Digital Literacy

Digital Sanctuary and annotating Terms of Service

At the OLC Innovate conference in April 2018, I presented with my colleague Adam Croom (Director of the Office of Digital Learning & Assistant Professor in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma) about our recent work together. Our collaboration began in 2017, when we presented on a panel about Domain of One’s Own (like MiddCreate) as a tool for facilitating critical engagement with the instructional technologies we use in higher education. We framed our presentation as part of ongoing conversations about Digital Sanctuary, a term described in a paper I wrote last year.

In the paper, I argued that we “need to seriously consider how we think about and handle student data, and we need to respectfully and empathetically acknowledge where our practices may cause harm.” I outlined seven strategies for advancing our institutions as digital sanctuaries for students:

  • Audit student data repositories and policies associated with third-party providers
  • Have a standard and well-known policy about how to handle external inquiries for student data and information.
  • Provide an audit of data to students who want to know what data is kept on them, how the data is kept, where it is kept, and who else has access.
  • Have clear guidelines and regulations for how data is communicated and transmitted between offices.
  • Take seriously the data policies of third-party vendors.
  • Closely examine and rethink student-tracking protocols.
  • Give students technological agency in interacting with the institution.

You can read more in the full paper. While these strategies may seem straightforward, they can be difficult to achieve in higher education institutions where decisions about the technologies with which our students interact are distributed among various departments and people. At Middlebury, for instance, the decision to adopt a classroom-focused technology might be made by ITS, by DLINQ, by a department, or by an individual faculty or staff member. A good place to start is with the Terms of Service/Privacy Policies for technologies we use in the classroom (which is why I bolded the related statement above). In light of the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica debacle, and with increasing concerns about how much surveillance and data collection we do on our students, we need to be prepared to engage critically with the Terms of Service/Privacy Policy for any tool that touches student data.

Engaging critically with the Terms of Service/Privacy Policy for a digital tool can be pretty difficult. Adam and I focused our project on creating something that would allow people to annotate Terms of Service for tools they use in class and to view aggregated annotations for a service/tool they are considering.

Read Adam’s blog post about our presentation and the tool he built to allow us to test out the annotation framework (categories and questions for guiding ToS annotations) we want to further develop. We received helpful feedback on the tool during our presentation and after Adam’s blog post published. Our next steps are to engage broader communities of practitioners and faculty to help us hone the annotation categories/questions and to refine the technology we’ll use to aggregate and display the annotations.

If you are a faculty, staff, or student at Middlebury (or an alum!) and would like to work with us on this project, please let us know. We need help building the tool, testing out the annotation categories/questions on real ToS, and tying the framework to the technology governance process at Middlebury (looking at you, Academic Cyberinfrastructure Inventory project!). Contact me via email or on Twitter (@amcollier; Adam is @acroom) to connect to this project.

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