Ensuring Secure Digital Collaboration

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(Image credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Digital literacy and ease of use for teachers and students are important components of creating secure digital collaboration, say Drew Lane and Mary Schlegelmilch. 

Lane, executive director of ICT at Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas, and Schlegelmilch, business development manager at Cisco, spoke with Dr. Kecia Ray during a recent Tech & Learning webinar sponsored by Cisco. 

Watch the on-demand version here

Key Takeaways  

Plan on Planning 

When developing secure collaboration systems in a district, having a planning process that prioritizes flexibility is important. 

“The act of planning itself is probably as important as the plan itself,” Lane said. “No matter what plan you develop, it will change as soon as you put it in place. As soon as it is tested, it will change and you will need to respond to that change.” 

He added, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Who would have ever thought supply chain issues would be such a factor in the execution of your plans? So that's required creative thinking.” 

Keeping this in mind, Lane’s district now plans five years out rather than seven, which allows for more flexibility. 

Use The Right Tech Tools 

Finding the correct use of your technology tools is as important as the quality of the tools themselves. 

“Technology is a tool and like all tools you need to use it for the right thing,” Lane said. “If you use a hammer to fix a windshield, you don't get a repaired windshield.” 

For example, the forced remote learning of 2020 and parts of 2021 were more challenging than many expected, Lane said. However, schools learned from the experience and know better how to use available edtech tools for both in-person and virtual learning going forward. “If we're ever in a position where we have to do a version 2.0, it will be better than version 1.0 was because we will take the lessons learned,” Lane said. 

Give Teachers The Support They Need to Focus on Teaching 

Schlegelmilch has spent time over the past two-plus years working with teachers on developing good tech pedagogy. “What I learned is that teachers really want to do what they do best, which is teach, but they also want to communicate,” she said. 

To support both these goals, teachers need access to a secure network and the right tools for communication and collaboration such as easy-to-use video chat options. When technology is difficult to use for students or teachers, utilization tends to be low. “I always say, ‘Make it easy for teachers. Make it even easier for students,’” Schlegelmilch said

Realize That Secure Collaboration is Linked to Digital Citizenship 

The Shawnee Mission School District was able to navigate remote learning and incorporate more technology without putting its students or teachers at risk from data breaches. Even though the district has avoided being hacked, school leaders learned during the pandemic that they need to do more work around digital literacy education for all school stakeholders. “Secure collaboration leads to greater digital literacy,” Lane said. “It is symbiotic. In that sense. You have to have one living with the other to get the full benefit. People didn't necessarily realize until they were using secure collaboration that insecure collaboration and cybersecurity was a threat to them at an individual level.” 

District leaders are now devoting resources to ensure educators understand cybersecurity basics and its role in protecting their district’s network or networks. “We do have a responsibility if we intend to remain masters of technology and not the other way around to be digitally literate enough to understand the limitations of things like identity access management controls,” Lane said. “You have to understand how a bad actor could get into my space against my wishes, and what actions are available for me to take as a teacher to prevent that. I think that there is some water there for us to carry as educators and I think there always will be.”

Define Security and Innovate 

It can also help to clarify what secure collaboration involves for your district. Lane said that for his district it means if they’re working with a tech platform their IT department understands the way the district’s data is stored. “They know where that data rests,” he said. “They know that that data is encrypted when it's in transit. And they know that that data is in good hands when it's decrypted and presented to your internal customer.” 

Schlegelmilch said that secure tech tools that foster collaboration can help teachers continue to use technology to innovate education. “Coming out of this pandemic, I always say this is the time to truly reimagine education,” she said. “This is not the time to go back to the old normal of what we had. This is the time where we start thinking differently.” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.