Privacy and Cloud-based Tools — Scott Anderson

There are many free tools and applications available on the web (in “the cloud,” so to speak) for instructors and students to use to support and enhance their teaching and learning. A few examples include:

  • CATME (for group members to evaluate their peers about contributions and group dynamics),
  • Google Docs (for creating and sharing a collaborative document by a group),
  • MindMeister (for creating a concept map),
  • Screencast-O-Matic (for creating short screen-capture videos).

A couple of key questions and issues include privacy and archiving of data in case of grade appeal.

The Patriot Act in the USA has resulted in caution here in Canada about using cloud based tools for fear of potential access to personal data that is stored on servers based in the US. One might think there shouldn’t be any problem since most students have Facebook accounts and Gmail or Hotmail accounts which are based in the US. But most is not necessarily all, and students choose to use Facebook or free email services voluntarily, whereas requiring students to use a cloud based service for their course work is not voluntary.

If a student is uncomfortable with his/her information being on a US server or is uncomfortable with the terms of service even if it is based in Canada, there may be grounds for academic appeal if an instructor requires use of the tool without providing an alternative. Having a suitable alternative ready is more work and may dissuade an instructor from using a potentially useful tool.

Another issue is archiving of data. If the material being graded is only available in the cloud-based application (e.g. blog postings), there may be issues with archiving of the material in case of grade appeal (to ensure a given posting was not modified). If a company offering a service goes out of business and the service is no longer available, what happens to the data? One option is to have postings submitted separately perhaps as documents which may make one question the purpose of creating a blog in the first place. With an institutional learning management system (LMS), it is more straightforward to ensure congruence with institutional policies, but with cloud-based tools, it is murkier.

Options for instructors are to forge ahead and hope for the best, or retreat from using tools that may well enhance functionality available in an institutional learning management system. Often the choice to use cloud-based tools remains foggy.

[Image provided by permission from opensourceway]

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Scott Anderson

As a CTE Faculty Liaison, Scott Anderson helps instructors in the Faculties of Arts and Environment integrate technology into their teaching through innovative learning activities. He also serves as guide for instructors to access other CTE resources. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence Scott worked as a consultant primarily with environmental organizations. He received his BSc from the University of Toronto. In his spare time, Scott enjoys playing ultimate frisbee recreationally and competitively.

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