Exploring Digital Privacy and Security in Elementary Schools

Priya Kumar
May 1 · 2 min read

How do elementary school educators think about privacy and security when it comes to technology use in the classroom? What privacy and security lessons do they give to students?

I worked with a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and Princeton to explore these questions. Below, I summarize our findings and recommendations. I’ll present a paper on this project at the 2019 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).

What did we do? Schools across the United States have integrated various digital technologies into K-12 classrooms, even though using them poses privacy and security concerns. As part of a broader project on how children ages 5–11 conceptualize privacy online, we wanted to understand how elementary-school educators decided what technologies to use, how privacy and security factored into these decisions, and what educators taught their students about digital privacy and security.

How did we do it? We held nine focus groups with a total of 25 educators from seven school districts in three metropolitan regions in the U.S. Our participants included teachers, teaching assistants, and student teachers.

What did we find? Educators used a range of digital devices, platforms, applications, resources, and games, some that their districts provided and others that school media specialists recommended. To them, privacy and security meant responsibly handling student data (e.g. login credentials) and minimizing students’ inappropriate use of technology. They largely did not give students lessons on privacy and security. Some educators felt such lessons were not necessary; others found it difficult to make such lessons resonate with their students.

What are the implications of this work? We see an opportunity for the HCI community and those who create educational technologies to help students develop privacy and security skills. This can include designing “teachable moments” into technologies, such as prompts that ask students to think about where their data goes when they submit something online. These are not meant to replace privacy lessons, but to spark conversations between students, teachers, and parents as well as to help students think about privacy during their everyday interactions with digital technology. School districts and teacher training programs should educate teachers about digital privacy and security issues. Finally, the HCI and other communities must grapple with broader tensions about the datafication of education and its concomitant privacy and security concerns.

Read the CHI 2019 paper for more details!

  • Priya C. Kumar, Marshini Chetty, Tamara L. Clegg, and Jessica Vitak. 2019. Privacy and Security Considerations For Digital Technology Use in Elementary Schools. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300537

Sparks of Innovation: Stories from the HCIL

Research at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at University of Maryland

Priya Kumar

Written by

I study Internet things: digital rights, privacy, social media use. PhD student @iSchoolUMD. Alum of @rankingrights, @UMSI, @berkmancenter, @MerrillCollege.

Sparks of Innovation: Stories from the HCIL

Research at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at University of Maryland