E-learning technology is transforming how students learn, and these new opportunities bring plenty of benefits to the traditional classroom. Unfortunately, online learning also brings some security risks with it, and schools and teachers who embrace online learning will need to consider how they’ll keep their students safe while using this technology. As an educator, you will play a direct role in helping to keep your students safe while using this technology.
Start with education and awareness
Implementing cybersecurity in the classroom starts with teaching cybersecurity to your students. Begin by discussing the types of cyber criminals who may try to find their way into your e-learning classroom. Highlight cyberthieves, underage predators and hackers, and discuss some of the ways that these criminals may try to gain access, whether it’s by finding their way into chat rooms or social media, or by trying to hack passwords to get into students’ accounts.
There are many different ways to teach students about cybersecurity. Start by talking about what malware and viruses are, as well as how they’re transmitted. Help students to identify suspicious sites and teach them to listen to the “untrusted site” alerts that their anti-virus software sends out while they’re browsing.
Consider providing a lesson in online security when it comes to social media. During this lesson, talk about how criminals use social media to gain information about and communicate with underage students, discuss profile privacy settings to help protect students, and talk about the types of information that students shouldn’t share online, such as their home address, other locations, and details about their schedules.
One of the most important lessons you can teach to your students is to discuss creating good passwords for online accounts and then keeping those passwords safe. Start by talking about why hackers want to access passwords and how they hack those passwords. Then, help students to identify what makes a strong password, including factors like length, the use of upper- and lowercase letters, and the inclusion of numbers and symbols.
Remembering long, complex passwords isn’t easy, so discuss how students can use password managers to simplify the many different passwords that they’ll accumulate. Again, stress how important it is for students to come up with unique, strong passwords as their master password for the manager. Finish the lesson by talking about security breaches and the importance of resetting a password that has been jeopardized.
Take steps to protect student data
Data breaches can also jeopardize the safety of student data, so implement student data protection efforts within both your classroom and the school. Make sure that all of your classroom’s computers are equipped with up-to-date antivirus and malware protection programs.
Schools need to take an active role in protecting student data. An annual cybersecurity evaluation can help schools to identify common vulnerabilities like:
- Email accounts that aren’t set up to filter phishing attempts
- Unknown devices accessing the school’s network
- Out of date technology and programs that are vulnerable to new hacking techniques and viruses
- Unrestricted user access that means staff (who may not have training in handling sensitive materials) can access data files and sensitive materials on the school’s network
- Lack of a backup system
Once those vulnerabilities are identified, the school can take steps to fix those weaknesses. You as a teacher can bring this matter up at school board meetings to be sure that the school is taking the steps necessary to protect its students.
Implement a digital contract with students
Create a digital contract that outlines acceptable internet usage for students, and have all of your students sign the contract at the beginning of each school year. This contract helps to set clear guidelines and expectations so that students understand what they can and cannot use e-learning technology for while at school.
For example, a digital contract might:
- Explain that students are not allowed to access certain sites, like social media, while on the school’s computer.
- Specify that the computer is to be used only for assignment-related work, and may outline any additional guidelines for usage that are specific to your classroom.
- Identify the consequences that a student will face if they do not follow the contract’s rules, such as not being allowed to use the school’s technology for a designated period of time.
Using a digital contract holds students accountable and ensures that they understand their responsibility in the agreement.
Plan to address cyberbullying
Even with the best cybersecurity plan, issues may still arise in e-learning environments. When designing your school’s cybersecurity measures, plan out how you will manage issues that occur, like cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is fueled by social media use, and instigators often lack empathy for their victims. You can implement anti-bullying messaging in your classroom by including classroom rules that forbid bullying and by incorporating this messaging into your lessons. Use activities like classroom meetings to talk about the effects of bullying, presentations or role-playing to help students identify bullying, and even creative writing assignments where students explore how bullying can make victims feel. Focus on empathetic behavior in students by rewarding it and talking about how they can seek help if they ever experience cyberbullying.
Your school’s counselor is another important ally in combating cyberbullying. As younger and younger students become active on social media, school counselors have had to stay abreast of the changing issues and forms of bullying students face. Including your school counselor as you plan out your e-learning use can ensure that you have a multi-step plan ready to address any bullying issues. Consider having your school counselor come into your classroom as a guest speaker to discuss cyberbullying and to prepare students with how to get help and cope with that situation.
E-learning has many benefits, but incorporating this technology also means that your school needs to have a strong cybersecurity plan in place. With thorough planning, you can help to keep your students safe while enhancing the quality of their education through technology.
Charlie Fletcher is a writer and former preschool teacher from the lovely “city of trees”, Boise, Idaho. When not writing, she can be found exploring the great outdoors or geeking out over the latest Game of Thrones fan theories.