Enhancing learning while protecting safety and privacy

Over the past year, revelations of government surveillance, highly publicized data breaches and other stories of private information being leaked have dominated the media. More revealing than the stories themselves is the public’s impassioned response to them, demonstrating that there is still a basic expectation among Americans of personal privacy.

As public discourse continues, some states, districts, schools and parents have begun to consider the safety of student data. In addition, with the use of technology for learning, companies like Microsoft continue to work to effectively meet both education objectives and privacy and safety expectations.

Given Microsoft’s commitment to these issues, I was proud to serve on The Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet, which is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Task Force was comprised of 20 innovative and respected leaders in technology, public policy, education, business, privacy and safety. We were tasked with answering some very difficult questions: What is the new vision for learning? What role should technology and the Internet play in education? And how do we enhance learning, while protecting safety and privacy?

On June 17, after a year of careful deliberations and public engagement, the Institute released a cross-sector and non-partisan report that calls for rethinking learning systems that are currently too bound by time, place and old ways of doing business. The report recommends advancing policies and practices that would foster learning networks and interoperability, increase access to technology and digital literacy, and improve safety, privacy and trust.

I am proud of the Task Force’s work on privacy and trust. Technology has incredible potential to increase opportunity for students, from personalization of learning to learning anytime and anywhere. Cloud services offer attractive benefits and are being rapidly deployed in schools to support a number of distinct functions, from data analytics and student reporting, to basic productivity functions such as email, data storage and document editing. However, the use of technology and cloud services also opens up serious questions around student privacy and the use of student data.

Recognizing changing expectations about technology, privacy and safety, the Task Force recommends fostering “collaborative efforts at all levels to establish trusted environments for learning.” The Task Force acknowledges that trust frameworks aren’t easy to create; they will require innovative approaches to policy and regulation, new technological solutions and the development of programs that educate teachers, parents and students about the risks and rewards of being online. These frameworks will constantly evolve as new technologies introduce new tensions that require new solutions.

Microsoft supports the call for an industry-wide discussion aimed at creating more consistent and uniform commitments to student privacy by technology vendors who sell their products, services and devices into the education market. I look forward to continuing to work on this critical issue.

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