How educators can ensure digital learning safety – activist

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 00:00 |
Favored  Kibunja, a Grade Four pupil at Eagle Apex Hill School in Subukia, Nakuru county does an assignment sent by his teacher via phone. The digital learning is meant to lessen the effects of closure of schools. Photo/PD/Raphael Munge

Angela Nganga    

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, said South African activist and former president Nelson Mandela.

Funding education is one of the biggest investments any country can make for its current and future generation.

Today, as more and more people across the African continent are required to stay home due to government lockdown interventions, triggering a massive shift towards remote learning.

This has meant the growth in the usage of collaborative tools such as Microsoft’s Teams to create virtual classrooms wherein educators can communicate with their students in real-time.

In the Middle East and Africa emerging markets alone, over 1.5 million students and teachers are leveraging Microsoft Teams as the remote learning platform during Covid-19 disruption.

Through such platforms, educators can connect with and support students in much the same way they could in person with live meetings wherein they are able to share presentations, and even invite external speakers for virtual field trips.

But, as students and educators move online, naturally there is an increase in the risks to security and safety. 

As we adjust to the new normal and governments take the much needed next steps towards safely re-opening the economies and adopting possible return to school strategies, blended learning will play a key role in ensuring that some of the non-essential aspects of learning that do not require face to face interaction are enabled while ensuring the online safety of students.

Educational institutions, therefore, need to take steps to ensure that digital learning environments are safe by setting up concrete policies and restrictions when using these tools to guard students’ safety, while also ensuring that online classrooms remain engaging and giving educators the tools they need to create a focused learning environment.

Restricting access to meetings can safeguard students. There have already been multiple occurrences around the world wherein unauthorised users have gained access to virtual classrooms. 

Just this month alone we’ve seen an online graduation ceremony interrupted with racial slurs by hackers.

When educators set up meetings to teach students a link is created which participants can use to enter these meetings.

Sharing these links online to reach students can seem like a quick and easy way to  get it done,  but this also opens meetings up to anyone who sees the link.

To ensure the safe meeting of educators and students for learning online, administrators should instead create identities (or profiles) for each student and teacher which requires them to log into the tool to join the meeting. Administrators can choose to turn off the ability for anonymous users to join the meeting.

Within meetings, educators can also make sure all students are present in the classroom and there are no unexpected attendees by selecting “show participants” in the meeting controls giving them greater control over who is admitted into the lesson.

Educators are often required to manage students in physical classrooms to ensure good behaviour and keep students focused. This is required when teaching online as well.

Online classrooms introduce a new dynamic for both teachers and students alike. To manage disruptions, administrators should limit students’ ability to initiate private calls, and monitor chat sessions. This can be done by restricting roles for students within a meeting.

We have entered an unexpected and often challenging time, but technology can be used to overcome these challenges and even improve on functions such as learning. —The writer is Microsoft Education Lead for North, West, East & Southern Africa, Levant & Pakistan countries

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