How We Protect Data at ASSISTments

October 17, 2019

Protecting student privacy is our top priority. At ASSISTments, we know that our students, parents, and schools have a clear and important right to their own data.

As an organization, we are also dedicated to supporting researchers as they study new ideas and innovations in responsive education technology in mathematics education while also supporting teachers and students in using these online supports. 

We’ve designed ASSISTments to support these goals and deliver high-quality, free education support to classrooms everywhere. In other words, we designed ASSISTments so that it supports students and researchers, particularly researchers who might need a place to find out what works and what does not work in online tools. 

While privacy has always been a priority to us, we wanted to have a straightforward document without legalese that explains how we ensure privacy given recent debate over the topic. This is that document.  

Like most tools that sync with Google Classroom, students and teachers who use ASSISTments entrust us with their Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This is defined as any information that can be used to identify an individual person. In order to protect the privacy of our users while also supporting research any time someone uses our data, we fully anonymize this PII using a variety of tools including privacy-focused algorithms. We also have humans in the loop who periodically check data for privacy as well as secure servers to make sure data is not stolen. 

This approach enables us to both secure users’ information while also allowing scientists to learn what works and does not work in the new field of education technology. This is important. Like medical doctors or engineers, we value a culture of continuous improvement and make changes to the technology based on the research.  

At the same time, we believe in the spirit of “open science.” We support this “open science” approach by  providing educational researchers the opportunity to request anonymized data-sets for use in their research. Many of these researchers conduct studies with focused questions such as, “what can we learn about student persistence when doing homework using an online tool?” and “how can teachers support student misconceptions using real-time feedback in an online setting?”  

The practice of open science is extremely important for education because it creates a cycle of information sharing between researchers and schools and teachers. Thus, new improvements and innovations that are backed by research can be applied to schools more quickly.

We approach issues of privacy with extreme care and a commitment to keeping data safe and secure, and  we take the same precautions as U.S. government agencies to ensure that data is not identifiable. Our tools have been vetted by many federal agencies and universities. (ASSISTments is sponsored and supported by Worcester Polytechnic Institute.) We also never have — and will never— sell data or the results of our research.

In short, we are committed to protecting student privacy while using what we learn from real classrooms to inform research-based education.  

As always, we appreciate your support and we welcome your questions and queries.

 

From all of us at ASSISTments


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