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Create a secure tech environment

By Team ISTE
March 27, 2015
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Student safety — and the security of the tech resources available through schools — will always require careful attention. While there’s no single method for solving all tech-related safety challenges in schools, authors Abbie H. Brown and Tim D. Green say there is a process that can help district leaders make effective decisions about technology use that meet the instructional needs of their institutions.

In Securing the Connected Classroom: Technology Planning to Keep Students Safe, Brown and Green outline their process, which involves identifying and organizing a stakeholder group, assessing potential threats and developing appropriate responses.

Recently, Green and Brown answered questions about their book. Below are excerpts of their responses.

Why did you decide to write this book? 

Green: We wrote this book as a follow-up to our previous ISTE book Security vs. Access: Balancing Safety and Productivity in the Digital School (coauthored LeAnne Robinson). Our primary goal with Security vs. Access was to begin a conversation about digital security concerns that schools and districts face. We wanted teachers, administrators and IT personnel to come together to collaboratively discuss and debate how to best meet the needs of teaching and learning while keeping the school community and its technology safe. Over the past several years as we have worked with schools and districts, we observed there was a significant need to provide a process for how schools and districts can systematically and effectively address digital security concerns and issues. We wrote this book to share our process.

How have digital security concerns for schools and districts changed in recent years?

Green: Issues such as access to inappropriate content, network security, student privacy and data theft continue to be cause for concern and need to be handled appropriately by schools and districts. What has changed is the amount of access students and teachers have to digital tools that are connected to the internet. With this increased access comes the potential for increased digital security issues.

In the book, you outline something called the “spectrum” approach. How does this work? 

Brown: We think the best answer to this comes directly from the book itself. We introduce the spectrum approach with this statement (on pages 9 and 10): 

“Because our process involves a wide variety of participants including administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students, we refer it as the “spectrum” approach. … In a school setting the spectrum ranges from those who determine policy (administrators) to those for whom policy is determined (students). Teachers, parents, and staff fall in between — they all in some way help to determine policy and have policy determined for them. For any particular problem, the spectrum approach involves identifying the component stakeholder groups involved in that issue so that each group is represented as a solution is developed. All stakeholder groups may not necessarily be part of every stage of the solution-development process, but at some point throughout the process, each group’s input is solicited so that everyone involved in implementing the solution is aware of both the approach and the reasons behind the approach.”

In the book you make use of an architectural metaphor referring to security solutions potential walls, windows and doors. Can you explain this a bit? 

Brown: The idea is to look at a security issue the same way one might look at making decisions about building a home or office: one might put up a wall, which closes off an area entirely; one might build a door, which allows limited access in and out; one might include a window, which allows a view in or out but no real access. Walls, doors and windows create access limitations. Without them, the space would be completely open to anyone and everyone. Digital security solutions are similar in that they place limitations on access to hardware, software and data.

Deciding whether to add walls, doors or windows to a structure is based on what level of security one is looking for. This idea resonated with people as we continued to discuss digital security issues to the point where many of us use a kind of shorthand like “we need a wall here” or “the solution has to be a kind of door.”

For us, anything that can help decision makers understand and communicate a problem more clearly is a good thing. The architectural metaphor has proven to help discuss digital security challenges and solutions tremendously.

What’s next for you two in the ed tech ecosystem?

Brown: We have a number of other projects we’re working on, both individually and collaboratively. We produce a bi-weekly iTunes podcast, Trends & Issues in Instructional Design, Educational Technology, and Learning Sciences, which has received a great deal of positive feedback from the educational technology community. And the third edition of our textbook, The Essentials of Instructional Design, (published by Routledge) is scheduled for release in July.  

Read an excerpt or order Securing the Connected Classroom: Technology Planning to Keep Students Safe today.