August 8, 2020

The Digital Future of Education, and the End of Snow Days

Healthcare may be the first industry that many people think of when they think of sectors that suddenly had to adjust dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But ask parents around the world, and they’ll probably say “education.” Within a matter of weeks, the traditional classroom has turned on its head, and some of those improvements will be here to stay.

There were no size capacities for kids to attend classes from home back in February. Fast forward a couple of weeks and millions of kids attended classes and completed remote assignments.

Apps also get their chance to change the education system, as has happened in many other industries. Application portals such as j2launch and others deliver a range of learning and quiz applications. Founded apps such as Kahoot! Was retrofitted for an educational setting. Gamification is being used much more commonly as a natural evolution of this trend, to involve children in learning.

The outcomes of all these efforts have been mixed, but considering the nature of education as an industry the success has been remarkable. It’s easy to imagine the highlights from transcripts from school board meetings had this wave of change occurred any other time.

From a cybersecurity perspective, perhaps the biggest risk to digital education stems from the wide variation of resources across districts. Laptops, tablets, and other technologies have already been part of curricula for some. In many cases, however, those tools are harder to get through, let alone IT departments and cybersecurity personnel.

And online learning concerns are legitimate: malicious actors often try new opportunities, and there is evidence that they are already focused on the education sector. Microsoft data has shown that education as an industry accounted for 60 percent of malware encounters reported in June — affecting over 5 million devices in just 30 days.

Many issues are posed by the outdated systems that are prevalent in many districts: misconfigurations, poor installations, software that goes without upgrades and fixes for long periods.

Add to all this the influx of devices that connect to these new systems and apps. An enterprise organisation, on its network, will have some control over the equipment. Those used by students can come from anywhere, so it is important to ensure easy access.

To advanced companies, BYOD and shadow-IT are threats. Now schools with thousands of students and teachers are facing an environment in which each of those users access their systems from several unknown PCs , laptops , tablets and phones. Because these devices are in the home, they may become a risk to other devices, potentially being used to attack the work laptop of a parent or to exploit other vectors.

The movement towards gamification also represents a huge new educational opportunity, as well as new challenges. On the one hand , having broad data on success rates and trends that can be sorted by school, grade level and geography could provide real insights into education that we have never had before. Yet this latest influx of educational data could be misused to manipulate students , teachers or districts.

And then there’s that residual disparity between schools that have the ability to deal with these issues — and as a result maybe offer a better environment for students , teachers and parents — and those that may be further behind. Will some districts sell high-end, bulletproof educational software while others serve up freeware filled with marketing?

There are obviously plenty of variables to deal with. Under these highly unusual circumstances, district IT agencies, already stressed in normal times , simply cannot provide the cybersecurity resources to protect this form of mass-scale deployment of new technologies.

While classroom digitization has exciting potential to help us create overall a more strategic and productive education system, we need broad involvement to make it work for students.

In order to keep these new digital environments secure, vendors serving education and the security community will work hand in hand with districts. Districts themselves should emphasize training programs for students and teachers which, just as companies do, cover the basics of safe use of technology.

Which effect will these new tools have on learning? There is clearly a widespread sense that children do best in a physical classroom, but for some time to come we will probably see a mix of in-room and online schooling.

That brings us to maybe the biggest danger to our educational system as we know it, and the most critical question about the minds of the students: Will there ever be another day of snow?

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