Choosing a Learning Technology

In the ongoing effort to meet broad teaching and learning needs across campus, the Cornell community has partnered with various learning technology companies. We have selected these technologies because they offer innovative, functional solutions to teaching needs while also meeting or exceeding FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) standards and regulations, broader privacy considerations, and more. Cornell offers these learning technologies at no or low cost to you and your students while also providing support and suggestions for use.

What measures do we take at Cornell to preserve student and instructor privacy?

To preserve student and instructor privacy, technologies used at Cornell must undergo a data security review to demonstrate their alignment with the regulatory requirements mentioned above. In addition, they must enter into a service agreement with the University detailing user data privacy mechanisms and considerations. Should improper use of data or a privacy violation arise, the University can take any appropriate action.

Cornell’s Canvas privacy notice includes links to the privacy policies for the learning technologies supported at Cornell.

What measures can instructors take to preserve privacy while using learning technologies?

We advocate for "privacy by practice," where concerns for student privacy help lead the use of learning technologies in the class. This might mean allowing students to opt-out of certain technologies, allowing them to use a pseudonym in work published online with consent, and being transparent and open about what data analytics are available to instructors and how those analytics will be used. Please contact us for a consultation to discuss options for your class.

 Examples of Privacy in Practice

  • Some learning technologies provide data on how students interact with materials online. If instructors plan to use these data, it is important to let students know in advance. Instructors should also understand that such data are always imperfect and partial, presenting only one data point out of many, and should be used with care.
  • In certain discussion software, students may believe their posts are anonymous to the entire class, when in fact posts are only anonymous to students while faculty and TAs can see student names identified with posts. Faculty may want to disclose this.
  • Some learning technologies pull data from Cornell’s registrar to display student names. This may result in disclosing personal information about students, especially when their name in the Cornell registrar’s records does not match their preferred name. It may be helpful to advise students at the beginning of class to review their preferred name in Cornell’s student center.
  • Faculty can invite others to view their Canvas course. However, they should be aware that non-course affiliated users should not have access to enrollment data, student submissions, or other forms of student participation. The Canvas user role “observer” allows guests of a course to see materials while preserving student privacy.

What about using other learning technologies not formally supported at Cornell?

The landscape of educational technology is quickly evolving, and you may be curious about, or need other software. As you navigate the learning technologies terrain and decide which software to use in your course, you may want to consider how the technologies you select may or may not protect the privacy of your students, yourself, and your teaching materials. For instance, some software, while highly functional or used in the field, may not be designed for student safety. You may have at-risk students or subject matter that requires extra precautions. This software may surveil students and collect, share, or sell users’ personally identifiable information, engage in data mining concerning your or your student’s usage, track students across platforms, request access to users’ social media accounts and contacts, advertise to users, or fail to destroy user data upon request. They may store secured data improperly or require a separate login account that is not protected with two-factor authentication. They might compromise student safety through different cultural platforms (such as various social media sites) that place them at unique risk. Importantly, students who are asked to use certain technologies may need to opt-out of use, presenting unique challenges for instructors. These and other privacy issues can surface as determining factors for use.

One place to begin is to read the privacy policy or terms of service that should be available on a company’s website. The US Department of Education also offers tips for evaluating learning technologies for classroom use as well as guidance on what to look for in a privacy policy.

The links and additional resources below may help you take the next steps in selecting learning technologies to use in your class. Please feel free to contact us for help evaluating learning technologies for class as well.


Additional Resources