How every school can promote safety in a digital world

By Harold Reaves
March 2nd, 2016


Keeping students safe in the digital era — with its myriad dangers — means a proactive IT strategy

Technology has become a mainstay within the walls of today’s schools. One-to-one computing is enhancing and enriching the student experience, transforming the way we teach and the way we learn.

K-12 schools were expected to spend approximately $4.7 billion on technology this past year, according to IDC, with no sign of a plateau. But as rapid technology adoption continues unabated, the safety of the students who are meant to benefit from these advances is frequently overlooked.

The evolution of learning with computers

When desktop computers first appeared in schools, the curriculum focused on typing, word processing, and basic coding skills. Then search engines arrived, completely revolutionizing the way students accessed and consumed information over the web.

The next leap occurred with a transformational social networking experiment known as Facebook, instantly connecting people around the world and giving new meaning to the term “global village”.  Today educational organizations rely on computers and tablets to provide a more flexible approach to classroom learning, forming the dynamics of how educators and students interact.

In the past 25 years, technology has steadily progressed from a productivity tool to a staple of modern communication, interaction, and lifestyle.

The benefits of one-to-one computing programs are well documented and recognized by the communities that sponsor them with public funding.

Digital solutions such as classroom management, collaboration, and online polls allow teachers to be more productive so they spend less time administrating and more time teaching and interacting with pupils.

Students have access to more resources and information, allowing them to expand their learning potential beyond their immediate physical environment.

However, along with the benefits of mobile devices come the associated challenges. These challenges range from mismanagement and carelessness to misconduct and theft of school devices — often putting students at risk. Ultimately, you must be able to prove good stewardship for the funding you receive. But most importantly, you must establish safeguards for the students that use these devices.

Social etiquette

A school computer or tablet provides the student with an access point to a vastly infinite amount of content over the internet, some appropriate and some not. This includes social networking tools that are easily accessible.

Students require guidance and coaching to ensure they exercise this power appropriately, including safe and appropriate conduct on these sites. You should develop simple guidelines to help establish boundaries for topics such as privacy, bullying, language, and what to post.

This type of dialogue can go a long way to shaping their understanding of how their digital activities will remain online in perpetuity.

Protecting students and your investment

Along with student safety, you are also responsible for managing and securing the devices themselves. For many school districts this means keeping track of hundreds of devices across multiple schools used by thousands of students who are constantly on the move. As a result, a simple inventory or device status report is often resource-intensive and rarely accurate.

Device loss and theft is also a concern, threatening student safety and creating a shortfall of devices for learning.

Ultimately, when a device is no longer available, whether due to damage, loss, or theft, the learning experience for the student is interrupted.

Student safety and IT efficiency

The reality is that most school districts are under immense pressure to create efficiencies, establish accountable oversight, and provide a secure learning and teaching environment. In order to achieve this balance, you must implement a combination of technology and best practices.

Since it is unlikely you will receive a substantial increase in funding and IT resources, keeping track of your devices will require remote capabilities that provide you with a reliable two-way connection so you can reach out and secure a device regardless of user or location.

This will allow you to quickly assess the status of a device and installed applications. You will also be able to easily perform compliance reporting for one-to-one and other funded initiatives. Resource-intensive exercises, such as physical inventory cycles can be replaced with accurate and timely reports, allowing you to divert IT resources to learning initiatives that are more meaningful to your community.

Also, with limited budget to replace lost or stolen devices, the ability to recover a device will ensure funding can be used for learning initiatives versus buying replacement devices.

But none of these measures will matter if your students and employees are at risk.

Security that is proactive and interactive

Many districts are taking proactive measures to extend the reach of their endpoint security programs to include initiatives that change user habits, deter theft, and protect students on and off school property. They’ve found that the best way to deal with these challenges is to train students by indoctrinating the proper behavior and practices so they can mitigate the risk scenarios of damaged, lost or stolen devices.

Coupling device security and recovery strategies with educational programs can be transformational.  They unite students, teachers and the community, ensuring safe and effective practices are properly adopted and in place. Increased awareness within the community removes the school and the students from being targets. Instead, everyone works together to maintain a safe and secure learning environment.

These programs should be community-friendly and include lost and found return services and aggressive anti-theft programs. Educational components should include user training to cover how to care for these devices, responsible use, and appropriate behavior during a security incident.

The most effective programs deliver on-site awareness including protected campus signage, posters with safety advice, and anti-theft stickers to deter theft, all of which help to promote a safer school environment.

The digital evolution within K-12 organizations represents an incredibly exciting time to be an educator, and IT is playing an important role in bringing this new learning experience to life.

The same combination of teaching and technology can be used to secure your students and the devices they rely upon to learn.

About the Author:

Harold Reaves is the Global Manager for Absolute Safe Schools. Absolute Safe Schools launched in 2013 and promotes a safe school environment for students and faculty, helping to educate users about device safety and teaching students and staff how to avoid scenarios where they may be at risk. Harold has previously served in notable roles in the city of Columbia, SC, including Director of Homeland Security, Interim Chief of Police, and Police Inspector for Public Safety & Quality of Life. Harold holds Level V certification with the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security and served on the Executive Steering Committee for the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in S.C.