Teaching schools how to play and get secure

Following Bett 2015, Jonathan Whitley offers his insight into the trends and technologies causing a stir this year

From TV-sized touch screens to robots and explosions, Bett 2015 lived up to high expectations. With the show now over for another year, it’s time to reflect on the most pressing issues for the education sector.

Bring-your-own-device or bring-your-own-danger?

Speaking at the event, Sir Ken Robinson highlighted how the value of shared learning, alongside a heightened understanding of how play can be incorporated into the learning process, has set technologists the challenge of enabling teachers to tap into these more effective learning patterns.

Responding to this, interactivity was high on the agenda at Bett. Whether it’s a BYOD policy or providing every pupil with a tablet or laptop, schools are leaping at the opportunity to gamify the learning process and engage entire classrooms at the touch of a button.

While this can offer fantastic educational benefits through interactive presentations and online activities, we must be prepared for when pupils also use these devices to access non-educational content such as social media, games or even adult content.

Teachers and parents, stay techy and stay secure

Another major theme at Bett focused on giving power back to the educational staff by devising bespoke programmes which allow teachers to block websites, or carry out instant assessments. In order to effectively quell distracting behaviour however, educators need to know which social media sites and applications are causing the problem. The key here is understanding who and how pupils are viewing content through IT network visibility tools where this information can be gathered in real-time by either the teacher in the classroom or the IT department who can then feedback when necessary.

Engaging parents more closely in the school process is also emerging as a natural step forward. Technologies which offer parents real-time visibility of aspects like homework, their child’s progression and the wider syllabus, ensure that children commit the right amount of time to their school work. 

The united front against cyberbullying: with network visibility, we can

Aside from concentration issues, 68 per cent of teens agree that cyber bullying has now become a serious problem in schools, according to the anti-bulling site nobullying.com. Cyber bullies exploit the vulnerability of security systems and the vulnerability of the victims themselves, meaning any child could be targeted inside or outside of the school environment and institutions must be responsive to the needs of every individual.

To prevent what can be life-destroying harassment, parents, educators and IT professionals need to work together with new technologies to make sure they can see when, how and where the malicious activity originates and present a united front in taking it down.

But trolling and online bullying aren’t the only objectives for cybercriminals today. Given the amount of personal information and intellectual property now held by educational institutions, many attacks are entirely geared towards data mining. With thousands of devices visiting an even greater number of websites every second, the number of access points for malicious packages has never been greater.

Effectively separating networks that contain confidential information from those openly accessible to students is key to protecting data. Increasing the visibility of where your network traffic is coming from and safeguarding segregation by requesting authentication and enforcing security policies could make the difference when faced with a potentially devastating privacy breach.

Whilst it’s important to remember the point of Bett is to demonstrate the way technology can work hand-in-hand with teaching staff to enhance learning, making sure students are able to use these tools to their best advantages means ensuring they are safe and still under the attentive eyes of parents and educators.

Jonathan Whitley is Northern Europe territory director of WatchGuard.