The Greatest Challenges and Most Difficult Obstacles Facing Schools Regarding IT Services

Rich Benbow

Response from Rich Benbow, vice president, Western Governer’s University.

Some traditional colleges have a resistance to change and haven’t adapted as well as they probably could to digitize their programs. WGU is a digitally native university, so when the pandemic hit, it was easy for us to scale to meet the massive influx of new students who wanted to learn new skills and qualifications during the lockdown.

But not every traditional brick-and-mortar institution was able to adapt as quickly. I feel we have always been very innovative in being able to adopt new technologies, but other institutions don’t have the same infrastructure. Their governance can often prevent them from adopting new technologies and ways of teaching as quickly as possible. 

Whenever you digitize information, there is always a cybersecurity risk, but as a company, we always aspired to be at the forefront of technology and innovation. We have many dedicated departments who are committed to using top-tier technology to ensure students’ information is safe and secure. 

Students today use various devices to attend online classes – smartphones, tablets, desktops, etc. This means that we constantly have to adapt and ensure that our technology is compatible with the myriad of new devices continually being made. 

How the Cloud Powers Research In Higher Education

Randy Shore

By Randy Shore, VP delivery and support, Kion.

Doing more with less is the mantra of higher education leaders today. Various IT solutions have emerged to help accomplish this lofty goal, but the cloud has proven better than the rest, and with good reason. In fact, the global Cloud Computing in Higher Education market held a value of $2.1 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to reach nearly $8.8 billion by 2027. Additionally, the cloud easily empowers researchers to focus on the thing they do best: research.

From student recruitment and talent management to administration and fundraising, the possibilities are endless for cloud users in higher education. But to fully understand how institutions can best harness the cloud, it’s vital to not only study up on the ways the cloud can support your researchers, but the challenges your organization may face during the adoption process as well.

How can the cloud support research in higher education?

Cloud computing removes friction, giving academic researchers the computing power they need, when they need it. For instance, the cloud can help with data analysis and visualization, which, along with other managed services, can save researchers time as they don’t need to focus on creating data visualization clusters. In fact, cloud-enabled research has proven to cut down development times and increase application performance and developer productivity by 20%.

Additionally, the cloud can help mightily with an organization’s compliance efforts that are required both before and after a research grant is awarded. For instance, every institutional researcher must specify every service and solution that will be employed before receiving a grant. While each university may tailor the offerings, by standardizing around common managed cloud services, security and compliance accreditations can be inherited and re-used to speed up the research grant process

One key thing to keep in mind here is that grants come with strings attached. Think about it—higher education researchers have their hands on a lot of data, including government data in many instances. Much of this requires access control and physical media control, like locking servers behind fences, as well as data security controls. This often leads to additional expenses and processes for universities looking to host in internal data centers and often creates complexities as they can’t comply without these measures. With the help of the cloud, the organization holds more individual control over its data. Some of these controls, including access controls, can be inherited for organizations relying on AWS, for instance, thanks to the Shared Responsibility Model.

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Dear Ed-Tech Providers: 3 Ways Interoperability Wins You More Business

Sean Casey

By Sean Casey, manager of strategic partnerships, Ed-Fi Alliance.

“Help teachers support students.” Many software providers in the ed-tech space have impactful statements like this at the forefront of their mission. But staying true to a mission-driven value proposition is not always easy.

Luckily for ed-tech providers, adopting interoperability means that living your mission and operating a successful business do not have to be at odds with one another. Finding ways to be competitive will only improve ed-tech products — to the benefit of students, teachers, and of course, the providers themselves.

Why Disparate Datasets Hurt Everyone, Especially Students
Even before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, there was a growing reliance on technology and digital tools within the education space. COVID-19 merely exacerbated existing issues, such as fragmented ed-tech software, and transformed data standards and interoperability from “nice to have” to “must have” overnight.

The need for seamless and secure transmission of data across systems is (and remains) enormous and urgent. Every key player across the education ecosystem — from districts and teachers to students and parents — is relying on integrated software to help them navigate these waters.

To that end, ed-tech software providers must make interoperability a top priority to remain competitive, profitable, and mission-driven.

#1: Interoperability Makes You a Stronger Technology Partner

As an ed-tech software provider, it might be helpful to think of yourself as a technology partner versus a technology vendor. While the latter provides solutions that enable districts to gather data, a technology partner is committed to helping customers achieve their data vision: how districts plan to leverage their data across various systems to make improvements in serving every learner and supporting every educator.

Technology providers like PowerSchool offer their customers the ability to unify data through standards-based interoperability. As a result, they’re also more likely to help a customer attain their data vision and thus be seen as a true partner supporting a district’s mission — not just a vendor looking to further its business.

#2: Interoperability Helps You Successfully Navigate an Evolving Education Landscape

While achieving interoperability isn’t necessarily the at the top of every ed-tech provider’s “to-do” list, the pandemic, and the resulting impact it has had across education, underscored the urgency in prioritizing it to stay competitive and keep business afloat.

The truth is, it’s unlikely that education as a whole will ever return to its pre-pandemic ways. Learning models will continue to be a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction, meaning the volume of data being collected through software will only increase. Ensuring that districts can easily and efficiently integrate multiple systems to support their education strategy/plan is paramount, particularly as student assessment results and state reporting continue to roll in, pile up, and present data-tracking pain points for districts.

#3: Interoperability is a Strategic, Forward-Thinking Business Strategy

In the years since COVID-19 first became part of our lives, software providers are combining their powers for good by merging and expanding upon their ed-tech services. Similarly, conglomerates are acquiring more companies and consolidating in order to offer a one-stop-shop suite of services.

In both scenarios, interoperability is essential for success. Merging products means enabling data to integrate across systems in a smooth and efficient way. And for conglomerates, creating a fully compatible ecosystem for an easy user experience is a top priority. If multiple tools are eventually going to live under the same roof, interoperability effectively increases the sale price of an ed-tech software provider, as it’s already primed for integration and ready to get to work.

Technology providers that adopt a data standard and achieve interoperability, like Infinite Campus and Aeries, who both provide student information systems to the education space, become a more lucrative partner/investment option compared to competitors that don’t.

Final Thoughts: Interoperability is the Rule, Not the Exception — and It’s Here to Stay
At this stage, every business across every industry has realized that affording customers the ability to share data seamlessly must be the rule, not the exception.

If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that integration is an inevitable necessity to move forward, and that to be successful in the future, we must change how we think about interoperability.

For ed-tech software providers specifically, interoperability is a way to help school districts measure what they want — not what they’re already measuring. It’s a way to deepen the role ed-tech plays in the larger education ecosystem, build ongoing and positive customer partnerships, and increase competitive equality. It’s a way to prime your business for success without ever losing sight of the mission: Help teachers. Help students. Improve education.

What Is Education 4.0?

Shannon Flynn

Shannon Flynn is a freelance blogger who covers education technologies, cybersecurity and IoT topics. You can follow Shannon on Muck Rack or Medium to read more of her articles.

As new technology emerged, educators saw the introduction of Education 2.0. Professors and teachers could now take advantage of electricity and lights to provide a better experience in the classroom. Once laptops started becoming available to more of the population, they began the phase of Education 3.0. This meant educators could use the wealth of the internet to show material and ask students to find their own.

Currently, education is entering the stage of Education 4.0. What does this mean for teaching and how can educators use it to benefit their students? Here is a look at what this new era of education can bring.

How Can Education 4.0 Help Students?

Education 4.0 relates to the dawning of the fourth industrial revolution. The production of technology like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and 3D printing is increasing, making it more available to the average consumer. Progressive digital devices are becoming more prominent in people’s lives worldwide — and education is no outlier.

Many students now are interested in a different way of learning. As education costs rise, nearly 70% of adults want alternate options for credits. The pandemic created a need for people to learn outside of the traditional classroom and Education 4.0 could do that for them. Busy students could learn anytime and anywhere, increasing accessibility for many.

Continued learning for adults has many benefits for them and society. Research has shown lifelong education can postpone a person’s symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. They’ll also continue to communicate with people of all backgrounds and further their careers. Being able to utilize technology like AI and virtual reality will change how curriculums form and make experiments more accessible.

Recent Education 4.0 Trends

With new technology comes new chances to improve the lives of students. Here are just a few advancements education could see by implementing Education 4.0.

1.    Virtual Reality for Education

Imagine if you could stand in ancient Rome during class or perform a dangerous experiment without the consequences. This is what utilizing VR in the classroom can do for students.

By making lessons more interactive, students could likely show greater rates of retention and focus. Additionally, they’ll be able to learn more because they’ll have more access to information that was previously out of reach.

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Infosec Institute Launches Free Resources to Help Organizations Level Up Their Cybersecurity

Infosec Institute, a leading cybersecurity education provider, today announced free cyber education resources to help organizations and employees level up their cybersecurity during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) and beyond.

Hosted every October by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), NCSAM aims to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and provide resources for individuals to be secure online.

In support of this initiative, Infosec is providing a comprehensive security awareness and training toolkit, featuring:

“For organizations and individuals everywhere, securing data and systems is no game. As the threat landscape grows, education and training must grow to meet it,” said Jim Chilton, Infosec General Manager. “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is an opportunity to build excitement and momentum within organizations around cyber education that employees can use to protect themselves at work and home. Infosec is pleased to offer these free resources to make training accessible and engaging for everyone.”

As National Cybersecurity Awareness Month approaches, Infosec will release additional complementary resources for use by organizations, including a hands-on skills challenge, a training webinar for security awareness administrators, and discounts on instructor-led boot camps. All Infosec NCSAM resources are powered by the award-winning Infosec IQ and Infosec Skills security education platforms.Infosec IQ security awareness and training empowers employees with the knowledge and skills to stay cyber-secure at work and home with over 2,000 awareness and training resources.Infosec Skills helps cyber professionals upskill and get certified with unlimited access to 1,200+ hands-on cybersecurity courses, labs and cyber ranges.

Access Infosec’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month toolkit here.

Hybrid Classrooms and the Future of Ed Tech

Christian Young

By Christian Young, Pro AV product manager, ATEN Technology.

The adaptation to the “new normal” in education pushed schools and other learning facilities to evolve and transform their classrooms into hybrid environments. This allowed faculty to instruct students on campus and online at the same time to meet their curriculum and complete their teaching calendar periods on time.

The main benefit of virtual classroom solutions is that by facilitating collaboration and synchronous learning – allowing active participation and interaction with the teacher in real-time – they create a learning environment that is most analogous to a physical classroom.

However, teachers were exposed to technology and methodologies that were not part of their daily routine or that they may not have experienced before, so their learning curve to comply with this adaptation had to be rapidly enforced. In addition, more online content creation spaces were needed, and physical lab spaces were compelled to be virtualized. At the same time, education providers needed to balance these hybrid learning setups with new forms of live or asynchronous learning and content delivery methods to avoid hybrid fatigue.

These opportunities for smart classrooms presented challenges that solution providers needed to overcome as well. For example, solutions must integrate and work seamlessly with diverse Professional AV (Pro AV) equipment, multimedia devices, and control systems in existing classrooms. These solutions must be easily implementable yet scalable and present protection against cyber threats as more classes move to an online platform. Also, the delivery of content should be dependable and accurate. These solutions should focus on the student experience, offering collaborative functions so interactivity can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes.

Schools have started to look at technology that may have been only seen just for corporate or even government applications only. As interactive multimedia classrooms become more popular, there is an increase in the kinds of devices being used in these hybrid environments. More content needs to be displayed, and this will see both more displays in total and an increase in the ways that displays are utilized. Livestreaming and broadcasting are now essential elements of the hybrid classroom, especially in PBL (project-based learning) scenarios. Video signal transmissions need to be bidirectional for fully interactive learning.

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Cyber Insurance Rates Are Skyrocketing, Here’s What Higher Ed Can Do

Chris Hills

By Christopher Hills, chief security strategist, BeyondTrust.

While cyber insurance is intended to provide consumers peace of mind, in recent years it has become a complex and strenuous process. As a result of the shift to hybrid or remote environments, many organizations were forced to expedite their digital transformation initiatives to continue functioning. For higher education institutions, seismic changes were needed to allow their students and faculty to connect, and to enable remote learning.

Unfortunately, the sweeping migration to digital services and remote learning presented an opportunity for bad actors and cyber criminals by broadening attack surfaces. These bad actors have realized how to capitalize on organizations or higher education institutions that lack security controls or who have made poor security decisions.

The response to the increase in cyberattacks has been an overwhelming rise in cyber insurance claims over the past few years. Cyber insurance brokers responded with soaring rates, coverage decreases, risk assessments, and even a lack of coverage due to the lack of money available to write policies. Paradoxically, this response by insurance brokers from a costs basis alone is forcing many higher education institutions to opt-out of their insurance policies just when they are needed the most.

Higher-education institutions represent a perfect target for cyber criminals given sensitive, cutting-edge research they conduct. In addition to the potential cost of the information being compromised, downtime is considered a major disruptor in any attack. If a higher-education institution were to suffer an attack, resulting in students not being able to connect, learn, and get the education that is being paid for, it could have severe consequences in the long term.

One noteworthy shift universities and colleges can make to defend against cyber criminals is to limit the number of users within their network that are granted administrative rights. Administrative rights granted to end users are a perfect storm for cyber criminals when it comes to footholds and leverage.

Another key change higher-education institutions can adopt with those who need administrative rights is credential vaulting and cyber hygiene. If you can manage the privilege by controlling and minimizing when, where, and how the identity uses the privilege or administrative rights, you can significantly reduce the attack surface cyber criminals are lurking at. When you couple that control with management, hygiene, and audit capability, creating a trail of information on the who, what, when, and where of network access, it becomes nearly impossible to fall victim to the bad actors.

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Minicoders, a startup co-founded by the venture builder, Nuclio, emerged as the first educational platform that aims to teach kids the basic notions of computer programming through video games set in the metaverse, using a play-to-learn model. The platform is developed to guarantee the safety of children, allowing parents to supervise their activity.

Minicoders aims to encourage learning of computer programming for children between the ages of 6 to 12 years by converting the screen time into both productive and entertaining hours. For this reason, makes available:  1) Minicoders Kids, an educational app with videos and a virtual assistant to introduce informative concepts, and 2) Roblox gaming experience where children can practice the concepts learned.

According to a study performed by the company, school children are using a device with a screen and Internet connection between two and three hours a day. Moreover, 68% of parents are showing concerns for the amount of non-productive hours spent by their children on these devices.

In the beginning of last July, launched Magic School, its first gaming experience developed in the Roblox metaverse, that has surpassed 20,000 players in a month. Inspired by the famous story of Magic Universes,  in which players step into the shoes of a true apprentice of magic to explore a metaverse filled with different types of experiences.

To access all the magic powers and enjoy the gaming experience, players will have to solve challenges in the form of computer programming blocks from which they gain knowledge on the basic notions of this subject. Parents can follow up on the progress of their children through parental control and safety.

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Not New In 2022: Ransomware Threats

Mike Bianco

By Mike Bianco, director of information security, Skyward.

Schools face plenty of dangers and threats, from pandemics to budget cuts, but ransomware may be one of the most pernicious, transcendent, and frightening – and it’s not going away.

Ransomware is big business for crooks, and schools are seen as easy pickings. CBS News reports that cyberattacks and ransomware targeting K-12 schools hit record highs last year, with ransoms ranging from $10,000 to $1.4 million and a total cost to districts of more than $123 million, according to IBM.

Because so much of what a school system does, from teaching to storing records, takes place online, the threat of a ransomware attack effectively stopping those processes dead in their tracks and wiping out the supporting data is enough to keep administrators up at night.

Add to that the threat of students’ sensitive data stolen and dumped or sold to bad actors after ransomware attacks (NBC News reports that in 2021, ransomware gangs published data from more than 1,200 American K-12 schools), and it’s a miracle administrators get any sleep at all.

And in case a district admin was thinking of sneaking in a catnap, they should consider that 30% of educational outlets consider themselves unprepared to face a cyberattack resulting in their data being held for ransom. Why do so many ransomware attacks target schools? Several reasons:

Schools are vulnerable

Whether it’s students, parents, teachers, or back-office staff, the fact that so many different personas with so many different ideas about internet security are using the system makes it easy for hackers to exploit weaknesses.

Schools lack resources

Districts may not be able to afford the most robust ransomware-prevention tools, or the personnel needed to monitor them.

Data is centralized …

School districts tend to keep their data in one central repository, which is attractive to hackers. Think of it this way: If you’re a bank robber, do you want to rob one bank with $5 million in deposits, or five banks with $1 million in deposits each? Educational data is the $5 million bank.

And it’s valuable …

Student data is pure gold. It can be used in a variety of ways, to establish false identities, to apply for credit, and to make large purchases.

Producing additional blackmail opportunities

Suppose a hacker acquires the report cards and other data of high-school seniors. They could threaten to release the information to prospective employers if the student or their parents don’t pay a ransom.

(This is generally thought of as small potatoes by hackers, but it’s not out of the question.)

How districts can protect themselves

Given that schools are and will continue to be ransomware targets, what can districts do to prevent themselves?

First, districts need to realize they’re not Susan Storm, and they can’t put a force field around their data. There is no magic shield; there are only multiple layers of protection they can employ to deter hackers.

Second, they need to understand that protective measures may only make their district a less attractive target, and not a non-target. After the low-hanging fruit is harvested, their district may still be seen as ripe for the picking.

Third, districts have to accept the fact that protection against ransomware is ongoing and evolving. It is absolutely not a one-and-done.

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LUCID and MNDYRR Partner To Bring Music Therapy To Youth

About 15% of 10 to 19 year olds face a mental health challenge. Depression, anxiety and other disorders are striking kids at alarming rates – and staying with them into adulthood. A new partnership between LUCID and MNDYRR is working to solve these issues with a new app.

LUCID’s digital therapeutics platform offers personalized, AI-curated playlists that help people alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, burnout and more. These science-backed music therapies are 20 percent more effective than a run of the mill relaxation playlist you can find on a streaming service.

Now, MNDYRR is leveraging this technology and incorporating LUCID’s music therapy into their teletherapy and social network platform.

Zach McMahon

“Only about 20 percent of children with mental health struggles get the help they need from a specialized mental health care provider,” LUCID’s founder and CEO Zach McMahon says. “Our new partnership with MNDYRR is going to make these services more accessible to kids.”

“Many use music to manage their moods already,” McMahon said. “Using our service you can access entirely unique and personalized playlists, curated by data-driven AI, that will help you reach your desired mood. It’s simple, it’s accessible and it’s effective – all things that are important when it comes to the mental wellness of a child.”

When a child or caregiver first accesses the app, an AI therapy chatbot will run a quick assessment to get an initial diagnosis. From there, kids will be directed to a digital therapy suite that will help to address their needs.

“There’s an urgent need for new and innovative mental health therapies,” MNDYRR’s founder and CEO Adam Starks explained. “At the extreme end of the mental health crisis for youth, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth aged 15 to 24. Being able to offer interim solutions is going to help get kids off of the proverbial ledge.”

MNDYRR’s goal is to become a central hub of mental health care for young people. The mental health industry is incredibly fragmented – LUCID and MNDYRR want to bring quality, robust care all under one umbrella. “In order to reach that hub position, we need to be able to offer solutions for a host of mental health struggles,” said Starks. “Anxiety, depression, burnout – everything. LUCID’s music therapy is absolutely integral to that vision.”

“This partnership is key to what we want to do as a medtech company,” continued McMahon. “We’re excited to play a role in bringing about a solution to this ongoing systemic issue.”