In light of recent revelations about video conferencing platforms, it is more important than ever that online educators pay due diligence to data protection and security of interactions with students. This may have been deprioritised recently, due to the rush to get teachers and students continuing classes online, but security must be a consideration in what we do..
What is our responsibility with data protection?
Whether you fall under formal data protection laws such as the UK’s strict GDPR system, or whether you are teaching through your own organised system, there is a duty of care to our students, their privacy and the protection of any interaction we have with them online.
By requesting that your students use an online platform, it is likely that they will have to sign up using their details (email address, name, and perhaps other personal details). Although this is necessary for your lessons to go ahead, you must consider where this data is going, and how it is being processed, handled or otherwise used.
Even more serious is the security of the system’s data handling, as was shown in recent cases, where trolls were able to break into Zoom meetings and other, much nastier content was suddenly shown during video calls - the last thing we need when working with young people online.
How can we work to ensure security online?
Happily, there are ways of securing interaction on video conferencing platforms, so it is advisable to look into this before signing students up, or continuing to work online. It really is better safe than sorry.
If you work for an online education company, it is a good idea to ask someone there for a copy of their data protection statement, and to check the status of the LMS or platform that they use for its security features. Students (and more so, parents) will be glad of any reassurance that you are taking this in mind from next week.
How can we avoid unwanted problems online?
As with any educational technology, diversity is the best way to ensure that you can keep running your class in spite of issues which intrude on your teaching. Having several different apps, platforms and online environments at your disposal can spread the risk of issues becoming serious.
In online education, it is good practice to get students working in different ways, with different information-sharing platforms and apps which promote different kinds of interaction with the content that you teach (though obviously the same rules as above apply to any online system you use - check the data security and history of any system you ask your learners to sign up for).
There are many online tools for students to perform tasks, projects and share information, and a range of different methodologies to harness the power of edtech, so make the most of these and encourage diversity in the learning resources your students use.
Overall, the problems being encountered by popular conferencing sites come from their popularity - anything which is used by millions on the internet will attract attention from all types of hackers, trolls and other unwanted intruders. This is a bigger worry for us, as educators, than others, as we are often working with younger people who need our services and can be affected more deeply by malicious content. Diversify your teaching, don’t rely on one platform too much, and you will be able to sidestep this kind of problem. Above all, though, the security of our students and ourselves is the most important consideration when working online. Take the time to check that what you are doing is safe, and you can go forward with confidence and the reassurance that you are not putting yourself or others at risk.
Language Point Teacher Education recently launched the new Trinity College London level 6 Certificate for Practising Teachers, a qualification designed for online teachers of English which helps educators develop their skills with online resource design, adaptation and delivery, and increases awareness of e-pedagogy and effective methodologies for online educators. Contact us for more information about online teacher security and other issues in the new paradigm which we are facing in education.