As GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) kicks in at the end of this week, data protection seems to be on our minds and seems to be what a lot of us have been talking about lately. An EU regulation to give individuals more control of their personal data, companies collecting personal data must now disclose what data is being collected, how it’s being processed, who it’s being shared with and how long it’ll be retained. (Speaking of GDPR, have you replied to our email so that you get to keep receiving our newsletters and notifications to my latest blogposts? *wink*)

With the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data scandal, we are a bit more wary of how our data is being used by corporations and big organisations. At the same time, we are conscious of the fact that in the age of the internet, not giving out any personal data is simply not an option (for most of us). GDPR therefore seems to be a welcomed move towards companies taking more responsibility for the way they look after the personal data we entrust them with.

However, not everyone has the same feelings and opinions about privacy data protection. Whether Alexa should be left on standby to listen to all our private conversations is a debatable issue and we don’t always all agree. Some might argue that if we have nothing to hide, we shouldn’t be worried. Others say privacy is a matter of human rights. And having trained teachers from different countries, there’s arguably also a cultural difference between the ways we see data protection and the extent to which we crave privacy.  Others say it might be a generational difference.

Nevertheless, as teachers, it can often be tricky having to consider the different aspects of our students’ privacy and our own privacy both online and in the classroom. Instead of pondering these issues on your own, it could be useful to discuss and reflect on them with your peers and your students so as to improve our digital literacy, and raise awareness of the concerns and the different views on the matter.



Below are two categories of questions that you can use to promote discussion on the topic of online privacy and data protection. Category A looks at the teachers’ privacy issues and can be used in the staffroom or with teacher development groups. Cateogry B looks at general privacy and data protection issues and can be used in a classroom discussion with students.

Category A: For teachers/teacher development groups

  1. Does your school or institution have certain privacy rules that prevents you from getting your students’ email addresses or frowns upon you communicating with your students on social media? (This may depend on whether you teach young learners or adults) Why do you think these rules exist? Are there reasons to argue against them?

  2. Does your school/institution block certain websites from being accessed? On what basis are they blocked? What is the procedure for getting them unblocked if you find them useful and would like to use them in your lessons?

  3. How do you feel about using educational apps and online programmes that require you and your students to register and start an account? What kind of data are you happy to give when registering? What kind of data are you happy for your students to give when registering? What kind of data are you not so keen on giving? What are your reasons for feeling this way?

  4. How do you feel about sharing your Facebook or social media accounts with your students?  Would you add your students as friends? What do you have on your social media accounts that you might be uncomfortable sharing with your students? Would you have separate accounts for professional and personal use? 

  5. How do you feel about sharing your mobile number with your students? e.g. in order to make use of a group Whatsapp chat? What might be the pros and cons of doing that?

  6. How do you feel about sharing your email address with your students? Why might you feel that this is more acceptable than sharing your social media account or your mobile number?

  7. How do you feel about having your lessons recorded and shared e.g. for teacher training purposes? Why do you feel that way?

  8. Which of the following would you find an undesirable intrusion of your privacy? Put them in order of the level of intrusion you feel. Why do you feel this way?

  9. A student sending you messages about their homework on your mobile phone.

  10. A student calling you on your mobile phone for a quick chat about their homework.

  11. A student wanting to audio record your lesson (as lesson notes).

  12. A student messaging you on Facebook or tweeting you.

  13. A student asking you to read (and perhaps correct the English in) their personal diary.

  14. A student wanting to talk to you after class about their personal problems.



Category B: For discussions with students

  1. Who do you normally add to your social media accounts? Would they be people you have met before? Do you use different media to communicate with different people? e.g. Facebook for friends you’ve met; Instagram for aquaintances or people you’ve only connected with online; LinkedIn for business/work-related contacts.

  2. Do you use the privacy settings on your social media accounts? How do you use them?

  3. What types of photos or information would you be happy to share on your social media accounts? What types of photos or information do you think should not be shared?

  4. How do you feel about giving away your email address to shops, online stores, and online apps? Would you feel the same way about giving away your phone number?

  5. How do you feel about receiving emails from companies and people you don’t know? Do you feel the same way about getting phone calls from people you don’t know? Which is a bigger intrusion for you?

  6. What information would you be happy to give when registering for an online account (so as to use an app, or buy from an online store)? What information do you feel annoyed to be asked for?

  7. How do you feel about receiving targeted advertisements online based on information you’ve written about in your social media posts, your online chats and your emails?

  8. How do you feel about receiving targeted news feeds that fits your political or religious beliefs based on the information you’ve provided through your social media posts?



In the age of online shopping and seemingly-free apps, there is no doubt that knowledge is power, and knowledge of our personal data is certainly proving to a desirable commodity. Unless we isolate ourselves from technology and modern life, online privacy and data protection are issues that affect us all and are things we should really contemplate, whether as teachers or as individuals.

As Edward Snowden once said,

Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”