The school’s computer but whose data is it?


A school issues you a computer. When you retired, change jobs or are fired you are expected to return that computer. Some places allow you to purchase it. If the computer screen is cracked, has a hard drive failure or another physical problem with the computer you give it to the school to have it repaired because the computer it’s not your computer right? So what about the data on the compute? What happens when you lose data due to a hard drive failure – then what?

The school will repair the hard drive for sure but all your data is typically lost. So what I’m getting at here party people is if the school owns the computer they probably own the data on the computer as well. Shouldn’t they be responsible for retrieving that data? Sounds like a pretty compelling argument huh but it is flawed and I;ll go over a few scenarios here to illustrate my point.

Data recovery is expensive
Data recovery worth a while is expensive and the results are never guaranteed. The bottom line is all hard drives will fail. It’s not a matter of if but a matter of when. Hard drives, solid state drives it doesn’t matter. These parts are not meant to last and they will fail. For a school to invest into constant data recovery is pointless especially when you know that every device you have could fail. It just doesn’t make sense.

It’s not worth it (to the school)
Let’s face it. Your work computer most likely has some personal data on it: pictures, music, videos, emails, etc. Of course there are lesson and unit plans, photos for school but really what does the school need? If that data goes poof how much of an impact will it have on the school? Probably none and schools know this. Knowing means that it is difficult to justify a $500 data recovery cost for a teacher’s data.

The real value of that data is for the individual user. Trust me folks, I’ve had hard drive or system failures that locks my data away from me and I know how much it hurts. I know how disruptive and frustrating it is. I can empathize with you, but the school feels none of that because the value of that data to the school is extremely minimal – maybe even none.

The school DOES care about data
That is not to say that the school doesn’t care about data. Hell, schools THRIVE off of the stuff, but the data their interested in is not the data you have on your computer. They are interested in student information (addresses, grades, contact numbers, etc) which is usually in a student information system. They are interested in curriculum maps which are usually on a platform like Atlas Rubicon or even kept through copies or on various websites. Of course there are contracts, medical data and various other documents that are kept locally at the school – this is data they need and care about.

All of this is usually backed up through different systems. Our school backs up the student information system here as well as online and multiple copies are kept incase one system fails. The same is true for our Atlas Rubicon. This is the data that keeps the school up and running

Should the school back up my data too?
The short answer is no. The school should not be responsible for this. Let’s take a look at the options they can offer you. Windows 7 & 8 and Macs have built in back up tools that work really well, but you need an external hard drive to use them. That’s usually going to run you anywhere from $55 – 100 USD. Not a huge investment even spread out over a large school but what happens when those teachers leave? How can you ensure they turn in their hard drive? What if it breaks, what if it is lost? This will happen – what then? It seems like it will cause more trouble than what it’s worth?

So how about online storage – this makes sense. If you’re a Google Apps school everyone gets 30GB of storage space. That’s quite a bit but uploading it up there takes time (unless you are using an ftp option). Then there is a lot maintenance needed for example when files are updated and and clearing out old files. It’s not the best system but it could work with a bit of extra time, but most people (not just teachers) don’t want that. They don’t want to have to search the far reaches of their hard drive and compare it to the far reaches of their cloud storage. It’s not convenient to say the least.

What about flash drives? Well . . . *sigh* . . . there are so many obvious limitations that I won’t even get into it.

So what should teachers do?
Bite the bullet, buy an external hard drive (and maybe even an online service) and back up your data. If your hard drive goes and your data is gone – the school will chug right along, but the real question is will you?

If you need some ideas on how to back up read my post here.

Patrick Cauley

2 thoughts on “The school’s computer but whose data is it?”

  1. I think a while ago this was tricky, but now with dropbox, it’s really easy as pie. I actually have a dropbox folder with a “work” folder and an “personal” folder. When I leave, I’ll simply unlink my computer from dropbox, and delete the personal folder. Everything will be there for my replacement. I regularly backup my dropbox folder onto local RAID’ed storage at home.

    I like what you wrote about teachers using their school computers for personal stuff. It’s a bad practice, and they really should stop. As it stands, we ask teachers to use one browser for work stuff, and one browser for personal stuff, but not to save anything personal on the computer.

    Thank you for the post.

    1. Bill,

      Thanks for the comments – its what makes this all worth while. I agree teachers shouldn’t but a number of teachers come to us with no computer and they rely on their school computer as their personal computer too. It’s not perfect – for staff that are leaving, we wipe the computers clean and then image them. You’re right with Dropbox, Google Drive and Google take out they can back up all their data several times over. It hasn’t been a big push at my school but it is something that I hope to change. I’ll probably start making the push after our spring break.

      That means more posts to come soon!

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