While digital technologies are transforming classrooms into dynamic learning environments, their increased use raises cybersecurity risks around student data privacy. This article shares insights on how schools can tailor secure IT policies, scrutinise edtech tools, choose reliable vendors, and leverage experts to integrate technology safely and strategically into the modern classroom.
The rise of digital education and the role of IT tools in modern classrooms
The advent of digital technology has revolutionised education, turning traditional classrooms into dynamic learning environments. Information Technology (IT) tools, such as Learning Management Systems and interactive whiteboards, are now integral components, providing interactive, engaging, and personalised learning experiences, enhancing the overall teaching-learning process.
Incorporating IT tools into education capitalises on students’ familiarity with digital devices, sparking interest and increasing engagement. The use of projectors, computers, and advanced technology in classrooms creates an immersive and focused learning experience, making education both fascinating and enjoyable. And it’s not just hardware that’s improving learning and supporting teaching staff and students alike – software is too. AI, the cloud, and CRM are all transforming schools’ capabilities.
The pandemic triggered a rise in edtech and investment in these types of IT tools, as teachers saw the benefits technology could provide to students inside, and outside of the classroom. As well as promoting active learning and enhancing group participation, these technologies are transforming the way schools function and how information is used and shared. Post-pandemic, the hype remains, and digital transformation within the classroom continues.
Still, investing in new technologies is costly, and does come with a number of risks and considerations for integration – something many schools find challenging. So, what are the risks, and how can schools ensure their investments are both strategic and safe?
Potential risks associated with the use of IT tools in classrooms
While it is true that integrating digital tools helps make the modern classroom more engaging and contributes to the overall enrichment of student education, it should also be remembered that there are a multitude of cyber risks involved that educators and policymakers should be aware of. The interconnected nature of IT tools in education makes them susceptible to cyber threats. Ransomware attacks, phishing attempts, and other malicious activities pose a significant risk.
For example, according to the Department for Science Innovation and Technology, in the past 12 months, educational institutions of all kinds are more prone to have detected cybersecurity breaches or attacks compared to the average UK business. Additionally, the increasing role of AI in education raises ethical dilemmas surrounding fairness, accountability, and privacy. Resulting issues like educational access, transparency in learning recommendations, aggregation of student data, assignment of responsibility when AI fails or causes harm, must be addressed. It is also necessary to focus on the protection of sensitive information, and who maintains control over the data fueling these algorithms before the education sector jumps into leveraging new technologies in the classroom.
With new technologies, come new risks. Still, the protection of sensitive student and faculty data is of utmost importance, therefore, schools and institutions need to find a way to manage the risk, establish robust data privacy policies, and ensure that personal information remains confidential. Collaborating with reputable IT vendors and implementing encryption protocols can significantly mitigate the risks of data breaches and unauthorised access.
So, what are the practical steps to safe and secure IT integration in schools?
Practical strategies for the safe and secure integration of IT tools in classrooms
Developing customised policies:
Tailoring your policies to your individual institution is crucial. A one size fits all policy simply does not work. Each policy must be tailored to fit the unique landscape of each school’s needs. This includes conducting a thorough risk assessment of an educational institution’s IT infrastructure and identifying key stakeholders and their roles in the educational ecosystem. Following this, compliance with relevant data protection and regulations must be ensured.
Once these have been ticked off, access controls can be tailored to the specific needs of different user groups within the institution. For instance, administrative staff may need different levels of access compared to teachers or students. Implementing granular controls will ensure that individuals have access only to the resources necessary for their roles. By having clear policies on who can access this data, and how it is used, schools can prevent unauthorised access and potential misuse, thereby adding an extra layer of protection around sensitive student and faculty data.
A custom policy in an educational institution should also include a tailored incident response procedure that best fits the institution’s infrastructure. This procedure document would clearly outline the steps that need to be taken in the event of a security incident, while considering the unique challenges and priorities of the institution.This document should also define how information about security incidents will be communicated to staff, students, and parents, ensuring transparency and timely updates so transparency is ensured.
Zeroing in on the right technologies:
The pandemic highlighted the vast array of digital tools available. The abundance of diverse apps and software with comparable functionalities can be daunting, and there is a constant influx of new tools. It can be tempting to consistently incorporate new and exciting tools into the classroom setting. However, it should be remembered that the more technologies integrated, the wider the net for cyber threats and the easier it is for a cybersecurity breach to slip through the cracks. Moreover, with school budgets getting tighter and tighter, investing in expensive technologies is no easy decision. Schools are becoming more scrutinising of their investments, and the long-term ROI it will bring to their institutions, whilst balancing the requirements and costs that come with additional training and integration.
In these instances, it is important to conduct a thorough audit of the technologies that educators are considering bringing into the classroom. For instance, if the software requires a student to enter login details, then one should examine the privacy and security policies, with a particular focus on verifying compliance with data protection and regulation in addition to any policies that the institution has put in place. This ensures that student data is not being traded or sold.
A secure CRM, for instance, has a lot of benefits to be leveraged by the education industry as it enables centralisation of student data, streamlines communication, and provides real-time insights – extremely valuable for hybrid learning as it optimises collaboration between teachers and students. The benefit of a cloud-based CRM software, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, is the capability to automatically update the system with the latest security measure, ensuring that student data remains secure.
Choosing the right IT vendor:
Security is paramount, especially when dealing with student and faculty data. Therefore, conducting thorough assessments of vendor security measures is essential to protect sensitive information from cyber threats and unauthorised access. This includes ensuring that vendors comply with industry and regulatory security standards, which adds an additional layer of protection. Several factors should be considered such as adherence to data protection laws, encryption standards, and other relevant security protocols.
Additionally, it is crucial for institutions to choose IT vendors and platforms that support interoperability and prevent dependence on a single provider. Avoiding vendor lock-in is about preserving the institution’s flexibility. By selecting vendors and platforms that prioritise interoperability, educational institutions can seamlessly integrate various technologies without being constrained to a single provider.
Depending on a single vendor poses significant risks. If the vendor faces issues or discontinues a service, it can disrupt operations and potentially compromise the continuity of technology-enabled education.
Administrators may also want to consider turning to experts to support this decision-making. Outsourcing IT needs when picking the right technologies and softwares, can greatly benefit schools and institutions who are inundated with new technologies to consider. These consultants possess the industry-knowledge of the latest technologies, and vendors, which are available and best-fitted to schools and institutions. By understanding the school’s objectives, they can design a tailored infrastructure that includes CRM, cloud storage, and workflows to meet its needs and address any challenges. They can even assist in developing low-code pages such as an educational portal or registration page. This will enable schools to ensure that students have access to the best resources and most dependable equipment, while their data remains safe from any potential cyber breaches.
The Way Forward
In conclusion, while the integration of IT tools in education promises unparalleled opportunities for learning and creativity in the classroom, it is crucial to approach this transformation with a keen awareness of potential risks. Schools are not alone. IT consultants are on hand to advise schools on the most appropriate strategies, the best tools to invest in, cybersecurity measures, and training, to ensure a secure, yet modern and dynamic educational environment.
By Ambroży Rybicki, co-founder and CEO of ARP Ideas
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