll be likely breaking privacy laws in BC just doing those things. Should you stop doing them? I'd say no, I'd say the outdated and pre-cloud (although not terribly old) privacy laws in BC need to change to allow schools to innovate and use a multitude of free web 2.0 tools that are now available. While budgets are being slashed, we are wasting too much money and time on servers in a basement of a school instead of investing that into teachers working with students. 
A couple of links for you to consider
Edmonton Public Schools
Regina Public Schools
OPC findings on and US email - see 37 specifically
And when you are ready for change, consider the petition at

Steve Roy's picture

Thanks for these ressources! Will definitly help me dig deeper in that subject.

Hello Roy, I think it depends on what information we store on e.g. US based server and how we protect it. We can shoose a reliable hosting provider wich offers a huge list of protection methods, but we also need to protect our data using our own encrypted algorythms. It can help, but it is not a panacea. Everybody knows that any server can be hacked, it is just a matter of time. So if we create a good "protection wall" we at least can stop a hacker for a small period of time. And it doesn't matter where the server located, Canadian servers also can be hacked. So...think it's better to save information on a paper :)