In recent months, I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of faculty members and executives at universities across Europe and the Middle East, exploring strategies for technology-enhanced learning. After aligning on the core objectives, the first question I am often asked is about student privacy and data security. The commitment of academic institutions and faculty to their students’ privacy goes well beyond the legal adherence to GDPR. It is an authentic pursuit of safe, protected, and inclusive learning environments.
Based on our collective experience as a team at Engageli, a virtual learning platform designed to enable superior learning experiences in higher education, there are three key reasons data security and privacy should be a north star for technology companies in the education space:
Protecting data is a legal and moral commitment: in the EU and ME, tech companies have no choice: they must be compliant with GDPR, especially with growing concerns over data breaches and misuse of personal data.
Safety enables effective learning: when learners feel safe, they are more likely to retain complex information, take risks, make mistakes, and share their voices in the class environment.
Data, when used properly, can improve student outcomes: following safe data practices can enable a meaningful outlook of an individual student’s progress, group work, class level engagement, and institution-wide outcomes.
Protecting data is the law, but it’s also the right thing to do
Recently, The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI) officially warned against the use of popular video conferencing platforms due to the claimed breach of GDPR. This caused many businesses and educational institutions in the EU to rethink their strategy around video conferencing, and especially learning experience platforms.
Janelle Zimmer, Project Manager of Academics at IU International University of Applied Sciences in Germany told Engageli, “We are always looking to partner with technology companies that we can trust and that provide us with the assurance that they are GDPR-compliant and take student privacy very seriously.”
Moreover, this focus of academic institutions on privacy and security transcends the legal constraints. In an era of increased awareness of cyber security and the variety of corporate interests underlying data collection and tracking, universities need to ensure they are acting in the best interests of their students and instructors.
Engageli’s founding team includes senior security experts, directing Engageli’s top priority of creating a safe and secure learning platform, with multiple privacy and security features.
“The only way to build a good product is with security and data protection considerations guiding the design and engineering process from day one,” says Gideon Avida, Engageli’s Data Protection Officer. “Security and data privacy should not be perceived as features or ‘add-ons’ to existing technology. At Engageli, they are the core of our platform.”
As an example, Engageli only collects the minimal data that is required to run its virtual classrooms. “Zoom bombing” or breaches of classroom security simply cannot happen on Engageli, as it is secure by design. In addition, student data never leaves the EU and is not transferred to the US, despite Engageli being a US-based company.
When learners feel safe, they learn better
Learners' perception of safety is influenced by multiple components, a central one being data privacy and protection. In today’s digital world, students and instructors can be hesitant to expose themselves, as everything they say or do can be recorded and shared publicly. As a result, so many classrooms look like a grid of black boxes, when students, for various reasons, prefer to remain unseen and mostly unheard.
Learners feel more comfortable taking risks and making mistakes in an environment that is safe, protected, and allows them to be fully present. When students don’t feel safe, their ability to learn can be negatively impacted, as complex information is often blocked from passing to their long-term memory. This can also cause increased emotions of frustration and withdrawal.
Platforms that are designed specifically for education, like Engageli, must provide a safe learning environment for students, regardless of teaching modality. Students should be freed of concerns about their appearance and digital footprint, to enable learning, engaging, and interacting. This is why Engageli class recordings are set to focus on course content and exclude student identities.
Data, when used properly, can improve student outcomes
Data is only as valuable as the learnings we gain from analyzing it. Tracking data should always be guided by the basic questions of purpose: what are we hoping to learn from this data? And how will the insights support our students' learning and progress? If the data does not support students’ learning outcomes, it should not be collected. It is as simple as that.
Technology now enables learning experiences that surpass face-to-face interactions, because it provides students and educators with a wealth of information about participation, engagement, and progress. Actionable insights can guide instructors to make better educational decisions in real-time, and provide differentiated support in class and asynchronously. Meaningful data-driven teaching tools such as engagement metrics, talk-time, and group work dynamics can also become a powerful way for students to self-regulate and navigate their learning journeys.
One of the advantages of technology is identifying students at risk before they get left behind. Providing personalized support or distributing groups based on performance is now possible with the click of a button on platforms like Engageli.
Our experience also shows the value in resourcing the iterative process of learning design and constant improvement. Once we have the right data, academic teams should make sure to review, analyze, understand and act upon it, to support their students.
As we reimagine learning in our new blended world, we should always remember the purpose: providing everyone the opportunity to benefit from meaningful learning experiences and human connections in a safe and inclusive environment.