Penn State Reads panel to highlight data use, privacy practices

Alison Kuznitz
March 31, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Reads will host a panel exploring the impact of technology in students’ daily lives, building off cybersecurity themes found in the “The Circle” — the 2016-17 common book selection by award-winning author Dave Eggers.

“Penn State, Your Data and You” will be held from 2-3 p.m. April 4 in the HUB-Robeson Center’s Freeman Auditorium. University Ethics Officer Tim Balliett, of the Office of Ethics and Compliance, will moderate the discussion.

Panelists will include Andrew Sears, dean of the College of Information Sciences and Technology; Holly Swires, privacy officer and interim HIPAA officer; Donald Welsh, chief information security officer; and David Smith, associate dean for advising and executive director of the Division of Undergraduate Studies.

“We thought this would be a good opportunity to have an open forum to share with students what data the University has, how we utilize that data, how we protect that data, and what students can do if they have questions and concerns,” Balliett said.

Following the University’s transition to Canvas and LionPath, more data on students’ personal academic records and activities exists than ever before, Balliett said. Those platforms, he said, also come geared with enhanced capabilities for learning analytics and communication between advisers, faculty and students.

The Digital Learning Academic Council recently formed a subcommittee addressing how this data should — and shouldn’t — be used. This task becomes increasingly difficult, Balliett said, when it comes to finding a balance between protecting student privacy and using data to enhance student success.

University policies and legal boundaries, alongside best practices for students, will be at the forefront of the panel.

Balliett said the panel will stress the importance of protecting passwords and keeping official University information secure. Oftentimes, as students reroute Webmail communications to a different email server, third parties may gain control of this data.

“Privacy of student data is of utmost importance to the University,” Balliett said. “We have a number of safeguards in place, and we want to be able to share what those are.”

Panelists will spotlight privacy resources, including, the Office of the University Registrar, the Office of Information Security, and how to raise concerns.

Denise Shivery, the communications and training specialist at the Office of Ethics and Compliance, said as technology usage continues to grow, some of the strategies discussed at the panel should eventually become “common sense.”

“You often just agree to the terms and conditions on an app or website because you want to get into the system,” Shivery said. “But, your phone and data become vulnerable.”

Additional information about Penn State Reads can be found at

Penn State Reads is run jointly by Penn State Student Affairs and Penn State Undergraduate Education

Last Updated April 20, 2017