Edtech in higher education: Digital equity & cybersecurity are concern areas

As educational institutions increasingly embrace virtual learning, concerns of digital equity and cybersecurity remain in the EdTech domain as adoption of various digital learning platforms and video-conferencing programs gathers further momentum, says Reeta Sonawat, Member of Advisory Council, Association of Indian Schools
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By Reeta Sonawat

With about 900 universities and higher education institutions, India remains a fairly large hub from the education point of view. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only changed the education format, but it has also driven education technology (EdTech) to the mainstream. Educational institutions that had resources and were progressive in education and developed digital labs, they survived better with continuous learning, examination and engagement of students being conducted as usual. In fact, some universities had expert groups to assess the lectures to ensure flawless and quality delivery.

While EdTech has been crucial since the start of the global pandemic, it has changed the way how educational institutions, including colleges and universities operate. In fact, some of these changes may be here to stay. Higher education institutions have been using various online learning platforms and other tools to teach students.

The various EdTech platforms allow for resources to be shared and updated as needed, as well as provide useful tools such as instant messaging. Students can access their virtual classrooms from any of the tech-enabled devices, including laptops, tablets, and phones, allowing for greater accessibility.

Similarly, administrations of various educational institutions are able to review data collected through the usage of such software to better allocate financial resources. In addition, they are able to keep a track on grades, performance, and other crucial information, which can be suitably recorded automatically for any future reference.

As educational institutions increasingly embrace virtual learning, concerns of digital equity and cybersecurity remain in the EdTech domain as adoption of various digital learning platforms and video-conferencing programs gathers further momentum.

Cybersecurity : A threat to digital learning
Take the case of phishing, which remains one of the common security threats. The large user base of various stakeholders, including students, teachers, and staff as well as the lack of awareness about sophisticated techniques make phishing attacks more successful in this industry. A hacker can intrude into the network using phishing and launch other malicious techniques such as ransomware, credential theft, and sensitive data theft.

These stealth operation modes are difficult to detect for two reasons: First, the institutions will not have enough finances to invest in cybersecurity, be it security tools or software.
Second, bring your own device (BYOD) is a common practice adopted in various colleges, and universities. Considering that BYOD extends the network perimeter to a large extent, this poses the risk of increasing the attack surface. This becomes a challenge for IT security teams who find it difficult to defend the wider network especially considering that resources remain limited.

Similarly, there has been a spurt in cases of Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against online educational resources.
Essentially, one of the easiest ways to boost cybersecurity is through encouraging awareness about common-sense defensive protocols. In the era of BYOD, the responsibility of preventing attacks is not just on IT departments alone.

It is now up to an individual who uses a particular EdTech facility to ensure security of their own devices. This way, the chances of a breach occurring should decrease significantly. Students unfamiliar with sophisticated software need to make the effort to fully comprehend how to use the technologies at their disposal to avoid inadvertent negligence.

Digital equity: Promoting equal learning opportunity
At the other end of the spectrum is the issue over digital equity. While tech-enabled devices—such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones—play an essential role in equity and access of information, another key component of digital equity is reliable broadband access. Many students hailing from a low-income socio-economic background and those in remote areas face issues such as lack of reliable Internet access, which can cause them difficulties when participating in online instruction and completing assignments away from an educational institution.

Though accessibility is one of the key factors in promoting digital equity, ensuring that educators are equally deft with the usage of technology—including software and platforms to enhance instruction, while training students about how to properly use and engage them. As new technologies are introduced while making the learning environment more robust, educators must continually adapt their teaching styles to the new realities of their profession in a way that best serves their students.

For several educators, this means learning new technologies and developing new strategies in a continuously changing digital environment and in new instructional models as well.

Considering that blended learning format promoting an amalgamation of the classroom and online learning becomes the norm, EdTech will continue to play a bigger role in education.


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