Data protection and modelling

While at the School and Academies Show one of the discussions I had focussed on general EdTech and the need for teachers to model appropriate digital, including cyber security, behaviours for students. As the discussion progessed it then moved over to the topic of data protection, and I think this hit a chord with me.

Seeking solutions

The pandemic has required us to be agile in quickly finding solutions for issues, ways to engage learners and bring about the best learning experiences where students are either all online, away from the classroom, or where we have a hybrid situation, with some in the class and some not.   The issue is that the resulting search for solutions has led to tools, which may have pedagogical benefit being adopted which the due diligence as to data protection.

All staff need to appreciate that where signing up to an online service they are giving away some data.   It might seem as simple as an email address and password, but the reality is most services will also look at IP addresses, which gives away some rough geographical information, plus information on the device being used such as the browser, device type and operating system.   Then dependent on the nature of the service itself, they will then gather further data as provided by us, but also in relation to when we access a service and how often, and also which others in similar geographical areas, based on IP address, tend to access the service at the same time.

And this is all before, as a teacher, I then get students to sign up for the same service as it is useful in the teaching of my given subject or a specific topic.   So now, students are also giving away data but at my request.

Data Protection and GDPR

I think part of the issue here is that all staff are not IT experts or data protection experts.   But yet we all sign up to services which in effect gather the data we provide, and some data we don’t quite realise they are gathering.    For me the issue here is that, although we may not be experts, we need to exercise some care in relation to data protection.    Now this might be simply looking at the privacy policy for anything which seems out of place.   It might be seeking support from the IT team in a school, or seeking support of educators the world over via twitter or other forums.   The key thing is we cant simply sign up without given some consideration to the risks and implications of doing so.

Now those in the data protection world may see the above as not going far enough, they may state GDPR UK or other legislation however the reality, in my view, is most things boil down to risk based decision making.    The role of a school is not to be as secure in its data protection as a bank or other highly regulated industry, but to facilitate learning.   So there are some trade offs, where learning takes the priority and some risks are accepted, and hopefully, mitigated as much as is possible.


I think all schools need to spend some time discussing the implications of signing up for online services, and to data sharing with all staff.   We can’t hope to make them experts but we can hope to educate them enough to give some reasonable consideration to the implications of their actions in signing up for a service, or where getting students to sign up for an online service.  Its about doing all we can to reasonably facilitate good data protection based decision making and behaviours, in both staff and through modelling, in students.


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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