s students in the Park Hill School District enter their third week of distance learning, many teachers are beginning to host online classrooms using the videoconferencing platform, called Zoom, to communicate with students.
Videoconferencing is a private broadcast that allows two or more participants from remote locations to engage in a live conversation without actually being in the classroom. Now that students are learning at home, videoconferencing has become an integral part of virtual learning.
Educators in the Park Hill School District are hosting alternate day Zoom conferences from home to provide help on content, answer questions and share essential information. On any given day, students can log into the platform for video or audio conferencing with half a dozen different teachers.
But as students rely more heavily on technology to continue learning, a growing number of cyber actors are disrupting virtual environments across the country, warns the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hackers have interfered with video-teleconferencing “by inserting pornographic images, hate images, or threatening language,” states a public service announcement this week from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This has prompted a number of school districts to alert teachers and students to what has been dubbed “Zoombombing.” Zoom has become off limits to some as school districts across the nation ban their teachers and students from using the communication platform for virtual learning.
Nicole Kirby, communications specialist for the Park Hill School District, responded to The Landmark’s questions about security with Zoom.
“We have had some concerns about safety and security,” Kirby said. “To keep hackers out of Zoom calls, participants must now enter passwords and hosts must approve people as they enter the call.”
Kirby added that to protect safety and security, Park Hill has set up a district Zoom account. Now students will be able to participate in calls their teachers set up, “but they will not be able to set up their own unsupervised calls on our devices.”
“We ask families to do their best to supervise their children as they use technology tools. Having your children use their devices in common areas of your home can help with this,” Kirby added.
Virtual learning platforms
With the proliferation of virtual communication and learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FBI advises individuals to consider the risks of using certain applications, including video conferencing.
“Today’s rapid incorporation of education technology (edtech) and online learning could have privacy and safety implications if students’ online activity is not closely monitored,” states a public service announcement from the FBI.
“For example, in late 2017, cyber actors exploited school information technology (IT) systems by hacking into multiple school district servers across the United States. They accessed student contact information, education plans, homework assignments, medical records, and counselor reports, and then used that information to contact, extort, and threaten students with physical violence and release of their personal information. The actors sent text messages to parents and local law enforcement, publicized students’ private information, posted student personally identifiable information on social media, and stated how the release of such information could help child predators identify new targets.”
Now that virtual learning is the new reality, school districts must consider all security issues and take necessary precautions.