As the stewards of student data and information, our school district doesn’t take that role lightly. Proud to be one of just 13 districts nationwide to receive the Consortium for Student Networking (CoSN) Trusted Learning Environment Seal—which designates institutions that have taken measurable steps to implement practices to help ensure the privacy of student data—we knew that our existing learning management system (LMS) wasn’t up to the task.

And with that, we went in search of an LMS that could support our data-privacy commitment, which has been a key focus for at least six years and a keystone of how we make technology-related decisions. While participating in one of CoSN’s working groups, I began identifying which student-data-privacy principles were really important to us as school districts and what it meant to be a district as an exemplar in that area.

Out of that work, CoSN came up with the Trusted Learning Environment, which encompasses 25 different practices within the realm of student data privacy. Missouri’s Raytown Quality Schools was part of the first cohort of seven districts to be awarded this seal, and that meant that we not only had the right policies and procedures in place, but that we were actually implementing them and displaying evidence all the way down to the classroom level.

Safeguarding data on digital terrain
As school districts, we use a lot of different systems that collect student information in one form or another. Our student information system (SIS), for instance, stores dates of birth, addresses, and other confidential data. From there, things start to get a little fuzzy and include math applications that track how well a student is learning multiplication tables. The question becomes, “How protected should that information be?

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As we continue to implement new resources, our LMS has become a place where we can connect to our instructional applications and all of those little pieces (e.g., student math progress) that are out there. The LMS makes all of the big connections, but in the course of doing so it also gathers a lot of data like class rosters, grades, teacher assignments, and other server-protected records. That’s where data privacy becomes critical, and it’s why we replaced our previous LMS with one that would confidently safeguard our students’ data on digital terrain.

Our previous LMS is open source and wasn’t meeting our teachers’ needs because it didn’t integrate with our SIS the way we needed it to. We really wanted to move to a more sophisticated LMS that could supply all of the tools that we needed for our teachers and to also provide full integration. The new school year was approaching quickly, and after running into some difficulties with our state-adopted LMS, we sent out a request for proposal for a new solution. We incorporated our data-privacy and data-governance requirements in the bid while also factoring in our district’s integration needs. After reviewing our options, we selected the itslearning LMS.

Here’s what we learned from the process:

1. State-adopted technology may not fit your district’s unique needs. As educational technology has proliferated, many states have picked LMSs and other platforms that their districts are “welcome to use,” even if those solutions don’t necessarily meet the districts’ specific guidelines. Don’t assume that the LMS is doing what you need it to do in terms of data privacy and the security of student data.

2. Be upfront and open with technology vendors. Before we even started down the road to buying the technology, we were clear about our needs and about ensuring that all parties were in agreement on what we needed (and that they were able to fulfill those needs). During this process, we had some very open conversations about our requirements and put everything in writing.

3. Treat it like a partnership. Like it or not, when you purchase and implement a major technology platform you are getting into a partnership with the provider. I’ve found that 99.9 percent of these companies want to do a good job for you, but that is a two-way street. A lot of districts may feel intimidated by working with a large vendor, but you’re the customer so don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you need.

4. Tie all of your district’s needs into the selection process. We knew that we wanted an LMS that would help us safeguard student information, but we also wanted to be able to integrate with outside content providers including cloud apps like G Suite and other resources without having to replicate efforts (i.e., having to use two different grade books). Our next step is to integrate all of our resources in IMS Global Standards and create a one-stop shop for teachers and students, with our LMS as the cornerstone of our curriculum-delivery strategy.

Having implemented itslearning at the start of the 2017-18 school year—and under some time constraints due to our past LMS challenges—we’re pleased with the results thus far. We did the training the day before school started, and our teachers are embracing it and using it quite consistently. Fortunately, the data- and privacy-security side of things are baked into the itslearning LMS, which has built a strong foundation with data governance and put everything in place for us.

About the Author:

Melissa Tebbenkamp, CETL, is director of instructional technology for Raytown Quality Schools in Raytown, Mo.