Protecting student data online can be difficult in a district with 8,500-plus students — especially when teachers can easily find their own free apps for classroom use, bypassing the official procurement process and potentially putting students’ privacy at risk.
But Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin didn’t want to tighten the reins and potentially discourage teachers from using edtech. Instead, district leaders developed a teacher-friendly procurement process that makes finding, vetting and implementing new tools as fast and painless as possible.
“If we want people to use technology and use it well, we need to make sure we have buy-in,” says digital learning manager Keleen Kaye. Her district’s 48-hour approval process aims to take the hard work of vetting software off teachers’ plates without limiting their freedom to choose the tools that work best for them.
Pre-vetted tools are rated in several categories
Educators seeking new technology can start by consulting a database of pre-vetted edtech tools, rated on alignment with both child data privacy laws and the district’s instructional vision. Each entry includes notes about what the software does, how it can be used in the classroom, and the appropriate age level. Kaye is also working on aligning the database to the ISTE Standards so teachers can see at a glance which standards each tool can help them meet.
Every app falls into one of four categories:
Tools the district approves, supports, pays for, and will train teachers to use.
Tools that are approved and can be freely used on an independent basis.
Tools that are approved with stipulations, such as age or parental permission requirements.
Tools that are not approved because they don’t align with the district’s vision or data privacy needs.
Teachers can request to have a tool vetted
Teachers who choose a pre-vetted app from the approved list can start using it right away, without any further action needed. Educators who have a specific tool in mind that hasn’t yet been vetted can submit a request form that asks questions such as:
How does the tool connect to the curriculum?
Will students be consumers or producers when using it?
How easy is it to learn and use?
What are some of the things they plan on doing with it?
As Kaye vets each new app — typically with a 48-hour turnaround to help meet teacher timelines — she adds it to the database and uses the responses to provide tailored suggestions for how the tool can be used. Where possible, she also attempts to connect educators with colleagues who are using similar tools in the classroom.
"They don’t love the fact that they have to explain themselves to me, but they also appreciate not being liable for any concerns about data or privacy."
Since the district’s vetting process is optional, not all everyone uses it. But as teachers become increasingly aware of the importance of meeting data privacy laws, many are grateful to let Kaye handle the legwork.
“I think teachers are slowly getting on board,” she says. “They don’t love the fact that they have to explain themselves to me, but they also appreciate not being liable for any concerns about data or privacy.”
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.