| COVID-19

Securing your kid's tech for the modern classroom

| 10 Aug 2021

Prepare for the upcoming school year

The start of the school year has a funny way of feeling new each year. Kids grow up and get smarter. They move up grade levels, start new activities, and make friends. They get new supplies, tools, and tech. Which leaves some parents asking, How is technology changing in the modern classroom? And more importantly, what can we do to keep that technology secure?

What a tech-enabled classroom looks like

Before we dive into the tech you should know, it helps to understand how technology fits into the modern classroom. Many parents can recall a time when classroom technology extended no further than a plug-in overhead projector, stereo boombox, and maybe a personal computer.

Today, you’ll find most teachers using school-issued laptops to run their classes. It wouldn’t be surprising to find the students following along on laptops that are kept in the classroom. The bank of laptops might be complemented by things like smart boards, streaming media players, and printers. 

Then, of course, there are the students’ personal smartphones.

All kinds of connectivity

Most, if not all, of these devices are connected to some kind of network. According to Education Superhighway, 99% of U.S. schools are on scalable fiber internet connections and more than 43 million students have internet connectivity. This means students can use those devices to access web pages, collaborative software programs and other apps—both in person and at home.

Common classroom tech and how to keep it secure

Unfortunately, there’s no universal, 100% infallible way of providing blanket security for kids using technology. For example, just because your child’s smartphone prevents access to inappropriate website content doesn’t mean their friend’s smartphone will. 

So how do we keep our kids safe while using their classroom tech?

At a high level, most parents should be familiar with the law, namely the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. That the technologies used in a classroom adhere to these acts might seem like a given, but it’s worth confirming with your institution. On top of that, we recommend you familiarize yourself with some best practices for keeping your kids safe online.

Finally, make a list of the devices, software and technology your kids use on a daily basis. Most will fall into the following five categories:

1. Laptops, tablets and smartphones

According to the same Education Superhighway report cited above, 87% of teachers say they use digital learning in their classrooms several times a week. While the modes are many, three devices are most ubiquitous: laptops, tablets and smartphones. 

For school-issued devices, check to make sure the institution has a security policy in place to monitor access and control content. In addition, get answers to a few important questions: 

  • How much screen time do students get in the classroom? Is it too much? 
  • When students are at school, are they allowed to use their devices to access the internet, communicate with others, or even participate in classroom activities? 
  • Are the kids allowed to bring the devices home?

The answers to these questions will have a bearing on how far you need to go to secure those devices. For personal devices, such as smartphones, consider installing a mobile device security solution to keep tabs on your child’s device usage both inside and outside of school. 

Other common in-classroom devices: 

  • Smart boards
  • Smart TV and streaming media players (Apple TV, for example)
  • Fitness tracking
  • Speakers and cameras
  • Digital microscopes
  • Printers and scanners
  • Projectors and document cameras

2. Learning management systems

With devices in hand, what are students connecting to? You’ll find that a learning management system (LMS) is at least part of your child’s daily classroom experience. An LMS is a software program that’s accessible from any device or web browser. Students and teachers use these systems to upload and access documents, schedule homework, grade assignments and more. 

Most of these tools are considered quite secure thanks to no ads, no spam and secure access. However, platforms like Google Classroom do have message boards that are tricky to moderate, often giving space for students to send inappropriate messages. Rather than securing their kids’ LMS, parents will likely be discussing guidelines and acceptable behavior when it comes to sending messages, sharing files and otherwise interacting on the platform.

Common learning management systems:

  • Canvas
  • Schoology
  • Classcraft
  • Google Classroom 
  • Clever

3. Email

Hopefully, most messaging and email communication happens in a more controlled environment, such as an LMS. However, it’s not uncommon for students to have their own email addresses and to use them for communicating with teachers and other students. 

First and foremost, educate your child about safety best practices and email-borne threats.  Phishing remains a top threat to email security, for example. Sharing passwords, personal information, and even sensitive media such as photos is another common email vulnerability. Finally, many kids don’t know not to open suspicious or unknown files. Discuss all these topics with them and encourage them to think twice or check with you before they click on anything or share information via email.

One option is for parents to set up email accounts for their children. Beyond the common providers, such as Gmail, look for email providers for kids that provide a few more layers of built-in protection.

4. Video, collaboration and social learning

Whether your child’s classroom is 100% in person, 100% distance learning, or some combination of both, it probably includes some form of video, collaboration and social learning technology. Video conferencing solutions such as Zoom, for example, were relied on heavily during the pandemic to conduct distance learning—in some cases, Zoom was the classroom.

On many LMS, collaboration and social learning platforms, video is one of the ways that students share work, give feedback, or even send messages. Solutions like Flipgrid and Padlet are examples of so-called social learning platforms, in which students can share work and interact with the work of others, all of it moderated by the instructor (and video heavy).

The two primary security concerns for video, collaboration and social learning platforms are access and moderation. Controlling access to these platforms should be a priority. For instance, even though Zoom classrooms can be protected by password, they’re not immune to something like Zoombombing. Moderating what’s shared, said, or sent on these platforms can be a challenge, too. We recommend looking for solutions that offer safeguards for access and sharing, as well as robust capabilities for moderating student interactions.

5. Games

One of the more recent trends is classroom gamification. Rather than relying on textbooks, schools are turning to fun, interactive software programs that encourage better student engagement. Solutions like Gimkit or Kahoot! offer a variety of games and activities in which students earn things like points, badges and level-ups for participating. While the security concerns related to these platforms are less significant than the others, it’s still a modern classroom technology that parents should be aware of.

In closing, be aware and be proactive

When it comes to keeping kids secure in the modern classroom, awareness is half the battle. While this list of modern classroom tech is quite detailed, technology will continue evolving at a dizzying pace. Parents can go a long way toward securing their kids by simply keeping up with what’s out there and what their kids use in the classroom.

Beyond keeping up and being aware, parents can educate themselves and their children about security best practices for going online. These best practices apply no matter the technology, device, or interface—and no matter how quickly technology evolves. 

Finally, parents can lean on security solutions built to keep kids safe on their devices. Many schools already secure their own devices, including those they issue to students. However, parents can add another layer of protection for the personal devices that students use to go online at home.

Again, keeping kids connected to the classroom, learning at a high level, and safe is the name of the game. This guide will help you to achieve all three as the world heads back to school.

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