Experts: All departments districtwide should engage in protecting data

School leaders don’t have to ban innovative pedagogy and technology-rich learning in order to safeguard student information, according to Robert Dillon, director of innovation and learning for the School District of University City in Missouri.

innovative learning, edtech

Dr. Robert Dillion

Instead, he said, they should balance technology and learning goals with privacy and security responsibilities by tasking a team of stakeholders across departments to generate ongoing dialogue about policies and procedures.

He said it’s critical that stakeholders come together to achieve a safe and supportive digital learning environment — to protect personally identifiable information, passwords, network security, and data shared with third parties in an ever-changing and complex data privacy and safety landscape.

“It’s about protecting the back door while building the second and third floor of the house,” Dillon said in an interview.

According to a white paper Dillon wrote in partnership with Marsali Hancock, president of iKeepSafe, school systems with “confident and skilled” leaders are best suited to bring these conversations into fruition.


“It is really hard to [break through] barriers because tech directors, for instance, speak a different language than teachers do,” said Dillon, who is presenting on student data privacy and innovation at the National Future of Education Technology Conference in January.

“I think it really requires gathering a group of people together to sit down and talk through some of these things,” he added. “Because policy implementation is going to look different in different places, you need to have teachers and school leaders, and the folks who know the technical things, in the same place, and not make it feel like the Tower of Babel, where everyone is speaking their own language.”

‘Long-term solutions’

Dillon recently served as the director of research at BrightBytes Institute, a firm specializing in school-level analytics, where he studied the impact quality leadership had on digital learning practices and policies in the Ventura County Office of Education.

In the resulting white paper, Creating a Healthy Digital Environment for 21st Century Learners, Dillon and Hancock wrote that three ingredients — relationships, trust, and credibility — were discovered as “essential” to building a coalition of stakeholders who could develop a common language around digital privacy and long-term solutions.

“Strong relationships were built as they worked to establish connections with various stakeholder groups across the county, focusing on the keys necessary to foster a positive digital culture,” they wrote. “These individuals included superintendents, technology directors, educators, administrators, board members, parents, students, and more. Each group was a part of genuine conversations that unearthed and communicated their interests and concerns.”

The pair said that trust was established as the group delivered on promises and followed-through on various action items to meet the needs of the stakeholders.

“One of the items that emerged from the early conversations about this work was that many instructional technology directors and chief technology officers felt tremendous pressure and angst on how to ramp up compliance to the breadth of data privacy needs in their district without stopping the positive momentum of technology integration currently going on in classrooms,” the paper said.

establish-common-language-when-developing-data-privacy-policiesThey found that starting compliance with policies is key to this work as it sets the foundation for the common language and expectations across all stakeholders across the school system.

“Even though it involves the technology arena, what we find is that the best way to really [develop policy and to gauge compliance] is to make sure you’re including curriculum, professional development and cross-curricular areas so that it’s not all on the technology folks and the IT department to make sure this information is disseminated,” said Kyle Rutledge, director of partnerships for Bright Bytes.

“[Data privacy] affects everyone,” Rutledge said in an interview.

Save the date: Robert Dillon will present the January 26 workshop Building a Culture of YES: Balancing Student Data Privacy and Innovation. This workshop is part of the Future of Information Technology session track at FETC. Full agenda details are available at


Future of Education Technology Conference

Future of Education Technology Conference

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