Remote education – balancing productivity and security

Students across the world have been met with a very atypical environment this educational year. They’re trading desks in classrooms for virtual learning spaces, and teachers have so far been faced with many challenges associated with this kind of learning.

Whilst nothing will replace in-person teaching, education has been trending towards remote learning for some time due to the benefits it can offer to some. Modern tools have allowed students to study in their own homes without long commute times and have helped schools to cut down on costs.

One of the major shakeups to the education industry in the past five years has been the entry of Microsoft. No longer content to offer its generic Microsoft 365 services, the IT giant now offers solutions specifically tailored to students and teachers. None of these tools so far have made more waves than Microsoft Teams — a collaboration hub for communication and file sharing that is perfectly suited to remote learning.

Unrivalled benefits for remote learning

With Microsoft Teams, students can discuss and collaborate with their peers in a unified manner regardless of the device they are using. Real-time, collaborative document editing allows multiple students to work on the same file at once and teachers to be able to check and edit work without physical exchange of workbooks. In-built voice, video, and chat enables effective communication between students and teachers and gives students the chance to stay social with their peers. Another invaluable integration comes in the form of Whiteboard, which brings a classroom-like mind mapping experience.

Solutions like Teams also helps students to understand and be heard; an important benefit when learning remotely. When a teacher is presenting, they can raise their hand to call attention, while an integrated immersive reader helps those with eyesight and focus issues stay invested in text chat. Once a class is over, teachers can utilise Teams to set and track assignments. As a partial replacement for on-site intuition, they can also check the insights dashboard, which gives detailed student engagement data.

Cost reduction and digital transformation

Remote education can also significantly reduce costs and suit budget-restricted institutions and students. Both pupils and schools can benefit from lowered textbook, transportation, and rental costs. E-signature tools like DocuSign can also save money, reducing the amount of physical paperwork whilst speeding up the process of signing and reviewing documents.

Schools that don’t want to go fully digital can adopt a hybrid model; students can be physically on campus part-time and still benefit from tools like Teams and OneDrive to sync documents and feedback to their home PC. This is proving invaluable for students that need to self-isolate because of potential contact with Covid-19 cases.

Crucially, DocuSign and Microsoft Office for Education provide these features without compromising security. It’s no secret that educational organisations are a target for cyber-criminals. A late 2019 government report found that 41% of primary schools and 76% of secondary schools had identified a breach in the past 12 months. For further and higher education, that figure is 80%.

Clearly, educational institutions are an enticing target for criminals. They hold large amounts of profitable data and often aren’t as security aware as commercial businesses. As a result, it’s vital that organisations take advantage of the latest tools to protect students, data and research.

Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory Connect lets institutions with flexible education methods extend their on-premises identity to secure cloud access at home. It’s Information Protection and Cloud App Security solutions protect student data regardless of location, while the Mobility and Security features provide threat analysis tools to automatically spot attacks via behavioural analytics.

That said, government research shows that most breaches in education come not through viruses or malware but from phishing emails. To battle phishing attacks, a solution like Mimecast Email Security can be implemented. Stopping the majority of phishing and spam emails before they reach the inbox reduces the impact of poor cyber-education.

Ransomware also poses a big threat to the education industry. Though successful attacks are lower than other methods, they’re incredibly damaging when they succeed, often wiping out masses of valuable data. Educational institutions should ensure their security solution includes regular backups of on-premises, cloud, and mobile data, mitigating the risk of long downtime and devastating losses.

Fortinet and Azure integration

Many educational institutions use Fortinet solutions on-premise, but did you know that Fortinet delivers an Enterprise-class solution for Microsoft Azure users to protect application workloads beyond standard Azure security services? Integrated cyber security solutions provide protection whether virtual, in the cloud or on-premises.

As a Fortinet Expert Partner and Microsoft Gold Partner, Cloud Business has helped many schools and HE institutions migrate to the Microsoft cloud while protecting their networks, assets and people from cyber attack.

The world has changed a lot over the past year, but so has the way educational institutions utilise technology. Remote working tools are making learning more accessible and inexpensive than ever, while adoption of recent security innovations helps students and teachers stay secure even when remote. If you’d like to chat about building a remote learning model that’s truly secure, we can help.

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