Many South Dakota schools use digital learning platforms. The Regental institutions use Brightspace/D2L. The Spearfish School District uses Moodle (which is open source, bless you, Spearfish!). Digital learning platforms, also called virtual learning environments, extend the classroom to a safe, online space where students and teachers can create and share materials, converse, and take care of course administrative tasks.
Digital learning platforms must also be implanting liberal microchips in your kids, because Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) is leading a group of conservatives in proposing House Bill 1184, which would regulate digital learning platforms and allow parents to opt their kids out of using these nefarious dens of digital iniquity.
Section 1 of HB 1184 defines "digital learning platform" as "an interactive digital platform that collects and records any personally identifiable student information." By that definition, Google Drive is an digital learning platform. Teachers use Google Drive all the time as a quick, easy solution for student collaboration and homework submission. It's interactive, students log in with distinct IDs, and they submit essays, slideshows, and other projects under their own names. Arguably, the Internet as a whole could be viewed as a digital learning platform, since websites collect data about the computers from which students log in, how long they visit, and which links they click, not to mention any data the students may enter as they interact with the websites.
Section 2 is where that broad definition gets sticky. HB 1184 would require schools to provide adult students and parents of minor students "a formal written explanation of the goals and capabilities" of any digital learning platform intended for classroom use, "including of any software, whether the software is loaded onto the platform or hosted externally by a third party." Specifically, schools must detail the following:
- How the platform works and the platform's principal purpose or purposes;
- The title and business address of the school official who is responsible for the platform, and the name and business address of any contractor or outside party maintaining the platform for or on behalf of the school;
- The information the software is designed to collect from any student or capture and record about any student, including any data matches with other personally identifiable student information;
- Every element of data that the platform or software will collect or record about any student, including personal psychological characteristics; noncognitive attributes or skills such as collaboration, resilience, and perseverance; and physiological measurements;
- The purpose of collecting and recording the data;
- Every contemplated use or disclosure of the data, the categories of recipients, and the purpose of any use or disclosure;
- The policies and practices of the school regarding storage, retrievability, access controls, retention, and disposal of the records collected and recorded by the platform [House Bill 1184, original text, posted 2015.01.30].
There goes my innovation in the classroom. Suppose I find a quick and easy classroom wiki that looks like a good fit for a new assignment I'm doing this month with my students. I have no idea if I'll want to use the wiki in the future; I'd just like to test drive it, see if it's student-friendly. Under HB 1184, I need to research and write-up that eight-point analysis (which, if I responsibly fulfill HB 1184, should run several pages) and send it to the parent/guardian of every student in the school (the bill does not limit notifications for course-specific implementations to students in that course). Never mind—we'll just make posters with construction paper.
Section 3 says any digital learning platform must include "a portal or other mechanism allowing parents access to the platform and to all the content available to the students using the platform." Sure, no problem: I love having parents visit my classroom to see what students are learning and creating. I like students to know that their work could be seen by members of the public, not just by me.
But let's play lawyer: HB 1184 says "all the content available to the students." It doesn't say, "parents may access all content available to their child or children." My casual legal reading says HB 1184 lets me demand access not just to my child's homework submissions but to every other child's classroom work products. If your school runs a secure site like D2L, where grades and comments from instructors are available to students, HB 1184 gives parents access to everyone's grades and comments. (Rep. DiSanto, really, why don't you call me before you post language like this?)
HB 1184 throws our aspirations to 21st-century online learning into complete chaos with Section 4, the opt-out clause:
Unless a school accredited by the state certifies that the platform is essential to the school's educational mission and provides an explanation for the basis of that certification, a student who has reached the age of eighteen, or the parent or guardian of a minor student, may opt out of the use of any digital-learning platform [HB 1184].
Essential? I like to say I can teach anything with chalk and good shoes, but Socrates, the archetype for great teaching, walked around the agora barefoot and didn't write anything down. The Internet could blow up tomorrow, and while my heart would ache, I could still ask kids provocative questions and help them become intelligent citizens. No digital learning platform is "essential" to a school's mission. Thus, under HB 1184, any student can opt out of the use of any digital learning platform, and my plan to turn all South Dakota students into responsible online citizen journalists is foiled. Curses!
Maybe the hearing on House Bill 1184 in House Education will clarify Rep. DiSanto's privacy concerns. But trust me, Rep. DiSanto: I can corrupt your youth whether or not I can require them to log in to Moodle. Perhaps you should drop HB 1184 and turn your intense concerns about privacy to warrantless searches, the burdensome documentation requirements for drivers licenses, and—oh yeah!—your fellow Republican Senator Corey Brown's conversion of petition reform into an invasion of unfortunate political candidates' medical privacy (see Senate Bill 69, Section 19).