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Grade Smarter

Clickwrap agreements and student privacy

Recently, EdSurge published Universities Act on Piazza’s Sale of Student Data highlighting administrator concerns on how students can opt-in (e.g., clickwrap agreements) to online services in exchange for their data.

“The sale of the information isn’t what’s bugging colleges, including UC Berkeley, UC Davis and the University of Toronto. Although Piazza states the practice in its privacy policy and terms of service, hardly any students (1 percent) opt out of the deal. Universities contend that’s because students are unaware of what’s happening, and the schools think they should have a say in privacy policies.”


How much privacy do you surrender in clickwrap?

Higher ed institutions are increasingly turning to third-parties to process sensitive student data. Administrators and faculty know that a university and its vendors must protect this data. The lines become blurred when a student can opt-in and share their data through clickwrap agreements. You know, those agreements we have no idea what they say and never read.

clickwrap agreements

Piazza privacy concerns

In the case of Piazza, students receive for free a collaborative question and answer tool that helps them interact with other students, TAs, and professors. Teacher and students give Piazza high marks. Administrators have significant concerns.

The university/student facing side of Piazza describes a service to enhance learning. The employer side describes data mining practices to find the best students for recruiters. According to a recent article by Phil Hill at e-Literate, Piazza is now working with universities to ease concerns on how and when it shares student information with third parties.

A slight twist is that Piazza gets it student data from the university’s learning management system (LMS). When a third-party has entwined its platform with an LMS, it seems we’re on a very slippery slope on where the university’s responsibility ends to protect student privacy.

In my discussions, I’ve seen nearly every college being hypersensitive about student data. I’m not surprised by the backlash with Piazza. Particularly when a student trades their personal data for a useful tool.

No free lunch

Services offered to educational institutions and students at no cost should be a huge red flag on the privacy and data security front. As stated in the EdSurge article, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”

Building trust to benefit education

With that said, analyzing student data provides great promise to improve educational outcomes. There needs to be more leadership forging a means for schools and vendors to use, analyze, and combine student information across data sets (e.g., across schools, states, etc). State agencies and third parties are in an incredible position to use “big data” techniques to improve learning outcomes. Without forward thinking policy at the federal and state levels, the promise of big data will be hampered. And, it all starts with trust.

I don’t think selling student information to future employers is a business model that will foster trust and openness between institutions and EdTech companies. In fact, I believe that it does the opposite and plays into administrator’s worst fears.

Happy grading

Mark from GradeHub