Educational Technology Integration & Network Security

Public and private educational institutions, from Kindergarten through High School, face the continuing challenges of incorporating technology into teaching and learning, yet are confronted with the issue to protect the integrity of their networks. Schools and regional technology centers that provide access to a number of school districts maintain a daily battle in preventing viruses, hackers, worms, and spyware intrusions from compromising the functionality of legitimate current and emerging technologies.

I presented four questions to teachers and technology coordinators to get their thoughts on several issues. 

  1. How can we get teachers to access and utilize various technologies?
  2. What are the challenges for Tech Support to open up ports, filters and firewalls?
  3. What are the risks to allow more technologies to be incorporated into the classroom?
  4. How can we balance the needs of teachers/students with those of technology support personnel?
Before addressing responses to these questions, it is important to review types of technology that teachers may utilize. 

Most teachers utilize the productivity tools such as Microsoft Word, Power Point, Excel, and Access.  Students apply these tools for reports, presentations, spreadsheets and data bases.  Students are usually assigned passwords to access the Internet and to do searches on a variety of topics. Video streaming might be available whereby students and teachers can access sites such as Discovery Channel’s United Streaming to obtain grade level video presentations on a variety of topics.

Videoconferencing, often referred to as distance learning, allows classrooms to connect to educational content providers such as zoos and museums anywhere in the world in real time.  This can be done in a point-to-point or multi-point venue.  This technology is also used by school districts for teacher professional development, administrative meetings, and college classes.

Podcasting  is another technology that allows students and teachers to either create their own podcast on a particular topic or to access a podcast geared toward a specific subject or topic.  Often an enhanced podcast is utilized which supports both an audio and a text presentation on the specific content.
There are also web logs, most commonly referred to as blogs  where discussions and conversations on a variety of topics occur. 

In addition to those mentioned above, there are numerous software programs and additional hardware to enhance learning as well as the development of web sites.

Just what are the challenges with network security?

Schools must be concerned about malware (viruses, worms, Trojans, etc.) whereby files can become infected and be distributed through popular peer-to-peer file sharing networks.  Networks and servers need to protect computer systems and data, especially those files of questionable ethical or legal standards.  Teachers understand these precautions and accept the limitations of access to particular websites.  According to the security vendorGFI, the following actionsshould be applied to all networks when protecting the integrity of their systems.   

  1. Educate Users – Know what kind of threats are out there
  2. Monitor Users’ activities 24/7 – Use web monitoring tools
  3. Implement Security Policies – Make sure they are clearly defined
  4. Limit Access – Access should be given only to those that need it
  5. Invest in technology – Vulnerability management, event logging, and archiving software
  6. Update virus detection software – Update all spyware scanners

When teachers were asked about the risks involved in allowing more technologies to be incorporated into the classroom, here were their comments.

While these are all legitimate concerns, how can schools continue to incorporate new and existing technologies into teaching and learning while keeping up with our students’ advancements and expectations in their growing thirst for innovative learning methodologies?

The balance between security, better and faster technology, and the use of software that engages students and addresses learning modalities (audio, visual, kinesthetic) will always be a challenge for school districts.  Resource allocation for technology improvements add to the difficult choices for administrators and school boards.