With students and teachers both stuck at home due to the global health emergency, the world is diving headfirst into remote learning, but the journey to discovery of this new practice is not without obstacles: as schools are forced to turn to video lessons and online assignments, a question becomes more pressing than ever in the minds of educators, IT managers and concerned parents. Are students’ devices and information safe?
Having an online presence opens up a plethora of opportunities, but is not without risks, and now that being online is the only way left to learn, the perception of those risks is at an all-time high.
But even these difficult times can turn into a valuable teachable moment: remote learning is an opportunity to shape students into responsible digital citizens and present them with a model of behaviour that will keep them safe in their online ventures for the rest of their lives.
Let’s explore four ways you can make remote learning safer for everyone involved and teach an important lesson at the same time.
1. Educate everyone, not just your students
It is easy to assume that students are the ones most in need of an education, but security risks can just as easily come from school staff. Young people are not the only ones engaging in incorrect online behaviour, and now that most parties involved will be working from personal devices rather than school-issued ones, the danger is greater than ever. Remind everyone that scams and malware tend to flourish in times of crisis and establish clear guidelines on which EdTech resources are safe to use and what security practices are encouraged. In troubled times when people are frightened and craving information, it is always a good idea to remind both students and teachers that clicking links and opening attachments from unreliable senders is fraught with risks, being asked for online credentials or other sensitive information is a red flag, and misinformation abounds, so it is every responsible citizen’s duty to check the source of any claim before accepting it as true.
2. Listen to the parents’ concerns
Keep your students’ families informed about the steps you are taking to protect their children’s privacy and be aware that even that may not meet everyone’s exacting standards. Be ready to come up with alternatives if they express concerns about your school’s remote learning practices or even refuse to let their children participate: some may be uncomfortable showing views of their private homes to the world via webcam, others may not want to expose their children to the risk of their conference calls being recorded and posted elsewhere. In general, pre-recorded lessons created by teachers without student intervention tend to be safer than conference calls, even if they sacrifice the chance to ask questions and exchange immediate feedback in the name of security, simply because they generate no footage of minors that may be used for nefarious purposes.
3. Keep up to date
Outdated software will inevitably have more security gaps than newer versions. Encourage both families and staff to keep abreast of updates concerning their home routers, operating systems, Web browsers, and any app they may be using for learning purposes. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and software forms a chain that everyone must do their part to reinforce. A series of personal devices of varying quality and security constitutes a wider, weaker network for bad actors to exploit than a school system with tight, uniform standards, so keeping software updated on their home computers is the least students and staff can do now that some of the burden of security is on their shoulders instead of being exclusively in the school’s IT management’s hands.
4. Passwords matter
If at all possible, implement multifactor authentication. It may be more inconvenient to use than a single password, but it provides an additional layer of security. If you are unable or unwilling to do so, then at least emphasize the importance of creating strong passwords and not sharing them with anyone and choose remote learning options that do not require setting up student accounts over video conference systems that force each student to create credentials.