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Equity in Civic Technology, Privacy & Data

Student Privacy and Learning Pods: New Education Models in a Pandemic

COVID-19 has given rise to new education models known as “learning pods.” Although pods combine the relative safety of remote learning with the strengths of in-person instruction, they also introduce challenges to student privacy that must be mitigated.

Learning Pods Overview

A learning pod consists of students from a small group of families who study together in person, facilitated by a teacher or other supervisor. The goal is to retain the structure and supervision of in-person learning, while mitigating the COVID risks from large gatherings of students.

Some pods supplement virtual learning, while others supplant other schooling arrangements. In one model, families set up a small, private group with other students, hiring a teacher or tutor to fully replace school-provided instruction. The costs of supporting a teacher’s salary and providing other resources can be high, making this model likely inaccessible to lower- or middle-income families and subsequently raising concerns about heightened inequities.

Other models are aimed at increasing equity and slowing learning losses that COVID-19 is creating. Families are partnering with foundations to defray the expense of hosting a pod or joining pods hosted by non-profits or local government agencies. In Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, nonprofits are establishing socially distanced learning “hubs” in churches, office spaces, and theaters to provide students with meals, structure, and a safe, connected place to learn. San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families has launched a similar initiative. Finally, some public schools themselves are organizing pods, supplementing virtual classroom instruction with in-person support from tutors, teachers, or other staff.

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