Collaboration Platforms, Privacy Tools Critical to Driving Ed-Tech Innovation, Report Says

Contributing Writer

Digital collaboration platforms and online privacy and safety tools are two of the most important tech “enablers” schools are counting on, because proper use of these resources can promote equity and bridge learning gaps during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report says.

The report, published by the Consortium for School Networking, identifies five tech enablers, which it defines as innovations that help schools surmount various hurdles to learning.

The report is the second part of the consortium’s yearly series on K-12 tech innovation. The first focused on K-12 innovation hurdles and accelerators.

CoSN’s advisory board, a body composed of approximately 100 education leaders, researchers, technologists, and other education officials, drafted the report. The consortium represents school district technology officers.

While the report specifically highlights digital collaboration platforms and online privacy and safety tools, it also names analytics and adaptive technologies, cloud infrastructure, and mobile devices as tech enablers in K-12 education.

Sixty-one respondents participated in a CoSN survey which served as the basis for the report. The survey named digital collaboration platforms and online privacy and safety tools as tied for the top tech enabler, with analytics and adaptive technologies notching the No. 3 K-12 tech enabler slot, and cloud infrastructure and mobile devices tying for the No. 4 tech enabler in K-12.

COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital collaboration platforms in various parts of the world.

“From a COVID perspective, some people might say, ‘This is not a time for innovation. Buckle down and focus on what you’re already doing,’” Krueger said. “We actually are trying to make the case that this is the most important time to think about innovation, because most school systems are going to be tightly strapped for resources.”

One example of a K-12 collaboration tool cited in the report follows from the work of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Delray Beach, Fla., which used Zoom and Skype to collaborate with students from the Roosevelt School in Peru in creating a philanthropy program which yielded a $13,500 award from a U.S.-based contest known as Philanthropy Tank.

The award supported an elementary school for migrant children, the Hope Rural School in Indiantown, Fla.

Further, educators in places like India are leveraging mobile apps such as Unnayan-Mera Mobile Mera Vidyalaya and one-way communications platforms like radio and TV, to support learning during the pandemic, the report states.

“I think we’ve definitely seen in COVID that districts that are succeeding in going to remote learning and real distance education have a robust collaboration platform,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in an interview.

Online privacy and safety tools are assisting schools looking to provide innovative learning approaches during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said Laura Geringer, director of CoSN’s Driving K-12 Innovation division.

One strategy for improving online safety is through professional development, focused on boosting educators’ competence and equipping teachers with tools and strategies for teaching students about privacy protections.

The need to protect privacy poses a complex range of issues for schools, who must guard against hacks, data breaches, unauthorized information sharing, cyberbullying, and other threats.

Communities of practice and professional organizations can be powerful K-12 allies in addressing privacy and safety issues in education, according to the report.

CoSN leads the Trusted Learning Environment, which provides guidance, community, and a seal to recognize school systems that meet data privacy standards.

Further, Childnet International develops policy recommendations and resources for a range of age groups around topics including cyberbullying, and Common Sense Media offers reviews of websites, apps, and other media, sortable by age, CoSN noted.

The report also included five recommendations for strengthening online privacy in schools: They should integrate digital and online privacy and safety across their organization as a regular priority; teach responsible behaviors for digital and online privacy and safety; build trust with vendors, parents, and students; build leadership capacity and a culture prioritizing privacy; and, prioritize equity, access, and accessibility.

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