Terms of Service + Privacy Policy: What Teachers Need to Know

Pop Quiz!

Q: Which of these fairly common digital resources is permissible to use with students under the age of 13?

EasyBib is a citation generator used in every school district in which I’ve ever worked. It’s a major time-saver when it comes to creating bibliographies and works cited pages.

Pinterest is a social, digital bulletin board used for saving and sharing images, recipes, websites, and ideas of all kinds.

Canva is a graphic design tool used for creating posters, flyers, digital graphics, and more.

Each of these resources is extremely useful, so it makes sense that you would be interested in having your students create accounts to be utilized with a variety of learning activities. What do you need to know first, however? How do you know if these websites are okay to use with students? If a website seems “legit”, or has some sort of educational value, it’s probably fine, right?

Not necessarily. What follows are my tips for determining whether or not your students are able to safely utilize and/or create accounts on websites.

  1. Check out the Terms of Service: This is my first stop. Terms of Service can usually be found at the bottom of most websites. I check out Terms of Service first because, if age restrictions exist for the resource, they would be stated here. If Terms of Service do not permit my students to utilize the tool, then my search ends here and I don’t even need to review the Privacy Policy.
  2. Review the Privacy Policy: If Terms of Service permit my students to utilize the tool, then I review the Privacy Policy, also usually located at the bottom of the webiste. Keywords I look for include “COPPA” and “FERPA.” Ideally, the website will clearly describe how the the tool is both COPPA and FERPA compliant. COPPA (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) protects privacy of children under age 13, and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protects the privacy of student education records. The Privacy Policy should also explicitly state what student information is collected and for what purposes; how it is stored; how access to this data can be revoked by the user; what permissions, if any, are required for children under 13 to utilize the tool; and how users will be notified of any changes to its Privacy Policy.
  3. Check these Websites: Some educational resources have been “certified” as protecting student data privacy by organizations such as Student Privacy Pledge, iKeepSafe, and Common Sense Media. These websites are great places to find additional verification that a resource has been somewhat vetted. I say “somewhat”, because, ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure that any tools you use with students meet data privacy requirements.
  4. When in Doubt, Ask Your District Technology Administrators: The buck must ultimately stop at the top. If you have any doubts or questions about a tool, ask your technology team to take a look at the resource you’re considering using with students. They may even have a guidance document for your district. Here is our district’s Approved Digital Resource List. It’s a living document to which we continually add new resources. Each resource contains a description, indicates whether it’s free or paid, and, most importantly, states whether it can be used with student data (eg. student names, email accounts, etc.).

So what’s the answer to the Pop Quiz question?

A: Based on Terms of Service, NONE of these resources may be utilized by students under 13. I find the EasyBib Terms of Service particularly surprising, as it is such a ubiquitous tool in intermediate grades as well as in middle school. The Terms clearly state, however, that no one under 13 may use the service. Pinterest is another resource that I’ve had several teachers wanting to use with intermediate elementary students as well as younger middle school students. Unfortunately, Terms of Service prevent them from doing so. Canva’s Terms of Service also specify that use is reserved for ages 13+.

While Terms of Service and Privacy Policies look daunting, these two documents usually provide enough information within the first few minutes or so of review to know whether or not a resource might be considered for use with students under 13, and whether their Privacy Policies are written in accordance with COPPA and FERPA.

If you think that the resource likely DOES meet student data privacy requirements, I suggest you still have someone in the technology department review it. Let them know that you’ve already checked Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, but that you’d like a final review and “go-ahead.” They will appreciate your due diligence and commitment to the shared responsibility of keeping our students’ data private and safe.

Additional Resources:

I’m Bad at Spreadsheets (and Other Secrets)

The title says it all. I’m in the educational technology field and, all day long, I help teachers and staff integrate technology into their classrooms and workflows. But I have a secret. I am bad at spreadsheets. It’s a fact I try to keep to myself, but every now and then a teacher or principal will tell me they’d like my help manipulating data this way or that (“You know, just a simple pivot table!”). I go into “deer in the headlights” mode and immediately freeze up, reluctantly referring them to one of my preternatually spreadsheet-proficient colleagues. I’ll occasionally master some basic function (I can freeze rows! I can expand columns!), and even learn about a more intermediate function (I recently attended a Google Bootcamp that covered pivot tables and other advanced spreadsheet features), but my proficiency always seems to eventually settle back down to a mediocre level. This fact was thrown into sharp relief just last week, when one of my technology colleagues BLEW MY MIND with something called “vlookup.” All of those hours I’ve spent manually comparing spreadsheets? Vlookup. “What magic is this?”, I wondered, “and when will I ever know what I don’t know?”

Is there something native to your profession, or hobby, or sport that seems to be just beyond your grasp, and maybe makes you feel a little self-conscious? I’ll bet there is– how do you feel when you roll it around in your mind for a while? Inadequate, frustrated, ashamed (“How can I be unable to create a simple chart with labels and a key?”)? Or maybe it motivates and challenges you to keep learning, keep working. I won’t lie, I don’t find my lack of spreadsheet proficiency particularly motivating, but at the same time I really want to continue learning about and practicing them, and have been promised by my spreadsheet-goddess colleagues that they will help me as I learn. 

“Toleration is the prerogative of humanity; we are all full of weaknesses and mistakes; let us reciprocally forgive ourselves. It is the first law of nature.”

― Voltaire, A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays

Admitting this type of deficiency can be difficult, especially if it’s something you feel would normally be expected of your position (or hobby, interest, etc.). but being honest about it and asking for help can actually be the type of vulnerability that can build trust in a relationship. In my post Trust: Oprah, SuperSoul Sessions, and B.R.A.V.I.N.G., I describe how the “N” in Brené Brown’s B.R.A.V.I.N.G. acronym stands for “Non-Judgment.” Showing vulnerability by admitting an “area of growth” (to use a little edspeak), asking for the help of others, and then allowing them to help you, is a powerful connector. Imagine: you’re a principal, or central office administrator, or coach, or teacher, and you ask a teacher, or proficient staff member, or even a student, for help. It’s a win for everyone, because you learn, and they get to help you, all of which builds up the trusting relationship.

My other work-related secret is a tougher one to admit. I recently had the opportunity to substitute in a second grade class for the morning. My secret is that I was scared! I have worked in education for almost twenty years, but mostly with high school students. As a librarian I taught many classes of research, but face 30 seven year olds? Never. I have children of my own, but have I been in charge of a whole classroom of them? Not once. I felt silly and frustrated by my own intimidation, knowing that every day our teachers walk into their classrooms, confident in their knowledge and ability to teach young children. I wanted to help out, however, and knew that it would probably end up being one of my favorite days so far this year, but still, the fear was there. I’ve also never subbed before, so that was an added layer of uncertainty. Luckily, I work with an AMAZING HR professional (check out her blog), who gave me a much-needed pep talk and calmed my nerves by reminding me that I AM a teacher! This helped and allowed me to march into that second grade classroom with confidence and excitement. Unfortunately for this story (but fortunately for the class), a last-minute substitute was found and I ended up only being their sub for about a half hour, but still– it’s another area of growth that shall be mastered another day.

In the meantime– onward and upward. It’s time to hit the (spread)sheets!