Beware These 5 Data Security Threats During Remote Learning

By Casey Thompson, digital media manager, Skyward, Inc.

Casey Thompson

Hackers take advantage of the worst-case scenario.

Pandemics, terrorism, and natural disasters bring disruption and distractions, perfect opportunities for people to infiltrate lowered security while our attention is directed elsewhere. Here are five data security bases to cover during your pandemic response.

Network security

While it’s true our home wireless networks are under more stress than ever before, don’t sacrifice security for convenience. These network breaches are some of the easiest for hackers to pull off.

No public Wi-Fi: The biggest risk to networks comes from unsecured Wi-Fi connections in public places, like restaurants. Ideally, choose password protected Wi-Fi from a home network. This option may be out of reach for some—even free internet offers for students are falling short in some cases, requiring families’ unpaid bills to be settled before the option is extended to the student. Other secure options may include a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Internet of things: Disconnect devices that don’t require Wi-Fi to function (appliances, etc). Even if Wi-Fi helps them function more conveniently, consider disconnecting them temporarily to minimize the opportunities to infiltrate your network.

Multi-factor authentication: More organizations are moving toward MFA in all cases, but particularly for remote work, ensure the devices connecting to the network belong to actual people within your organization.

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McGraw Hill Accepting Nominations For Second Annual ALEKS All-Star Educator Awards

Webinar: McGraw Hill Use Case | Sumo LogicMcGraw Hill kicks off its nationwide call for nominations for the second annual ALEKS All-Star Educator Awards. The 2020 ALEKS All-Star Educator Awards will honor two K-12 teachers and two higher education instructors who have applied the ALEKS program to achieve exceptional results and improve their students’ progress.

For more than 20 years, McGraw Hill ALEKS has helped educators in math and chemistry to quickly and accurately zero in on exactly which topics students understand and which topics they need help with, empowering teachers to deliver the most effective instruction possible. Built on the theory of “knowledge spaces” from cognitive science, ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) uses artificial intelligence to create personalized and dynamic learning paths for K-20 students based on their unique needs.

To date, ALEKS has helped more than 20 million students at thousands of K-12 schools, colleges and universities throughout the world.

McGraw Hill is accepting nominations for the ALEKS All-Star Educator Awards from August 3 through November 16, 2020 at mheonline.com/aleks-allstars.

Nominees can be any educators who have demonstrated the following:

The winning educators will each receive a $1,000 donation from McGraw Hill to an education-focused non-profit or charity of their choice, as well as a $250 gift card and a collection of McGraw Hill Professional books. Winners will be announced in early January 2021.

“We’re inspired every day by the creative and innovative ways educators integrate ALEKS into their curricula to truly unlock the potential of their students and ensure a personalized approach to their education,” said Simon Allen, McGraw Hill CEO. “This awards program is just one way we can honor those who work so hard to ensure each student has the opportunity and tools to succeed.”

McGraw Hill and TutorMe Partner To Offer Free On-Demand Tutoring to Millions of College Students

McGraw-Hill Education | PreK-12 | HomeMcGraw Hill and TutorMe, a subsidiary of Zovio, an online education platform offering on-demand tutoring, will expand their work together in 2020 to offer college students using the McGraw Hill Connect digital learning platform a free 60-minute tutoring session with TutorMe.

As online and blended learning continues to be the new normal for many students, the collaboration between McGraw Hill and TutorMe seeks to ensure that students receive the support they need and remain engaged as their learning environment shifts throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the partnership, students will receive a one-hour, one-on-one tutoring session free of charge. TutorMe live tutors are available 24/7 and highly trained in the relevant subject matter to help foster deep student understanding and fluency.

Tutoring sessions will be available to users of the McGraw Hill Connect digital courseware in an effort to elevate college students’ online learning experience. Connect digital courseware adapts in real-time to a student’s activity and adjusts to the individual’s performance and confidence levels. As students identify areas where they are struggling, they will be able to access a TutorMe tutor to help them address comprehension and coursework challenges. McGraw Hill registered more than 4.3 million college student activations of Connect in its 2020 fiscal year.

The TutorMe support is the newest capability being made available to students through McGraw Hill digital course materials, which are designed to improve learning outcomes for students, while ensuring affordability and high value. TutorMe and McGraw Hill offered a pilot program in the fall of 2019 in four course areas and are now expanding the program offer to all Connect courses.

“We believe in providing all students with the tools and support they need to succeed, no matter where they start,” said Michael Ryan, President of Higher Education at McGraw Hill. “And this is especially important with online learning programs continuing to expand due to COVID-19. By making TutorMe tutoring available to all students who use Connect, more students will have access to help when they need it.”

“TutorMe and McGraw Hill share a foundational commitment to the academic success of students,” said Myles Hunter, CEO and co-founder of TutorMe. “We are excited that following an initial trial program, McGraw Hill has decided to offer TutorMe to all its Connect students. Their decision speaks volumes to their commitment to putting their students’ learning first.

For Schools, Socially Distanced Learning Underscores Need For Stronger Data Protection

By Wayne Dorris, CISSP, business development manager, cybersecurity, Axis Communications, Inc.

Wayne Dorris

What does “security” mean in the context of a school? Until recently, the first things that came to mind were probably physical security technologies like surveillance cameras, metal detectors, access control stations, and even just good old fashioned locks.

But the recent COVID-19 crisis has changed that: because of the nationwide shift toward remote learning that the pandemic has prompted, schools have been forced to reevaluate their cybersecurity policies and requirements as they work to keep their data safe amid increased reliance on videoconferencing, learning management portals, and other online educational tools.

Distance Learning Tools in the Spotlight

One of the first security concerns to gain public attention was the vulnerability of the web’s most popular videoconferencing tools. Zoom, in particular, gained notoriety for the problem of “Zoom Bombing,” where random individuals would be able to drop into meetings run by others without being invited.

With much of the population working from home and relying on remote web conferencing tools, Zoom saw a massive spike in daily users, 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020—a dramatic increase that put the previously small problem of Zoom Bombing into the public eye.

Zoom has, fortunately, implemented additional security controls specifically designed to combat Zoom Bombing, but these controls are optional and must be selected by the user. This underscores the need for effective training.

It isn’t fair to pick on Zoom, of course—in fact, Zoom’s problems highlight one of the biggest struggles facing both schools and businesses specializing in remote learning tools. Such a massive spike in remote users over a short period of time means that IT departments lacked the time to evaluate the security controls for remote learning products, and the makers of those products may not have had time to refine those controls for such heavy use.

Learning management systems (LMS) are a great example of this. Used to store grades and enable students to remotely turn in homework, LMS have long been a convenient tool for schools; however, they have generally had the benefit of operating within the safety of the school’s network. And although a bored student might occasionally attempt to hack their grades, LMS platforms have generally not been in the crosshairs for cyberattackers.

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University of Memphis Brings Support and Service To Campus with Enterprise Service Management Technology

By Ruben j. Franzen, president, TOPdesk US.

Ruben J. Franzen
Ruben Franzen

With only 115 people working as part of the central IT and technology support teams, the University of Memphis requires careful management to provide the highest level of support to its substantial customer base.

Sue Hull-Toye leads the public-facing operations of the division. Until recently, her teams relied upon several disconnected systems to perform ticket tracking, case review, user support, and data collection.  The result was a clunky process that provided little benefit to students or employees.

The situation required change.

Taking on the multitude of disparate technologies

Before changing solutions, the university employed multiple disparate, and somewhat ineffective, technologies cobbled together to power the service desk.

By attempting to integrate multiple, unrelated tools, IT actually outsmarted itself and created barriers of complexity. “We invested heavily in technology and further modified what we had,” says Hull-Toye. “We built a Swiss watch when a sundial would have been adequate,” said Robert Johnson, associate CIO, “and doing so created as much of an internal burden as it was supposed to solve.”

Moreover, the university’s service desk team worked much harder than necessary, especially on tasks that should have been simple – all because of the solutions employed to manage them. “We spent too much money and time ‘solving’ some problems while inadvertently creating more problems than we solved,” explains Hull-Toye.

Johnson said that the most demanding challenges received the least attention because of the work required to manage these tasks, tickets, and assets across multiple systems.

Data reporting suffered tremendously.

When the university’s CIO asked IT directors to review current information about ticket management, service requests, and response rates, they discovered correlated, traceable data was hard to come by.

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Tips For Delivering The Best Virtual Learning Experience During COVID-19

Vishal Raina

Vishal Raina, CEO and founder of California-based YoungWonks, shares his thoughts on tips for delivering the best virtual learning experience during COVID-19:

1. Arrange for a good internet connection: Given that the class is now taking place online, it is imperative to make sure that your internet connection is not patchy. It would be a good idea to perhaps even have a backup of sorts (through an Internet hotspot dongle) in case your home WiFi isn’t doing a good enough job.

2. Ensure total online privacy and safety: Every online teacher needs to recognise the utmost need to ensure this, especially given recent instances of Zoombombing (Zoombombing refers to unwanted intrusions into video conference calls which in turn cause disruption).

a) For starters, the instructor should not allow students / attendees to use fake names while logging in, particularly in online classrooms where students prefer not to switch on their video. This, along with keeping tabs on the final list of attendees expected to join the class, will help weed out any walk-ins/ unregistered participants.
b) Many video conferencing platforms have an online waiting room; so it may be a good idea to have students wait in such an online room, before their attendance is vetted and they are allowed to join the actual online class.
c) Several online meeting platforms allow meetings or classes to be conducted without the need for a password. This should be avoided and instead, instructors should create passwords for signing into the admin account which allows them to start the online class. They should take care to use a strong, unique password, preferably one not used anywhere else;  especially since these meetings are attended by kids and student privacy is a sensitive matter that deserves serious attention.

3. Pick a plain background for the online class: Like in a physical classroom, it would do well to have minimal distractions so that students can focus on the subject at hand. In a virtual classroom, the instructor can do so by picking a plain / white background to sit or stand against and teach. In fact, several meeting platforms offer in-built virtual backgrounds.

4. Enable drawing on screen on a case-by-case basis: A good way of enforcing discipline in an online class is to not enable the drawing feature for all students in your class. Before the class begins, it would be good to disable this and allow students to draw on screen after they seek permission from you to do so. This will ensure that kids get to draw only when needed. Allowing all students to draw, instead of letting them do so on a case-by-case basis – can lead to unwarranted nuisance and waste of crucial class time.

5. Hosting rights: The host of an online meeting (read: classroom in this case) typically has many overruling rights and hence it is important to make sure that these rights are not misused or passed on easily. To begin with, it is recommended to disable the “join before host” feature, which means no one will be able to join the online class in the absence of the teacher. This will ensure better student supervision. Similarly, it is also advised to avoid sharing host rights with students. Often the settings in video conference apps are such that the meeting host changes automatically in the event of the original host having a weak Internet connection. It would be wise to change such a default setting so that the hosting rights do not pass on to a student in the online class.

6. Clamping down on unnecessary chatting between students: Much like in a physical classroom, it is important to contain the distractions and one way of doing this is making sure that the chat settings are in order. This means that the chats in the online classroom should be sent to everyone and individual/ private chats between students is disabled. Muting all students by default is also a standard move in an online classroom. Of course, the teacher would have to keep telling students to unmute themselves before talking and mute themselves after talking.

7. Encourage use of the raise hand feature: In digital classrooms, teachers must explain and encourage the use of raise hand features provided by the online meeting platforms. Often too many students have a query or a point to be made at the same time and the raise hand feature comes in handy in such situations. It basically keeps track of the order in which hands were raised and allows students to speak up accordingly.

8. Use breakout rooms whenever needed: In digital classrooms where you wish to break up your students into smaller groups, using a virtual breakout room is a good idea. This will allow students to split into smaller sets where they can work on their project / assignment even as the teacher gets to move between groups and keep track of each group’s progress. However, such virtual breakout rooms are ideal for older, self-driven kids that do not need constant monitoring.

9. Take time out to explain how an online class works: This may sound trivial, except it is far from it. Even in today’s day and age, many students may find it tough to log into an online class; this is particularly true for younger students. To avoid the ensuing confusion and waste of time, it is better for teachers to follow a standard protocol where they start out by devoting a few minutes to explaining how a digital classroom works, what are the different features being offered by the video conference platform, how the mute and unmute buttons work, and so on. At least in the initial sessions, it would be a good idea to do so.

10. Streamlining the publication of online handouts, assignments: With students no longer turning in their assignments on paper, schools need to figure out a convenient way in which students can submit their online handouts and assignments. Platforms such as Google Classroom, EdOptim are ideal as these are feature-packed school management softwares that facilitate the above in a smooth manner.

11. Sending out meeting links on time: Teachers should take care to email meeting links well before the class is scheduled to begin. Often parents and students just end up waiting for the meeting link and join the class a lot later so it certainly helps if one is organised about sending these links. Often, parents may request that teachers do not change the meeting link as it is convenient for everyone to just go to the same one each time. But it is important for teachers to evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. While retaining the same link is no doubt convenient and can be time-saving (it does away with the need to send out a new one for each session), doing so also increases the chances of non-participants joining the session. In case of meetings with unique links, it is important for teachers to send them across well in advance and not at the last minute.

12. Opt for meeting platforms where distance learning is integrated into the student portal itself: A meeting that can be logged into by accessing the link from a student portal is typically more secure than one where one awaits the link to be shared via a different channel. Also, accessing the link from a password-protected portal also means there is no need for a link to be generated by the teacher hosting each session. This in turn helps avoid outsiders and a scenario where parents and students end up waiting for the said meeting link.

Lessons Learned By Providing Virtual Learning

By David Brasch, director of IT, Compass Charter Schools.

David Brasch

I am learning many lessons along the way for delivering the best virtual learning experience during this pandemic. The most critical being communication; when information is flowing in many different directions and decisions are made very quickly, communication must be clear across all stakeholders. This way, staff can set expectations and create stronger teams within Compass Charter Schools, resulting in improved morale during achallenging time.

Many families have technology at home that allows their scholars to learn virtually, but there are a number that do not. It is apparent across the information technology industry that many families do not have all that they need, fortunately, we were able to provide to our scholars and families, but many schools are not. There still are shortages of many different devices for virtual learning.

Another lesson that we learned is the importance of being able to provide essential networking and trouble shooting for parents and scholars at home. Many schools and learning centers have high-end networks and devices that are programmed to work efficiently. In a residential environment, these networks vary and may require special support to operate in a virtual learning environment.

These unprecedented times force companies to evaluate the way they serve their customers and redesign what that experience looks like to meet the demands that flood the market. Internet service providers are on the front lines and face an influx of requests for services.

This evaluation and redesign create many challenges because of the need for more technicians than are available to enter the home for installation and basic setup. This was a learning experience for everyone as we were able to see how dependent we are on technology.

I also want to share some best practice tips for an excellent virtual learning experience. Create and follow a schedule that will help achieve more productivity throughout the day and create a separation between personal time and learning time.

Have a designated clutter-free workspace that will keep distractions to a minimum and help stay focused on learning. Most importantly, this is an unparalleled situation that we are all dealing with, be adaptable, and flexible along the way.

Best Practices For Virtual Learning In Education

Shai Reshef

Shai Reshef, president of University of the People, an online, non-profit, tuition-free, American-accredited University, says:  “Ready or not, COVID-19 has forced higher education online. Universities were ill-prepared to fully switch online and are all understandably frustrated at having to do so in just a few weeks, and even more so now that there is a possibility of remaining online until 2021.”

Reshef says that a big problem many universities are facing right now is that they have been forced to go online before they are ready. But moving to online instruction is tricky and if not implemented properly, instead of succeeding, the online classes may backfire and create major disappointments.

“Quality higher education online is more than just a live zoom class. Developing content and technique that works online takes time, and creating a quick fix for campus closures is going to be difficult,” he said. “At University of the People, we didn’t need to suddenly adapt to an online environment – we’ve been doing this for the past decade and have the infrastructure in place, and the pedagogy and experience in remote learning. For example, our instructors are experienced in teaching online, and are trained on how to address the unique challenges students will face, such as motivation, self-discipline, and the ability to learn alone.”

According to a University of the People/Harris Poll, nearly a third (31%) of Americans have experienced frustration with online schooling systems since the stay-home orders went into effect.

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Lessons Learned From Virtual Learning: UP Academy

Tanya Sheckley

I am Tanya Sheckley, founder of UP Academy, a progressive elementary lab school for the inclusion of students with physical disabilities in San Mateo, California. As a small school, one of my many hats is head of IT.

Our school is small, creative and flexible in our teaching and our methods, we employ the feedback of our educators, students and parents as well as new research and ideas in education all the time. This nimbleness allowed us to pivot quickly to online learning.

We began with a split schedule, we have young learners and didn’t want them online for hours a day.  Our educational method is individualized and uses technology sparingly, we believe individualized education should come from individuals. We had 30 minutes of Zoom educator time, 30 minutes independent work and a break in several cycles a day. We wanted to break up screen time with independence and play.

Lessons learned: Too little screen time does not allow for connection. Too many sign on/offs was difficult for parents and students.

Iteration two included weekly emails for parent preparation, adding school wide morning meeting time and parent feedback meetings and weekly staff meetings to discuss issues.

Lessons learned: To be successful the program must work for families philosophies and new challenges of timing and working from home (ours wasn’t). While morning meeting added a time to connect with the school, it wasn’t enough for students to get to chat with each other. Students need to learn and have time to talk, just like in school. Google Classroom assignments was sending 20 to 50 emails per week to families, it was overwhelming.

Iteration three: We turned off Classroom notifications, we changed our schedule to learning blocks and flexible learning time, we added a longer lunch break and more educator interaction on project work. We added a 30 min 1:1 session with each student and educator to talk about whatever they wanted — it could be school work or math questions, or it could be sharing a favorite book or talking about coloring the millenium falcon — the goal is the students mental health and knowing they had another adult, besides a parent, to connect with and talk to.

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The Future of Speech-Language Therapy

Dr. Yair Shapira

Responses by Dr. Yair Shapira, CEO and founder, AmplioSpeech.

What did school-based speech-language therapy look like before COVID-19?

More than 10% of all students suffer from speech-language deficits, and require therapy at some point during their K-12 journey. Until recently, most K-12 schools relied on in-person speech language therapy sessions with Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) hired and trained within the school district. Students would meet either individually or in small groups for face-to-face instruction and SLPs would track and measure progress using their subjective judgement; however, this can often lead to an inconsistent picture of students’ progress and performance.

These school-based SLPs often do not have access to speech-language-specific technologies, but instead utilize the district’s existing resources and the same technologies adopted in traditional classrooms. School-based speech-language therapy has always lagged behind traditional education when it comes to technological adoption, and there hasn’t been a widespread push by school districts to introduce novel technologies and platforms for speech-language students.

How has the pandemic changed the way schools approach speech-language services?

With the recent shift toward online learning caused by COVID-19, K-12 districts are now turning to speech language technologies and platforms such as AmplioSpeech to fill technology and organizational gaps in their speech-language services.

AmplioSpeech is a leading digital speech-language therapy provider that equips SLPs and their students with an AI-based platform for online and onsite therapy, to accelerate students’ progress, reduce SLPs workload, boost IEP compliance and automate documentation. The platform includes a library of smart and engaging practice materials and tools for self-monitoring, measurement, assignment completion, and more. Additionally, AmplioSpeech empowers SLPs to become intervention leaders and clinical decision-makers.

Speech-language students require targeted solutions to continue their progress in the shift to online learning, and are often ill-served by general-purpose services such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. In a current example, AmplioSpeech’s recent partnership with the Texas Education Agency has allowed SLPs across more than 100 Texas school systems to better service more than 10,000 speech-language students in the state while they stay home.

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