COVID-19: Protect yourself during online learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought extreme changes in our daily lives. One of the most impacted sectors during the pandemic is education. Physical face-to-face classroom classes have given way to online distance learning.

However, in choosing what technology, platforms, and applications to use, most schools, teachers, and parents lean towards those that offer ease of use, availability, and affordability. Mostly, they make choices without privacy vetting unknowingly.

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Moreover, privacy data professionals are mainly concerned about the unlawful collection and misuse of student information and images. Another problem they see is the random display of products and services not suited for young people.

Here are some do’s/don’ts and other tips for teachers, parents, students, and learners to ensure safety and privacy. 

DO’s-

Use strong password protection and authentication:

It is highly recommended to use strong password protection and authentication while sign-in into e-learning platforms. Strong passwords should be at least 12 characters containing upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Anti-virus and anti-spam protection:

To protect remain safe, it is suggested to install anti-virus and anti-spam programs and update them regularly.

However, users can download free anti-virus and anti-spam programs. They are easy to install, highly reliable, and do not take much computer resources. Once installed, these anti-virus and anti-spam automatically check security updates and scans your computer for malware. 

Firewall protection:

Enable firewall protection. It provides the first line of defense in securing data against cyberattacks. Firewalls prevent unauthorized users from accessing your emails and information that can be accessed from the web.

A firewall is an application that controls and monitors the data that comes in and out of your network based on a set of rules. Guardians can program firewalls to prevent student access to prohibited sites. The latest Windows operating system comes with Windows Defender Firewall too.

Keep your files backup:

Always keep your files backup to remain safe from unwanted incidents. It is a lifesaver indeed.

The nature of the file to be stored and how the users want to access it determine the backup type. If users store business information or sensitive personal information, it is best to use external hard drives. If the user uses different devices to access data, it is suggested that files be stored in the cloud.

Precaution:

Before starting the classes, parents, teachers, and students must decide whether they want to leave the microphone and cameras on all the time or not.

If a webcam is made optional, students who want to ask questions or participate in a discussion can use the ‘Raise Hand feature’ available in all meeting apps. This feature is visible to all participants and is shown by a hand icon next to the learner’s name. Turn off the microphone and camera while leaving the online class.

Avoid possible disclosure of personal information:

It is also suggested to change the background to avoid possible disclosure of personal information.

Meeting programs allows users to use virtual backgrounds, which cover whatever sensitive personal information is behind the user, such as diplomas with photos hanging on the wall.

Consent of guardians for children:

Ensure that consent of guardians is obtained for the recording of classes for children below 18 years old. As per the standard data privacy policy, it is stated that consent shall be evidenced by written, electronic, or recorded means. Consider being present during online sessions, especially if the learner is a minor.

Basic online security:

Learn basic online security such as not sharing passwords, phone numbers, names of household members, and other information, even with classmates.

Monitor minor learners:

Keep the home computer in a location where it is easy to monitor. This way it would be easy to check on what the minor learners are looking at.

DON’Ts-

Never open pop-ups, unknown emails, and suspicious links:

Pop-ups are small screens or windows that appear on top of web pages in your browser that advertisers use to attract attention. On the other hand, hackers use pop-ups to trick users into performing a simple task such as pressing a button to “Cancel” or “Close” a web page. This action can download a virus or trigger multiple pop-ups. Users can safely close a pop-up in Microsoft Windows by pressing Ctrl-W or Alt-F4 on their keyboard.

Unknown emails or links can contain malware that activates right away after opening or after clicking the link. Delete anonymous emails and links and empty your Trash folder afterward.

Avoid social media:

Never submit assignments, projects, and other requirements to teachers via social media. Popular social media wasn’t designed for educational use and lack privacy protections for students. These platforms may collect sensitive personal information of students as they would a normal adult consumer. Commercial, for-profit entities can use the personal information of students for targeted or behavioral advertising.

Teachers must use Learning Management Systems (LMS) for students to submit assignments and projects.

Don’t violate privacy:

Never take screenshots of the video feed of teachers and classmates.

Photos and video images of teachers and students, if not used for learning and taken without the parent’s consent, violate privacy. It could also end up on social media platforms and possibly subject the students to bullying and sexual comments.

Stop sharing credentials:

Never share unnecessary online links and passwords.

Sharing online links and passwords, even to classmates, would make it easier for unscrupulous individuals to take control of their accounts.

Don’t use non-encrypted property:

Never connect phones, laptops, and other gadgets to free or public Wi-Fi networks.

If the only option for the learner is to connect to a public Wi-Fi, find out if a website is encrypted, look for the ‘https’ at the beginning of the web address (“s” is for secure). Some websites apply encryption only on the sign-in page. Students and parents must investigate the ‘https’ in every webpage they visit.

A teacher’s personal mobile phone or laptop is prone to unlawful, unauthorized, or accidental usage, which could jeopardize personal information stored in the device. Personal information of learners must be stored in a secure environment, physical or cloud-based, which includes encryption while in storage, authentication, and other controls to limit access.

Don’t leak personal information:

Personal information should be sent directly to the student’s account and not posted for all learners to see. This is to protect the confidentiality of the learner’s sensitive personal information.

 To end, it can be said that teachers, parents, students, and learners must always be vigilant when going online. Technology brings with it both benefits and challenges too.

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Ashik Ul Haque is a journalist, digital entrepreneur, IT analyst, e-Business strategist, author, and researcher. He pursued a master's degree in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) from the Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh. He is the founder and CEO of VirtuStaffs, a leading IT/ITES service provider. Besides professional attachment, he loves traveling, volunteering, research, and social networking.
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