Secure Collaboration for Today’s Hybrid Learning Environment
The outbreak of COVID-19 forced an unprecedented shift to remote learning. In most cases, the move happened on an accelerated timeline that left many educators without sufficient time to create a solid strategy or plan.
Practically overnight, the sprawling U.S. public K-12 and higher education systems moved online. This largescale change helped prove that the already existing trend toward remote learning isn’t just viable but can also provide additional benefits such as flexibility for students to work at their own pace and increased access to classes and instruction. In fact, Inside Higher Ed reports that a new study finds that 73% of students agreed that they would like to take some fully online courses in the future.1
But despite the successes of the great remote learning experiment, a downside emerged: data security.
During the first few months of the pandemic, IT departments, almost overnight, had to deal with the surge of remote staff, instructors and some students all trying to access the network securely, putting intense pressure on bandwidth. Many students and employees also were forced to use their personal laptops and devices during the shift. If collaboration systems were not already in place, they were either hastily adopted or the number of user licenses for existing solutions were dramatically increased.
Collaboration Space Challenges
This created two main problems.
The first was cost. The dramatic spike in collaboration-platform licenses was not only unexpected but also unsustainable for many educational institutions over the long term.
The second was data security. Most schools, colleges and universities did not have a robust VPN infrastructure designed to support a fully remote learning and collaboration environment securely. This left many students and employees to use their home networks — often unsecured Wi-Fi connections that other household members or even neighbors could access.
Home networks are a far cry from typical corporate networks that have physical and virtual devices that mitigate cybersecurity attacks. They also make it impossible to implement the institutions’ detection and response plan should a breach occur. On top of these challenges, many educational institutions struggled with remote patching and software updates, an important step in data security.
For IT leadership, this situation created an ugly chicken-and-egg scenario in which the cost of additional collaboration licenses negatively impacted needed investment in security.
Additionally, educational institutions quickly learned the limitations of certain collaboration platforms for their industry. For example, many educators learned it was hard to keep uninvited guests out of sessions, protect student information in meetings or help younger students learn how to use the platform. District-wide meetings with multiple schools or even parent-teacher conferences were often stymied by misunderstandings about what technologies to access in advance or how they worked due to poor user experience.
And while 100% remote learning is starting to trend down as restrictions are lifted and students can return to schools, the hybrid classroom is here to stay. A 2021 U.S. study by AT&T found that 94% of teachers are open to the idea of hybrid learning with the proper resources, curriculum and support. The same study found that 85% of parents want the option for their kids who are home sick to join a class virtually.2
In an increasingly hybrid learning world, educational institutions will need to invest the time to find the proper mix of effective collaboration tools, affordability and data security. IT leaders should explore collaboration solutions that are cloud-based for scale and operational efficiency and include built-in security features that don’t require restructuring their networks.
Considerations to Include When Choosing a Collaboration Solution
- How many people will need to access the collaboration platform?
- Does the platform offer volume licensing discounts?
- Does the platform allow multiple users to take advantage of a single license?
Admin-Level Security Features
- Does the platform enable role-based security that assigns different permission levels?
- Does the platform allow for administrators to allow or block remote viewing of shared content by participants?
- How are users authenticated? Can anyone join a session without email validation?
In-Session Security Features
- Does the platform have protected guest access that allows a guest client device to connect without granting access to the organization’s network?
- Does the platform provide full visibility of all participants and enable disconnection of suspect or inappropriate participants?
- Can the collaboration session be locked or ended quickly and easily?
- Can the session administrator control and preview content that participants share, allowing an instructor to assist students as well as ensure shared material is appropriate?
Media Handling and Encryption
- Does shared content stay on the network, behind the institution’s firewall?
- What level of data encryption is enabled? Does the solution offer application-layer encryption with no persistent data/data at rest?
- Does the platform allow for secure IP direct collaboration?
Data Storage and Privacy
- Is user content or personal information stored on the collaboration platform?
- Does the platform meet current governance requirements, including CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act)?
With brighter days ahead, IT leaders can take the lessons of the past year and build a solid strategy moving forward to support a hybrid learning and collaboration environment with data security squarely in the center.
Learn more about more secure and seamless collaboration with the Intel Unite® solution, click here.