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SXSW EDU 2019 - Where school safety, security and surveillance meet

SXSW EDU 2019 – Where School Safety, Security and Surveillance Meet


The ninth annual SXSW EDU was held in Austin, TX on March 4-7, 2019. The SXSW EDU conference and festival boasts four days of powerful, intriguing and thought-provoking discussions on all things education, which is why here at Impero, we were delighted to have been asked to attend and take part on two very important topics- student safety and student privacy.

Moderator, Tony Wan, is the Managing Editor at EdSurge where he frets over stories, semantics and snappy headlines. He was named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in Education in 2014 and proved to hold the skills and knowledge to pose the important questions to be answered on the panel.

Joining the panel, Doug Levin and Bill Fitzgerald brought expertise in the rights of student privacy and the unintentional ways in which collecting student data could hinder these rights and their safety, while Stephanie Cerda of Austin ISD offered insight from an administrator’s perspective.

From Impero, our very own Courtney Goodsell joined the discussion. Courtney is our Product Owner for Student Safety and Wellbeing. Her role involves researching safety and wellbeing issues affecting young people around the globe and understanding how educators can make a positive impact on student wellbeing through technology.

With such a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, the panel proved for an insightful debate.

Our first SXSW EDU 2019 debate

First on the agenda, Wan posed the concept of artificial intelligent (AI) technologies and what schools should be on the lookout for when considering tools such as these. Levin put forward that schools should be mindful of the reliability of technologies such as these.

The question of how Impero provides context, Goodsell explained Impero provides a screenshot or video recording dependent on the severity of a keyword that has been flagged. Looking into this, school staff are able to make informed decisions on how to respond to the incident. Goodsell made it clear that the keyword flags within Impero aren’t there to reprimand or to end up on a student’s permanent record, but to act as a tool to promote conversation. She used the example of if a young person were to cyberbully someone, an opportunity to offer the discussion on the repercussions if a future employer were to see those comments may arise whilst addressing the issue of cyberbullying in itself.

Fitzgerald used a real-life example of where a principal had asked, on a public forum, about what a particular student had accessed on a particular time and date, pointing out that this is a particular risk when exposing student data. From this, Fitzgerald was able to identify the school, the grade and name of the pupil in question. Responding to this, Goodsell pointed out that it is necessary to “educate the educators” on how to handle student data.

She went on to talk about how, at Impero, we support school staff fully with a dedicated support team and product specialists to help guide best practice when implementing Impero in their schools. More than this, Goodsell went on to say that Impero hold webinars and training sessions, as well as expert advice in the Impero Online Safety Handbook. Fitzgerald echoed this sentiment by stating that it is important that people who are accessing that data are trained in how to use it effectively.

Cerda highlighted that there isn’t enough support for school administrators when it comes to handling data and that she isn’t sure of where to look for such important information. Goodsell stated that when looking at particular solutions, school staff should always seek to ask for guidance on implementation, of which Impero prides themselves for.

Fitzgerald stated that the majority of people in education are in it for the right reasons. However, monitoring tools are turning into something that is easier for adults and becoming less about what’s best for young people. Off the back of this, Goodsell stated that monitoring tools are just that, tools. These tools should not be used on their own and should be used alongside other methods to promote a culture of safety and care in the school environment.

Goodsell went on to mention a previous session at SXSW EDU, where the mother of a young boy who tragically lost his life at the Sandy Hook shooting, has introduced an app whereby students can anonymously report activity that may indicate risk of harm. Gaining information and data such as this can save people’s lives and make a positive contribution to keeping young people self, whilst promoting that supporting and caring culture.

Summary of “Where School Safety, Security and Surveillance Meet” panel

Tony Wan, the moderator for this panel summarizes the debate well in his latest article here:

From our perspective, the key point throughout the discussion was the need for a balance in protecting student privacy, whilst ensuring schools keep students safe in their care. The greatest emphasis was held in ensuring that school staff are equipped with the knowledge and resources to successfully implement monitoring tools, whilst ensuring they are handling the data correctly. Impero prides itself on the ongoing support and guidance to which we offer our customers and encourage any education establishment using, or thinking of using Impero’s product suite to take advantage of the consultancy we can offer.

To learn more about Impero Education Pro or see it in action, click here.

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