Cloud computing, edutech and privacy concerns: update

Our long-awaited and twice-postponed Privacy Conference looks like it may happen in spring 2011 after all. I’ve been supported by a working group made up of individuals from five institutions over the past few months, and have learned quite a bit about the landscape of privacy legislation, educational technology and “cloud computing” – and how they all relate.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been seeking information from BC post-secondary institutions for a background paper on educational technology and privacy concerns. We are gathering concrete examples that reflect the experience of post-secondary institutions contemplating the use of cloud computing or social media services for teaching and learning.

This follows from a BCcampus report in Spring 2010 (available here) that investigated possibilities for a YouTube-like video service for educational content in B.C. That report found students are learning from their textbooks, in the classroom and the lab, but they’re not getting all their coursework done by traditional means. With information gathering trending towards participatory media and social software (like YouTube and students and instructors are increasingly using content generated by their peers and others as formal requirements to completing their courses.

The report also pointed to a “need for a deeper discussion around the limitations of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) of British Columbia, the Patriot Act (USA) and 3rd party hosted services.” There is a concern that, because of the implications of the Patriot Act, these U.S.-based services may not comply with of B.C.’s Privacy legislation if used in the context of formal academic work.

I’ve heard from several of BC’s 25 colleges and universities, with several more promising to send me information soon. As expected, there are varied experiences with educational technology and cloud computing. Some institutions are afraid to authorize any “web 2.0” technologies because of privacy concerns, some have used workarounds, and some have implemented institution-wide solutions to the best of their ability. All have one thing in common: the need for clarity around what is or is not aligned with BC’s privacy legislation.

The background paper will be ready for distribution in the new year, with a conference to follow. Stay tuned to our web site at for more details.