Securing Alberta Students’ Online Identities

An online platform that helps staff and students at K-12 schools to safely and easily access third-party learning services is now available to Alberta education authorities. Pika is the first Alberta-based “federated identity management” solution to be dedicated to educators, and the only one in Canada that is offered to K-12 school districts. As well as ensuring a safer login experience for students, the program reduces the burden for school administrators of connecting new learning apps.

The Pika Federation was developed by Cybera, Alberta’s not-for-profit technology accelerator, to address a growing concern for Alberta schools: how to provide students with simple access to outside learning tools (such as FreshGrade, myBlueprint, Microsoft 365 and Google Education services), while ensuring their login data stays secure, and also minimizing the setup time for administrators.

Currently, educators that use multiple online applications have to separately negotiate with each service provider to determine how their students’ data will be collected and stored. This can be a complex and time-consuming process. Meanwhile, students at these institutions are often expected to set up separate accounts (and memorize separate passwords) for each service.

Building a trust framework

Begun as a pilot in 2015, the Pika Federation is a shared solution overseen by Alberta school authority leaders and Cybera’s privacy experts. Participants spent two years developing the federation’s “trust framework”, which incorporates a number of policies for sharing student data with third-party applications. Service providers must agree to this framework — which includes limits on the student data they can access and store (such as location, names, and contact information) — before they can offer their services to the federation.

The benefit of Pika is that it allows education authorities to quickly access multiple services and tools that they know meet set privacy policies. Administrators also know exactly what pieces of personal information are being used by each service, and for what purpose.

“We subscribe to multiple tools and subscription services, which means, for each one, our student data is leaving our record system and being submitted somewhere else,” says Ron Eberts, Associate Superintendent, Technology & Information Services for Red Deer Public Schools, an early member of the Pika Federation. “Protecting their privacy has traditionally fallen under my umbrella, which can create a lot of anxiety for me. The beauty of a federation like this is that it handles the authentication, and I know I can trust any service that is allowed in. That means I can enable a new tool for thousands of students with a simple click of a button.”

Single sign-on

For students, one of the biggest benefits of the Pika Federation is its single sign-on functionality. Users are able to see and access all authorized apps through one catalogue, meaning they no longer have to memorize a series of passwords to access different learning tools. The federation also allows for new services to be added quickly.

“Our goal with the Pika Federation was to remove the complexity involved with meeting student privacy and data protection requirements, and make it as simple as possible for students to access important third-party learning tools,” adds May Lynn Lee, Program Manager at Cybera. “We’re continuously expanding Pika’s catalogue of services, and look forward to working with school administrators to make this program a success!”

Getting started

The Pika Federation is now available for Cybera’s K-12 school members to join. To find out how to get started, contact pika@cybera.ca.

Background

What is Federated Identity Management?

A collaboration of independent organizations that agree to a common set of policies, practices, and protocols to enable users from one organization to seamlessly and securely access shared applications from another organization.

What are the benefits of Pika to members?

  • Students can access multiple learning applications using a single login.
  • Administrators can save time, as managing student accounts (across separate platforms) can be handled from a single location.
  • Education leaders can more easily meet federal/provincial privacy requirements for protecting student data.
  • Connecting to the Pika Federation is seamless. The service also works with schools that operate their own on-premise identity management system, and does not require additional applications to be installed.

What services does Pika currently partner with?

  • FreshGrade
  • myBlueprint
  • Google (including Google Education and the G Suite of tools)
  • Microsoft 365
  • Cisco Meraki
  • Palo Alto
  • Rapid Access Cloud (a Cybera tool)
  • Adobe Spark
  • Virtual Firewall Service
  • See the full list

How to join

  • The service is geared towards K-12 schools in Alberta.
  • Organizations must be members of Cybera to participate. (Check out our membership page to see if your organization is already a Cybera member).    
  • Contact pika@cybera.ca to get started.