In Germany data privacy protection is taken very seriously. With the NSA leaks it has become once again one of the hot topics of the upcoming Bundestagswahl (federal elections) but discussions around the topic are basically held on a monthly basis.
Yesterday the ministry of education in Baden Württemberg sent out a letter to all teachers in the state in which it explained that the use of social media in education is banned. Needless to say that this decisions has stirred up some passionate discussions. Today the ministry underlined that the letter does not set up new rules but simply clarifies already existing rules and regulations for the use of social media in the public education system of the state.
There are three main issues. The first one has to do with the location of the servers that host the social networks and therefore also host the data of teachers and students. Those servers are for the most part outside of Germany and hence usually in countries that have a less strict approach to data privacy.
Secondly, social networks tend to be advertising supported, hence the user pays for the service through sharing her personal data. Especially Facebook seems to breach a couple of terms in the German Telemediengesetz according to Jörg Klingbeil, appointee for data privacy protection in Baden Württemberg.
Last but not least, the ministry and teachers who also took part in the creation of the guidelines fear that students who are not using social networks like Facebook might get disadvantaged when teachers and students use those platforms to create study groups or use them to coordinate school related events and such.
Of course, this letter of advice leaves open a lot of questions and creates new grey areas. For example, is it OK for teachers to use Twitter to have an #edchat after school in which they naturally talk about school related topics. The only way teachers were on the safe side would then be to not use social networks at all which is also the worst of options.
The only approved option of using social media in the classroom now is to cover it as a topic and talk about the functions, opportunities and risks but without forcing the students to join one of the networks.
This story shows the differences we have in the European Union when it comes to data protection vs. facing the reality of technology taking over our daily life. The UK-based Education Foundation just published a Facebook Guide for Educators in which teachers find case studies and examples of how to use the social network in a school setting.
All of the above might leave an interesting option for the creation of a new education startup open, a German Edmodo, if you will. This network needed to be hosted entirely in Germany and complies with the data privacy protection laws. Of course, it needed to be paid or financed by the state as ad-based revenue would not be allowed. Looking at the success of Edmodo in the US it is somewhat astonishing that nobody has cloned it so far. Maybe based on the bad experiences with Studi-VZ.
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