By Jake McNeill and
Imagine attending class by slipping on a pair of high-tech eyewear like Google Glass, which allows you to view your lecture, interact with classmates and even access
assignments through eye movements. Or
show up for an exercise science course by accessing a bracelet that tracks heart rate, location and all of your movements — even
while you sleep.
It’s not the plot of sci-fi movie — it’s the
present, and perhaps the inevitable future, of
mobile learning. Innovations in smartphone
and wearable technology have created unprecedented opportunities for personal and
professional development, and more educators and students turn to apps and wireless
devices to facilitate the educational process.
As a result, mobile learning has become a
top-priority initiative in many academic
But while wearable technology creates new
opportunities for innovative teaching and
learning, it also raises questions about privacy, access and ownership of student data.
Sensors that track location, biometrics and
other physiological data, (often referred to as
“biodata”) are becoming integrated with mobile devices — sometimes without the user’s
full awareness that data is being collected,
and how it can or should be used.
Devices like Google Glass, Fitbit fitness
tracker and the recently announced Apple
Watch have made wearable technology more
accessible and more affordable to everyday
mobile users, who already see their smartphones as essential to their everyday lives and
perhaps an extension of their physical selves.
Many of these devices look like fashion accessories: seamlessly integrated into the wearer’s appearance and daily routine.
While educational institutions work to cre-
ate secure online learning environments and
address privacy issues within their own
course management systems, students and
educators are using a variety of mobile devic-
es and third-party apps to access online
courses, complete coursework and store files.
Each device or platform has its own terms of
service and policies for use, access and ownership of each individual user’s data.
By overlooking terms of service, we might
inadvertently allow third-party government
or corporate entities access to data that we
assumed was private or anonymous. The
popular Fitbit fitness tracker “may share or
sell aggregated, de-identified data” for research or reports about health and fitness,
which means the company might sell your
fitness data, but with name and other identifying info removed. Should users have the
right to sell their own data or opt-out of these
Mobile users often cite privacy and security as a top concern, but we often make decisions to adopt new technology based on cost,
convenience and functionality. Even when an
app or device appears safe, an individual’s
data might be vulnerable to privacy breaches,
loss and other misuse.
Students, who are often portrayed as “
Digital Natives” with an innate understanding of
technology, value privacy but are not always
willing to sacrifice other benefits to protect
their data. They might overlook privacy and
security clearances that often come with
downloading an application to their phones.
Later, they might try to retroactively seek privacy by deleting apps or accounts, but the
data will remain on the company’s servers as
its own property.
Educators who want to protect their students’ privacy must also make difficult decisions about the benefits versus challenges of
innovative technology. Current student privacy laws don’t extend beyond basic student records, and there is no control over most
third-party apps and devices utilized for educational purposes. Activists have also raised
concerns about effective disclosure of students’ rights, or that educators themselves are
unsure about students’ rights and sometimes
convey inaccurate information to students.
As the future of mobile learning becomes
the “virtual” classroom of today, educators
and academic institutions must address im-
■ How can educators help students navi-
gate mobile privacy issues while encour-
aging students to embrace innovation?
■ Which applications and devices offer the
best privacy and security options?
■ What rights to privacy can we reasonably expect?
There must also be a discussion on the use
of personal devices for secure communication and how encryption services can serve
as an effective security precaution for information stored locally or in decentralized,
cloud-based storage. Privacy and ownership
of physiological/biometric and genetic data
(biodata) collected by wearable technology
devices including Google Glass and Fitbit,
also must be explored, including the private
companies and government agencies whose
policies and procedures regarding biodata set
precedents for others to follow.
Jake McNeill, (Society Vice President for
Marketing and Member Benefits) Senior
Lecturer of Communication at Kennesaw
State University and President of KSU’s
Phi Kappa Phi chapter 256, specializes
in media studies, audio production and
videography. He is the author of Digital
Symbiosis: New Media in Transition (2010, National Social Science
Press) and Concepts of New Media (2013, Pearson Publishing).
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Anatomy of Information:
Bio-data and Wearable Technology Under Examination
Amber Hutchins (Arizona State
University) is the director of the Public
Relations major at Kennesaw State
University in Kennesaw, Georgia. Her
research interests include PR ethics and
social media for strategic communication.
As a PR practitioner, she has worked
in a variety of areas of PR including entertainment, health
care and corporate communication. She earned a B.A. and
M.M.C. at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and
Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a Ph.D.
in Communication at The University of Utah. Email her at