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July 1, 2020
Vol. 77
No. 10

Cybersecurity Guidelines for Remote Learning

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    Technology keeps us connected to our students—but how can we ensure it's safe?

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      In our current education reality, where remote learning is the norm, new challenges to student privacy and cybersecurity are emerging. The scramble to switch to technology to connect with students has exposed issues that can jeopardize school and student privacy. Classroom discussions, conference calls, and other meetings have been hacked by pranksters and trolls, and in some cases recorded and posted to the open web.
      Fortunately, resources to address these challenges are quickly becoming available to help guide educators. CoSN (Consortium for School Networking), a nonprofit that helps education leaders leverage technology for engaging learning environments, has released several briefs, checklist, and guidelines to help schools ensure their new virtual environments are safe and secure.
      In one brief, CoSN offers specific guidelines for school officials to consider before setting up a video conferencing tool for teachers. Recommendations include:
      • Avoid setting up a video conference system that requires students to create accounts.
      • Remember that audio and video recordings of an individual must be protected in accordance with federal and state law and your school system policies.
      • When possible, avoid recording classroom discussions with students. Ask teachers to pre-record their lessons without students present, which further minimizes the privacy risks to students.
      • Provide information to parents about why you're using the technology and how you're protecting student data privacy.
      • Give parents the ability to opt their child out of participating in video sessions and have alternative connection methods available for those students who need it.
      In a separate brief, "Cybersecurity Considerations in a COVID-19 World," CoSN provides a broader overview of security and privacy issues that schools should be aware of when transitioning to remote learning. The tips include:
      • Avoid sending emails to staff, students, and parents that contain links.
      • Review district procedures and guidelines regarding non-employee use of district devices. Can family members use a staff device? What if the family member is a student using it to access remote learning materials?
      • Remind teachers, staff, students, and parents that IT staff will never ask for their login credentials via email or threaten to turn off access to school accounts if they don't click on a link.
      • Consider implementing two-factor or multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
      • Examine the privacy concerns for both students and teachers of turning on a webcam in a private home.
      In an Educational Leadership article last February, CoSN project director Linnette Attai writes, "Protecting the privacy of student data is an undeniably complex undertaking." This statement could not be truer right now during the pandemic crisis.
      —Tara Laskowski
      Senior Editor, Educational Leadership

      Tara Laskowski is ASCD's director of digital and editorial content.

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