Remote Learning Best Practices: The Importance Of Protecting Data Privacy

Why Is Data Protection So Important?
Summary: Don’t underestimate the importance of data privacy and follow these tips to ensure that your data protection policy is up to par.

Why Is Data Protection So Important?

Whenever implementing new technology that involves the collection of sensitive data, the GDPR requires identifying and mitigating any risks that could lead to misuse of personal data. These assessments are particularly necessary when handling children’s data, which is especially sensitive.

Failing to protect sensitive data can lead to serious financial and legal troubles, and it can also damage your reputation and put your ethics into question. Data protection is by no means a new issue for education providers, but they are now having to deal with a whole host of new issues, unique to the new way of learning online, usually with limited time and resources on their hands.

Storing More Data Than Before

One of the biggest data privacy issues educational institutions are facing during the pandemic is the sheer volume of data they need to keep protected. Switching to remote learning means that you’ll be storing more data than ever.

Unlike in the usual physical setting, learning online is unique because all of the interactions between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and among students are going to leave a digital trace and end up being stored for a certain period of time.

This introduces an entirely new layer of data privacy issues and monitoring possibilities, which means more responsibility in ensuring adequate data protection policies and making sure that the collected data isn’t being misused.

Cyberattacks Are A Serious Issue

Unfortunately, cyberattacks happen far too often in the education sector. A 2017 VMware survey [1] suggests that one in three universities in the UK is hit by a cyberattack every hour, and 87% of the respondents say they experienced at least one successful cyberattack.

The K-12 Cyber Incident Map, which tracks publicly disclosed cybersecurity incidents in US K-12 public schools, reports that there have been over one thousand incidents in the past four years alone.

Unsurprisingly, the situation has become even worse during the pandemic. A recent Emsisoft report [2] shows that the number of successful ransomware attacks in the education sector increased by 388% between Q2 and Q3 of 2020. These numbers go to show just how often cybersecurity incidents that can put sensitive data in danger can happen.

Best Practices

Risk Assessment And Data Classification

Some of the first and the most basic steps of a data protection plan are risk assessment and data classification. Before you start creating strategies to ensure data protection, you first need to know what kinds of data you’re collecting and how sensitive it is. Once you have an overview of all of your data, you can classify it by different levels of sensitivity and protection requirements. This will allow you to focus on providing the highest degree of protection for your most sensitive data and avoid any legal or ethical issues that may arise from inadequate data handling.

Retention Policy And Data Archiving

Another factor you should take into account when it comes to data protection is how long you keep sensitive data stored. For example, as all communication moves online, you’ll have to keep email records for a certain period of time. According to FERPA requirements, email retention policies in the education sector should be at least 5 years long.

The best way to ensure that your email policy is properly implemented is to get an email archiving solution. This way you can keep track of all of the communication records and make sure that they’re retained long enough in a safe, tamper-proof repository. You can also automate email retention and schedule emails to be automatically deleted after a certain amount of time.

What’s more, these solutions can also serve as a monitoring system and help you keep track of conversations by setting up keyword triggers that can help you prevent undesired behaviors such as bullying and harassment.

Choosing The Right Platform

While some education providers are utilizing specialized learning platforms, others have opted for widely available communication software to connect with their students. However, this is not a good option as these platforms don’t offer enough protection and can leave your students’ sensitive data vulnerable.

No matter how sophisticated the platform you’re using is, it contains a considerable amount of sensitive data, from messages between teachers and students and parental communications to audio and video recordings of the classes.

That’s why it’s essential to choose an online learning platform that has proper security measures in order to protect your sensitive records. Unfortunately, platforms that offer virtual conferencing features but are not specifically designed for the education sector lack children's privacy standards, so opting for specialized, private virtual software is a far better option.

Be Transparent And Keep Everyone Updated

Education providers usually already have a privacy policy in place to cover the usual data processing. You should consider including a section defining precisely what personal data is captured through online learning platforms and explain what you’re using it for, where it’s stored, and for how long you’ll retain it.

In order to legally collect personal data, you must obtain consent, but don’t forget that consent should also be updated as your privacy policy changes. Being transparent and keeping everyone from your staff to parents informed about your privacy policy is not only a legal requirement and a good ethical practice, but it can also help you avoid cybersecurity threats.

In fact, human error is one of the main causes of data breaches. According to Impact [3], 41% of higher education breaches were caused by social engineering attacks and 30% of users in the education industry have fallen for phishing emails. By educating your staff about these threats and teaching them how to properly adhere to your privacy policy, you’ll be much more successful at protecting sensitive data.

A strong data protection policy is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. This is especially true when it comes to children’s data, and it’s becoming more challenging than ever as learning has almost completely switched to the digital world. Don’t underestimate the importance of data privacy and follow these tips to ensure that your data protection policy is up to par.


[1] Privacy and Cybersecurity in Education: A Constant Battle

[2] Ransomware surges in education sector in Q3 as attackers wait patiently for start of school year

[3] 10 Cybersecurity In Education Stats You Should Know