Design Around These Edtech Challenges Before They Become Barriers To Success

 In Articles, Online Safety

Educational technology in the classroom is one of the latest trends to sweep the startup and tech industry. Designed to connect teachers, students, and parents, edtech platforms grow in popularity, not to mention profitability, every day. In fact, according to TechCrunch, in the first 10 months of 2017, global investors staked $8.15 billion in edtech ventures.

The most effective edtech platforms include communication features like online forums, message boards, or chat options. What are the benefits of using technology in education? Online social features provide students and teachers with an additional, highly engaging level of interaction, much like they would experience in a traditional classroom setting.

As you can imagine, that opens the door to all sorts of challenges. How do you stop people from using profanity in your forum? Forget profanity – what about abusive language? The gaming industry has been dealing with online bullying and harassment for years – so what can edtech designers learn from them?

Pillar #1: Privacy by Design

GDPR and COPPA. CIPA and FERPA. Privacy regulations are everywhere. With Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony before the American Senate and European Parliament, and today’s General Data Protection Regulation deadline heightening industry awareness of data privacy issues, we expect to see new and enhanced privacy regulations introduced over the next few years.

Going forward, any company that collects personal information – whether it’s an email address, birthdate, IP address, or more – will be expected to embed robust and transparent privacy features into their product.

Due to the extra sensitive nature of children’s personal information, kids’ products are already strictly regulated by COPPA, FERPA, and now GDPR.

While it may seem daunting at first, compliance doesn’t have to be scary, and it’s not insurmountable. In our recent webinar “The ROI of COPPA” (watch it on-demand), we explored the surprising benefits of building COPPA compliant kid’s connected products, including increased user engagement, retention, and LTV.

If you’re getting into the edtech business, it’s critical that ensuring user privacy is part of your plan. Need guidance? We recommend that you work with a Safe Harbor company to ensure compliance.

Check out our beginner’s guide to COPPA compliance for a list of reputable companies that can help (they can assist with GDPR, too).

Pillar #2: Safety by Design

When it comes to kid’s online platforms, safety should never be an afterthought.

Any product that allows children to interact online (including games, social networks, messaging apps, and virtual worlds) is responsible for creating a safe environment where users are protected from bullying, harassment, hate speech, and child exploitation.

Regulations like COPPA and CIPA already mandate that under-13 products (and in the case of CIPA, K-12 libraries and schools) protect children from sharing and seeing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and harmful online content.

Regardless of demographic, edtech products – from learning management systems to tutoring apps – must make user safety a core feature of their offering.

Here are the two fundamental kinds of content that you should address in your platform:

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

COPPA says that you must take all reasonable measures to prevent users from sharing PII, which can include full name, phone number, email address, home address, and even images of children, like a profile pic. But COPPA and FERPA compliance aren’t the only reasons you should protect kids from sharing PII.

Children don’t always understand the dangers of exposing their personal information online. To prevent safety breaches, a text and image filter that is sophisticated enough to identify PII (notoriously difficult to detect, due to persistent filter manipulation attempts by young, savvy users) is a must-have. Wondering how hard it is to build a smart filter in-house? Check out the “Filter and redact PII” section of our beginner’s guide to COPPA.

High-risk content

We’re all familiar with the dangers of the internet. Abusive comments, bullying, harassment, sexual language and images, and illegal content like CSAM (child sexual abuse material) – they all put children online at risk.

When you include social features and user-generated content like chat, messaging, forums, and images in your edtech product, it’s important that you include a mechanism to proactively filter and moderate dangerous content. And if it’s built into your platform from the design phase onwards, you can avoid the challenges of implementing safety features at the last minute.

Much like ensuring privacy and compliance, we don’t recommend that you do it all yourself. Third-party software will save you loads of development time (and money) by providing battle-tested profanity filtering, subversion detection, context-based content triaging, and flexible options for multiple languages and demographics.

After all, you’re the education and technology expert. Your focus should be on creating the best possible experience for your users, and building content that is engaging, sticky, and informative.

Edtech is a growing industry with endless opportunities for new and established brands to make their mark with innovative products. Techniques for engaging students are changing every day, with new approaches like BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and after school esports leagues (check out these teaching resources) entering the classroom.

Online games, virtual worlds, and social networks have spent years figuring out how to keep children safe on their platforms. So why not take a page from their playbook, and make Privacy by Design and Safety by Design two of the pillars of your edtech platform?

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