Virtual classroom software tools have become the main instrument to maintain educational activities during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent health crisis most likely has changed formal education as we know it and these digital online tools will stay as a critical part of our teaching and learning experience in the future. But the steep increase in the use of online teaching platforms forces educators and school IT leaders to guard against virtual classroom security threats.
This article will address the virtual classroom main security threats and will examine key strategies to ensure virtual classroom security. These tips will enable teachers to safely practice online teaching to the benefit of their students.
Security concerns within remote learning
Virtual classrooms have been a critical part of teaching and especially of language teaching during the Covid-19 crisis. The transition to distance teaching mode was sudden and unplanned – causing a lot of stress for teachers and students.
Despite this, school institutions had to face another challenge, namely the protection of virtual classroom security. The common challenges of online classrooms are illustrated in the image below.
Before the pandemic outbreak, studies highlighted the vulnerability of online teaching platforms but Covid-19 forced schools to act quickly in order to assemble tools alternative to face-to-face lessons. As a result, the urgency of ensuring lessons’ continuity has sometimes overshadowed the in-depth assessment of virtual classroom security fallacies.
“Many educational institutions rushed into adopting online learning management systems and virtual classroom software without a thorough understanding of the security aspects of online learning.”
Remote teaching involves several critical aspects that can be detrimental to the entire school community. For instance, malware and phishing can slip past weak web protection framework, granting cyber criminals access to the entire school network.
However, what is especially relevant for teachers are the attacks that happen within the virtual classroom sessions, as the lesson is taking place. In general, these risks belong to two broad categories: 1) the violation of the classroom as a safe and secure learning environment, and, 2) the violation of the school community’s privacy.
In the first case, security breaches in online platforms have allowed phenomena that threaten the psychological integrity of students and their right to learn in a protected environment.
Some general video-conferencing platforms have been targeted by intruders who have invaded online classes with violent messages and explicit images. The so-called “Zoom-bombing” was the reason why some schools banned the use of the Zoom platform “due to instances of hacking that created unsafe environments for teachers and students”
According to The Conversation:
“While […] a few Zoom-bombs included light-hearted pranks […] nearly 87 per cent of YouTube compilations also contained racist, misogynist, homophobic and other objectionable content. Much of this content was directed against female teachers in Zoom classroom meetings.”
In the second case, inadequate security safeguards can cause the misuse and manipulation of public information and the exposure of students‘ and teachers’ personal data. Threats to students’ privacy include:
“Corporate tracking of student activities […] discrimination against young people from marginalized communities, student loss of autonomy due to ongoing monitoring of their activities and sale of student data to third parties often for purposes of advertising to them.”
How to counter-measure virtual classroom security threats?
Online learning must and can be safe. Commonly used video-conference platforms have prepared their own guides that illustrate how to protect virtual classroom security and privacy.
Every commercial virtual teaching and learning platform of course has its own specific security settings. But all in all, the fundamental measures for teachers to mitigate threats in online classrooms are:
- Allow only authorized and authenticated users to join the virtual classroom
- Always make the URL of the classroom unique and/or protect the access with a secure password
- Don’t share the virtual session URL and classroom details in any public domain
- Make sure you as a teacher have full control over the screen sharing and the video / audio settings of your students (some online teaching platforms are designed for educators and allows the teacher to always stay in full control)
- Don’t share any personal information before having assessed that all the participants have the authorization to be in the virtual session
- Be always aware what material has been shared in the classroom and instantly remove all materials that violate the rules
- Follow the best practices of common IT security (e.g always lock your computer when you go away from it, even if it is for a quick toilet break)
- Establish rules and protocols with your students and, if necessary, with parents
Raising the security awareness
It is undeniable that the Covid-19 epidemic, with the steep increase in the use of virtual classroom software, has made teacher training in cybersecurity a priority.
Helping the teachers to understand the security concerns and establishing best-practices within virtual classrooms is an essential security protection mechanism, but it is not enough by itself. In fact, investing in the security awareness of the whole school community is the only long-term solution to pull off cybercrimes in remote teaching. Consequently, there is the need to increase teachers and school staff’s understanding of those techniques that threaten virtual classroom security.
For educators it is important to stay updated about current data protection rules and the factors that can lead to security risks. In this way, teachers would be able to vet potential risks and consequently to follow the best online teaching strategies to reduce the threats associated with online learning.
Schools need to understand and evaluate the best products for online learning, by considering how they may impact on students’ privacy and whether they are compliant with the existing privacy policies. In other words, understanding how to safeguard virtual classroom security requires schools to invest in resources as well as in skills and knowledge.
Choosing the platform for distance learning should not be limited by economic considerations. Protecting the safety of the school community and respecting the trust of its members, is the stepping stone for granting virtual classroom security.
Book a FREE REMOTE DEMO to learn more about how Sanako’s virtual classroom software for language educators can support your institution to create a safe and efficient virtual classroom environment for your language learning programs.
Resources used in this article:
G. Elmer, G. A. Burton, S. J. Neville, Zoom-bombings disrupt onlin events with racist and misogynist attacks, “The Conversation”
H. Quay-de La Vallee, Protecting students in virtual classrooms: Considerations for educators, “Center for Democracy and Technology”
J. Bailey, J. Burkell, P. Regan, V. Steeves, Children’s privacy is at risk with rapid shifts to online schooling under coronavirus, “The Conversation”
V. Strauss, School districts, including New York City’s, start banning Zoom because of online security issues, “The Washington Post”
P. Mahendru, Remote learning: Top five cybersecurity risks for education, “Sophos News”
Y. Chen, W. He, Security Risks and Protection in Online Learning: A Survey, “International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning”, 14/5
This blog post was last updated 4 July, 2023.