Cyber Security, Privacy and Teachers

Written by: Soofrina Mubarak

More than ever, teachers and students are collaborating, creating, and sharing materials online. When technology is involved, as long as the platform is not fully owned by the institution, there are always concerns regarding data security and privacy simply because some personal information will be collected and shared with companies that provide the applications and online services. This, therefore, begs the question: As teachers, are we aware of how we can protect our students’ data online?

We practice fire drills, we are careful in letting outsiders coming into our learning environment, we prepare for times of emergencies and we put rules and regulations in place to protect the students under or charge. But we easily feel overwhelmed when it comes to protecting our students’ data and privacy online and when the going gets tough, we are often left with two choices: either turn a blind eye to the risks and trust the institution’s internet firewalls and filters or, put away the devices altogether.

I had the opportunity to attend the Masterclass on Cyber Security and Data Privacy in which the speaker shared about the importance of cybersecurity and data protection not only within the institution but also for at-home learning activities. Of the many pointers he shared, here are the three fundamental takeaways for teachers:

  • Look for the ‘s’ in HTTPS!

When browsing websites, especially when logging in, do look out for the padlock icon along with HTTPS in the URL, known as the address bar. The presence of these indicates that the website is encrypted and therefore most likely secure.

  • Though boring, take time to read the privacy policy!

I daresay most of us just scroll through the privacy policies and are just looking for the “accept” or “I agree” button just to access the online resources. They are not usually written in plain English too, so that’s another reason why we breeze past the details. But this is the core of data security and privacy because this is where the service provider details how the information collected will be used and/or shared with other service providers (if any). If we make efforts to read through, chances are we will be in for a surprise as the information we provide is most likely shared with more service providers than we even know. What’s worse is that there are many educational websites that do not even provide a privacy policy upfront.

  • When in doubt, consult the expert!

When in doubt, the educator should always seek to clarify either with the website or service provider, and when this is not possible, they should approach their IT department or Personal Data Protection Officers.

There’s no doubt that 2020 had been the year of everything remote, where our digital interactions replaced our physical ones and our traditional classrooms packed and moved with us online. As we carefully prepare and lead through our virtual classrooms, our students’ online safety and security need to stay on top of that priority list as they spend more time than ever learning online.

Here are some ways teachers can raise awareness in classrooms about the importance of cybersecurity and data privacy so that students can understand this when they are on their devices at home.

  • Raise student awareness with activities!

Include data protection into lessons using recent newspaper articles and local cases to allow students an opportunity to understand how data protection is not just a “school thing”.

Another cool way to teach students about staying safe online is to have them complete Google’s Be Internet Awesome. This is a program from Google that aims to help students be safe and confident explorers of the online world. It includes a robust classroom curriculum, resources for parents, and an adventure-packed game for students. It teaches them about digital citizenship and internet safety in a gamified environment, which we all know, students love! The five pillars of the curriculum are:

  • Be Internet Smart – share with care

  • Be Internet Alert – don’t fall for fake

  • Be Internet Strong – secure your secrets

  • Be Internet Kind – it’s cool to be kind

  • Be Internet Brave – when it doubt, talk it out

  • Security Tools to enforce Cyber Security Rules

Get to know the security tools used by the institution and remind students about them when performing searches online. Teachers are strongly encouraged to speak with their IT personnel to find out what tools are in place and how they protect students. They protect students in every site, at all times, while staying connected. Some affordances of these tools include:

Alerts about bad language

Blocking Unapproved websites

Keyword Alerts

Risky app download alerts: set up a policy to ban or trust identified apps for students.

Alerts about certain search queries

Bulk removal of phishing emails

  • Stick to EdTech tools vetted for privacy

Lastly but most importantly, teachers should do their level best to stick to vetted tools in their efforts to integrate technology in their teaching. While there is a wide spectrum of EdTech tools out there that can help to boost the virtual classroom environment, teachers should do a quick check on reviews about that particular tool and whether the company has been under any investigation for data leaks and such incidents.

For the most part, change is good, especially when it increases our productivity, improves outcomes, and helps engage our students. But as we adopt new technologies, we must also think about how they affect the safety, security, and privacy of all stakeholders—especially our students. Sometimes it makes sense to pause if even for a moment, to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect our students. But it’s also our responsibility as educators to embrace innovation and encourage our students and our colleagues to try new approaches and embrace new tools. It’s a challenge, but it is definitely not beyond our reach.