How IT can enable, manage and secure remote learning

Ken Galvin, senior product manager at Quest Software, has some advice to help IT teams adapt and plan for the future

A global pandemic is not something many of us could have forecasted, yet the impact on teachers, students and IT teams tasked with supporting a remote learning environment has been especially challenging. It was the middle of the spring term when educational institutions had to pivot, and fast, to ensure a productive, worthwhile learning environment in this ‘new normal’.

It may come as a surprise that IT teams in education have been severely impacted by this transition. They are now expected to help maintain the same levels of productivity, security, and support remote devices just as they did for the on-campus network. However, today, those same IT teams are managing thousands of new devices stemming from bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, loan programmes and more.

A new level of security

Organisations that thought they had a grasp on their cybersecurity efforts before COVID-19 are now shocked to learn that they, in fact, were not as prepared as they thought. Before the pandemic, they were managing devices that were within a familiar environment. Now, the devices they are managing are dramatically more at risk than they were before. Surprisingly many of these challenges are not due to new problems arising but rather not having a strong unified endpoint management strategy in place before the pandemic.

The increased adoption of BYOD for many educational institutions can mean IT has less visibility into the devices that are on their network, which can be a problem when it comes to security. As a result, experts are predicting a 30–40% increase in cyberattacks. This is primarily due to the human factor at play here. For example, a student or teacher who is less educated on cybersecurity protocols would be more likely to fall prey to phishing emails.

Additionally, malicious actors are taking advantage of this new remote environment by creating email accounts that appear to belong to administrators in order to request administrative access to students’ personal information. To prevent this, educators at all levels need to be taught simple best practices when it comes to keeping essential information safe and away from malicious activity.

Adapting to new environments

Every summer, IT teams at educational institutions across the country prepare for a summer refresh ahead of the fall term, but this summer will be especially crucial for those who plan to continue remote learning through the end of the year. Now more than ever, IT teams need to think about flexibility and automation to make their jobs easier in this new environment.

Wider adoption of automation can decrease the time spent on identifying solutions and help prevent security breaches. One way IT can leverage automation is by automating frequent tasks. For example, if you notice you are frequently being asked to grant teachers access to certain IT related processes, you may want to consider deflecting the end-users from contacting IT staff by having them self-serve through accessible base articles on the company service desk portal. This includes creating dedicated resources for frequently asked questions as simple as “how to reset my password” or “how to set up VPN” and “how to set up my own computer to use school resources”. This would limit the amount of time spent by IT on repetitive tasks. Additionally, this would result in a faster service and response time. This would also help prevent human error, which is often the cause of security breaches.

This new remote environment is also a reminder for IT to be extra cautious that students and teachers are only downloading software that the institution has approved and licensed. Educators are turning to software to help them manage their remote classrooms, however, many of them are not aware that they may not have the appropriate licensing to be running those programs. To avoid future costs and fines, IT should consider creating a list of approved and unapproved software and tools for teachers.

What’s next?

The reality is that IT teams who start to prepare now will face fewer challenges compared to those who wait until they are forced to react. Equipping students and teachers with step-by-step, guided instructions on processes they need to follow to work remotely now will pay off, sparing time and resources that allows you to respond to new challenges rather than reacting in break-fix mode. We’ve seen it already with schools that found success because of their quick action to switch to remote learning at the start of the pandemic.

To prepare for the months ahead, IT teams need to think about what tools or processes they no longer need and focus on the current environment. For example, teachers are more open to adopting new software into their everyday lives today than they were a few months ago. That’s because it’s helping them with their daily lessons and tasks. However, IT does not always have complete visibility into what is being downloaded in real-time with remote devices. As a result, it is easy for teachers or students to download malicious software or software that they don’t have the appropriate licensing for. There is a need for IT to develop a list of resources that are approved for people to download and a means to simply and easily download it from the portal.

Managing thousands of new remote devices for the first time can be overwhelming and challenging for IT professionals, but it also serves as an opportunity to adopt a strong unified endpoint management solution. This will help IT gain visibility across all endpoints, so they can quickly analyse any activity and more immediately take action.

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