1 Digital Privacy

Lorayne Robertson and Bill Muirhead

This chapter will assist students to:

  1. Articulate why it is important to study digital privacy in education.
  2. Understand the pedagogical foundations and commit to participating in the course.
  3. See the overview of the e-book Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy.

Why Study Digital Privacy in Education?

Throughout the chapters of this book on digital privacy in education, we will argue that digital privacy is a topic that is important to study and understand. First, we want to raise awareness of the breadth of surveillance in society today and to encourage students to question how much surveillance is normative and if they can accept that. In later chapters, we discuss the mechanisms for behavioural tracking and explain the mechanisms through which advertising is tailored to us as individuals and the magnitude of the corporate monopoly on curated advertising and content. We encourage students to take a critical stance and ask how comfortable they are with this level of exploitation of our summative individual preferences.

It is important to acknowledge that many students have not lived during a time when digital technologies were not pervasive. They may have almost no knowledge of what it feels like to be a private person. They may have no understanding that enables them to question how they are internalizing and acting out social norms established through the dictates of social comparison.

People seeking digital privacy want the ability to ensure that the collected information about them can only be used for the purposes to which they have agreed and at the time that the information was collected. This may seem to be a lofty ideal, but it is an essential part of the vision for digital privacy in education. Canadian youth are beginning to explore their personhood, and they have the right to define who they are as adults without having to respond to the images and information about their youth or their formative moments.

Solove (2004) argues that the digital biographies that are being created about our personhood at present are unauthorized, partially true, reductive in nature and represent “impoverished judgements” of ourselves (p. 48). It is unfortunate that Canadians have to live with online biographies that do not allow them to unveil only those parts of themselves that they choose to show to others when they choose to do this. It is also unfortunate that the present system of digital privacy does not allow people access to the full digital dossiers that have been collected about them. Solove argues that privacy decisions are made for people who are frequently excluded from the process. Likewise, he argues that choices to relinquish data are no longer actual choices in today’s economy (Sololve, 2004). We encourage students accessing this Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy e-book to raise questions about these issues and the need for general policies for data protection in Canada.

Privacy as a Construct

Privacy is both a social construct and a historical construct. By this, we mean that our understanding of privacy is a collection of ideas that have taken shape over time. The context impacts the definition of privacy. At one time, privacy meant something quite different than it does today. Consider the scenario from an earlier era where a family takes pictures from an analog camera. The pictures are developed and saved in a box or an album. The parents had the security of knowing that these pictures of their children would only be shared with their consent. Their daughter did not have to worry that her three-year-old self would be seen in a later decade and shared with others unless she chose to share that physical copy of the photo. Privacy in this context has an expectation of privacy unless consent to share has been given.

Now fast track to the present where people have become digital persons (Solove, 2004). Details about people and choices in their lives are preserved permanently in giant databases that track their behaviour. In their wallets are credit cards, loyalty cards, health cards, bank cards and other cards that track and record where they are and what they are doing. Computers and devices routinely track every aspect of people’s preferences and what they have searched online. Digital surveillance not only occurs online but increasingly cameras track our movements and this data is too digitized and linked to online profiles. If people are on social media, other people and not just computer databases are following their day-to-day actions and reactions. Now they are not only physical people but, according to Solove (2004), they have become digital persons complete with digital dossiers compiled by computer networks.

Nonetheless, we define digital privacy as an expectation of privacy unless informed consent has been given. This definition asserts that even digital persons can exercise some discretion with respect to how and where they share their digital information.

Digital privacy is an expectation of privacy unless the user has given consent that includes an awareness of the risks associated with online services, and individual control over the collection, distribution and retention of personal information (Robertson & Muirhead, 2019).

How Technology Has Changed Everything

Life online has become much more routine since the declaration of the global pandemic in 2020. For the first time, students spend more time online outside of school than in school. The spread of the internet has become global but still concentrated. In the top 38 countries reporting any internet usage, more than 80% of those populations report being online (Internet users, 2016). This internet participation brings with it both affordances and risks, and some of the risks are to privacy and security. Another key construct to consider is that of personally identifiable information or PII. This is information that is used to identify a person distinctly—it is linked to a person’s identity. Some elements of PII include name, country of origin, race, religion, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Other information can include education, health, criminal history and employment history. People are identified through symbols such as a phone number or postal code as well as biometric data such as fingerprints and blood type.

To put digital privacy in a very simplistic sense: technology facilitates the collection, distribution and storage of PII. Commerce seeks to maximize PII collection and use it to target advertising to specific groups. Consumers want to know that their privacy rights are protected despite the reality that they freely provide their PII. This creates a privacy paradox, which is one of the constructs that we study in this course.

Deliberate Pedagogical Design

This e-book is designed to accompany students and instructors undertaking the course: Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy. There are four modules in this 12-week course and each module is intended to take the same amount of time: three weeks. Each module can stand on its own or be reviewed as a stand-alone resource.

The four modules of the Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy course are:

  1. Digital privacy in educational contexts.
  2. Privacy in our daily lives: Legal and policy implications.
  3. Digital privacy tools and technologies.
  4. Wrapping up the course with a case study.

We have designed this course with a moderate degree of structure because some research (e.g., Eddy & Hogan, 2014) and our own experience tell us that courses with a mid-level of structure are more helpful to a wider range of students. Here are the mid-level structural elements that have been designed into the course:

  1. Alignment of the learning objectives with the learning activities, readings and assignments,
  2. Flipped classroom,
  3. Distributed learning
  4. Collaboration and Community
  5. Critical pedagogy

In the next section, we explain each of these elements of deliberate pedagogical design.

A: Alignment of Learning Outcomes with the Activities and Readings

The learning outcomes for the Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy course are listed in the course outline. Keen observers will notice that each of the learning outcomes has been addressed at least ten times throughout the course’s four modules. In simple terms, here are some of the outcomes.

Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Articulate what they have learned and show connections between theory, evidence and practice.
  2. Use a wide range of technology for communication.
  3. Critically assess the affordances and constraints of technology and make evidence-based decisions about the best ways to use technology.
  4. Critically evaluate information in the course and how digital technology impacts and is impacted by society and communities.
  5. Prepare materials to educate different audiences.
  6. Engage in ongoing reflection and debate and show the ability to make complex decisions.
  7. Demonstrate integrity and ethical behaviour.

Our goal in designing the course was to have students return continuously to these learning outcomes multiple times. Accordingly, the outcomes are reflected in all of the course modules, readings and assignments.

B: Flipped Classroom

The Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy course is designed to have elements that are studied by students before, during and after class. According to Eddy and Hogan (2014), moving much of the information transmission to before class has been found to free up 34.5% more time during class to reinforce major concepts, higher-order thinking and study skills. This strategy allows students to spend as much time as they need to fully prepare for class. Engaging students in preparing for the course in advance of the class promotes academic achievement and is significantly helpful for learners who are first-generation post-secondary students (Eddy & Hogan, 2014). Below is a quick overview of how this works.

Before class: Students review the slides for the class and study the assigned readings in order to prepare for class. In this way, when they come to the online, synchronous class, they have accessed the knowledge for that topic and are better prepared for discussions and other in-class activities. The readings for this course have been carefully selected to align with the course learning outcomes. Knowing that some students are keenly interested in this topic, we have provided additional readings at multiple points. Pre-class preparation may also include videos and activities.

During class: The Instructor assumes that the students have reviewed the slides and they are familiar with the readings. Accordingly, the instructor spends less time providing information so that more of the class time is dedicated to:

  • Understanding students’ experiences with this digital privacy topic,
  • Applying the knowledge learned to real-life scenarios,
  • Engaging in academic discourse and problem-solving on the topic.

After class: Students are assigned coursework to complete after class. This includes preparation for the next week and assignments.

C: Distributed Learning

Distributed learning (also called the pacing effect) is an element of moderate structure in a course that paces students’ learning. It is the opposite of cramming at the last minute and hoping to pass the course. Better learning occurs when the learning opportunities are spaced apart rather than happening close together. When learning is spaced apart, it is more likely to have the students’ attention and they are more likely to connect it to other contexts (Carpenter, 2020). Students spread out the time they spend on a concept with pre-reading activities, in-class assignments, and post-class reviews. This has a direct impact on how well they perform in the course (Eddy & Hogan, 2014). Distributing the learning also allows the students to cycle back to the key concepts in a course frequently.

Synchronous discussions between the instructor and student that mimic the established office hours of old create an environment where instructor and students are engaged in a context of learning together and exploring in unison.

This course has some cumulative assignments related to the case study. Students craft a plan for a case study and receive feedback. Throughout the course, they identify policies related to their case study and seek solutions. They present their case study to the other students and then use this case study as the basis for their final, collaborative paper. Giving early feedback helps to build a student’s sense of safety that they are “on the right track.” The second assignment builds on the first, and the final assignment is a culmination of their learning in the course. Rich asynchronous feedback with synchronous discussions between the instructor and student that mimic the established office hours of old combine to create an environment where instructor and students are engaged in a context of learning together and exploring in unison.

D: Collaboration and Community

More and more, instructors are moving away from teacher-centred pedagogies, where the instructor is the source of information. In this course, we rely on the students to research topics thoroughly before class and come to class with a good understanding of the topic and key questions. In this way, students can add their prior experience to the discussions. It is important to design learning activities in the course where students interact and share knowledge.

Social presence is a key element to deeper cognitive engagement, critical thinking, and student success.

Students in online courses are encouraged to share their cameras and their voices so that others can get to know them. Garrison (2009) describes social presence as “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop interpersonal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (p. 352). Garrison (2011) explains further that, “where social presence is established, students will be able to identify with the group, feel comfortable engaging in open discourse, and begin to give each other feedback” (p. 33). We would argue that social presence is a key element to deeper cognitive engagement, critical thinking and student success.

Another deliberate element of the design of this course is collaboration. Johnson et al. (1994) first defined collaborative learning through the concept of positive interdependence. This is where group members assume responsibility for ensuring that the group is successful and students, in turn, can depend on other group members to do their part. This course was designed to encourage students to develop both social presence and collaboration skills.

Earlier models of online learning had fewer opportunities for collaboration in real-time. Today’s technologies allow students to participate in courses and share dialogue, video and images. They can use multiple communication channels simultaneously, such as using the Chat as a backchannel to ask questions or affirm comments in a way that does not interrupt the flow of the discussion in class. Google’s G-Suite allows students to collaborate in real-time for document creation or asynchronously. Some students use quasi-synchronous forms of chat, such as WhatsApp, that allow real-time responses or responses with a short delay. According to Dalgarno (2014), these affordances allow students to engage more deeply with the topic.

E: Critical Pedagogy

Image of child during home schooling
Note. Child homeschooling, by C. Jorgensen, 2021.

In this text, the authors have taken a critical stance toward interrogating the concepts of digital privacy and surveillance in education. We have recognized that, as Apple (1999) has stated, much of our understanding has come from the dominant cultural groups in society. Kincheloe (2008), a critical pedagogy scholar, argues that we have assumed that what we have learned in school and the academy is inherently what is “best” for students. Critical scholars know, however, that our schooling history had gaps and omissions. There are other ways of knowing and other experiences that were left out of traditional education. This preferential treatment of colonial, patriarchal, monocultural knowledge was presented as “neutral” but it has negatively impacted the education of members of marginalized groups. Processes considered “best practices” may not be the most inclusive educational practices. In order for change to happen, teachers must become researchers and question past assumptions. Educator-researchers also need to interrogate past practices where teachers were considered the deliverers of information that may have represented a singular reality or an oversimplification of issues that require complex complicated considerations. One key to questioning dominant perspectives is to see how power is linked to the political economy and to examine its effects on individuals who are at different social locations (Kincheloe, 2008). Accordingly, in this e-book, the authors examine digital privacy in education in its complexity and encourage educator-researchers to interrogate assumptions within what Garrison (2011) has described as a community of inquiry.

Freire’s (2007) pedagogical approach encourages students not to accept that “what is” is the way that it will always be (p. 84). His pedagogy encourages the cultivation of a critical consciousness in his students, where they seek to understand the social, political and economic contradictions. Freire encouraged individual empowerment for social change (Freire, 2007). We take a similar approach to student empowerment in the Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy course and in this accompanying e-book. In Chapter 2, for example, Robertson and Corrigan question the dominant narratives surrounding youth surveillance in education and encourage instead an approach where students, parents and schools share responsibilities. In Chapter 4, Robertson and Muirhead present a critical policy analysis framework that encourages educator-researchers to examine whose perspectives have been considered and whose are missing in policy design and implementation. Policy paradoxes in Chapter 6 are inherently complex and contested. In the final chapter, Case Studies, we encourage teacher-researchers to explore digital privacy cases in their complexity and feel empowered to call for change and renewal.

How This e-Book is Organized

Here is a brief summary of the topics and the organization of this e-book:

Chapter 1: Introduction

In the Introduction, we describe and define Digital Privacy as a construct. We explain the pedagogical foundations of the e-book and introduce four pedagogical themes that underpin all of the modules of the course.

Chapter 2: Digital Privacy in Education

In Chapter 2, we discuss why Digital Privacy is important for education settings and talk about the roles of teachers, learners, boards, colleges, and institutions of higher education in digital privacy. Some key terms are introduced, such as Duty of Care while we talk about the vulnerability of students online.

Chapter 3: Case Studies

In Chapter 3, the focus is on Case Studies, defining them and explaining how they work. Characteristics of great case studies are reviewed, and students can find more ideas about how to present a case study.

Chapter 4: Critical Policy Analysis

Chapter 4 introduces students to Critical Policy Analysis, which is a framework for reviewing policies and procedures. In this chapter, the authors explore policy definitions and look at the processes by which policies are enabled. We examine who enacts policies and how policies take on a life of trajectory of their own. The authors also present a Critical Policy Analysis framework that helps students examine the fairness of a policy.

Chapter 5: Legislation, Policies and Procedures

In Chapter 5, we examine key elements of Policies and Privacy Legislation. We examine some key definitions shared by policies and compare policies in different jurisdictions (Canada, the United States and Europe). We also look at some examples of policies.

Chapter 6: The Privacy Paradox: Present and Future

In Chapter 6, we attempt to unpack the Privacy Paradox by defining it. We look at the factors involved in enabling privacy paradoxes and how they reflect our priorities and our values. We also look at the corporate harvesting of data and dig deeper into corporate ownership of social media platforms and how they monetize access to data. In this chapter, students are encouraged to reflect on their own levels of privacy and look at some tools for minimizing their exposure to online risk. Next, we look at the principles of Privacy by Design. We delineate some privacy competencies and discuss how educators might protect themselves and their students when working online and in social media.

Chapter 7: Digital Privacy Tools and Technologies for Communication

Chapter 7 delineates Digital privacy tools and technologies for communication and helps students become familiar with how to manage their digital footprint, how to protect their privacy while web browsing and raising awareness of digital privacy risks in the home.

Chapter 8: Today’s Devices and Tomorrow’s Technologies

In Chapter 8, Today’s Devices and Tomorrow’s Technologies, the author discusses the digital privacy implications for the use of smart devices, wearable technologies, the Internet of things (IoT) and other emerging technologies for the risks and threats to digital privacy.

Chapter 9: Educational Leadership for Digital Privacy

Chapter 9: Educational Leadership for Digital Privacy encourages students to put it all together and reflect on the different ways that they can show leadership in digital privacy. Students will be encouraged to consider the key takeaways from the course and how they will affect their future practices in education, personal life and professional practice. In consideration of the future, students will be asked to consider how to share the responsibility to protect students’ digital privacy.

Chapter 10: Under Construction: Case Studies and Scenarios

Chapter 10 – Case Studies and Scenarios are “under construction”, as it will be authored by students who design case studies for this e-book. Every year, selected case studies that are sent to the authors can be added to this e-book.


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Digital Privacy: Leadership and Policy by Lorayne Robertson and Bill Muirhead is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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