Practical Solutions for Managing Privacy and Cyber Issues while Working Differently for Educators

 

As COVID-19 restrictions slowly ease in Australia, schools and universities already operating on varied schedules will continue to do so for some time yet as we navigate the next few months of flux. This article will address how educators can implement strategies that identify how technology is being used and how people are communicating and working. The intention being that such strategies will set the school up for ease now and for an improved relationship with technology in the long term.

While the key audience here are educators, the principles apply to management in other industries and the perspective may provide insight to parents, thereby enabling more in-depth conversation with their child’s educators.

In this article, we use the phrase ‘working differently’ as opposed to ‘working from home’ as it is an important distinction. We are not simply ‘working from home’, we are trying to work normally in a different environment. All while the world is managing a pandemic that is affecting many elements of our day to day lives.

 

How is this affecting people?

In speaking to teachers just after the move to educating from home began, it was clear that the changes to the working environment have impacted various stakeholders in education in different ways.

Parents are managing working differently, while simultaneously and constantly managing their children.

School administrators are working to ensure that the day to day operations of their school continue by managing workloads and ensuring that no child is left behind.

Teachers are working with technology that they may not have used before. Or, if they have, then they’ve not used it with young children and definitely not at such a large scale.

The main concerns for teachers are centred around their lack of control in three main areas:

  • managing the technology,
  • managing students through the use of the technology, and
  • managing correspondence with the parents.

The stress levels in each of these situations are increased when compared to the normal state of affairs. It is no wonder that some of the teachers we spoke to were in tears as a result of what they are dealing with.

 

If these are the issues, what is causing them and what are the solutions to combating them under any working conditions? 

The first point is to recognise that it is not the teachers’ responsibility to manage all aspects of these areas. It is the responsibility of the school’s senior management and administration because the issues stem from appropriate management of people, how they interact with technology and with each other.

In addressing the issues, we will focus on the people, the process, and the technology.

 

Technology

School administrators and managers cannot be expected to understand the back end of the technologies they use – it is not their area of specialisation. For this reason, schools employ technology specialists in IT staff or as external vendors to assist them.

While dealing with technology is the forte of these specialists, it is not their responsibility to ensure that it fits in correctly with the school’s operations. That is the responsibility of the school who has commissioned the implementation of the technology. The problems are created by the gaps between these two areas.

When students and teachers are struggling to use the technology effectively, it is the responsibility of the school to ensure that there are sufficient, appropriately skilled IT resources available to provide assistance to their teachers and students.

An appropriate technology strategy includes resource management, budget allocation and communication platforms to enable quick responses to those who need them.

It also involves building trust, supported by positive communication between the teachers and IT staff so that they are empowered to effectively resolve their technology related problems together.

 

People

A lot of questions need to be answered in order to understand the people involved and develop a strategy to ensure they are communicating with each other effectively.

This list is a starting point of pertinent questions to ask and you may discover that more questions will arise as you ask them:

  • Who are the people that are involved in your school that use or are impacted by the use of technology? (teachers, parents, administrators, students, vendors, Board etc.)
  • How do they normally interact? (maps are very useful for understanding this and it goes to establishing the legal relationships between the various stakeholders)
  • How have these relationships changed since you started to work differently?
  • Are your teachers now the main point of contact for parents to address concerns and questions?
  • If so, do they have the capacity to respond to parents while they teach students, plan lessons and meet with their faculty teams?
  • How do the parents contact them (are there internal messaging systems or do they have the personal phone numbers of teachers)?
  • Are the students struggling to be heard in the classroom? How can you tell?

This strategy on managing people should focus on the legal relationships (how people are interacting) and how you can communicate with them to ease pressures. It should also cover response workflow of contact points and responsibilities.

Having a solid strategy on how to manage people and how they interact with technology will influence the next section, process.

 

Process

Process is the fruit forgotten at the back of the fridge in most cases. It is common to have technology and people management strategies, but the importance of how people interact with technology and with each other is often dismissed or altogether neglected.

It is important to remember that with increased stressors, people will experience more issues with technology caused by a myriad of reasons. They will also be communicating with other people in ways which are out of the norm.

This can lead to issues with privacy and efficiency.

The main points to consider with regard to privacy are:

  • How will your teachers and administrators use the technology available to them?
  • What will they neglect as they manage all the other factors they are required to deal with?

By way of example

If your teachers are using a communications platform to communicate with parents:

  • What happens if they are sharing personal information about students on that platform?
  • What then happens if in haste, they accidentally share information of one child with another’s parents?
  • What consequences arise as a result (legal, reputational, personal)?

It is important to remember that when they are faced with technology that doesn’t work, or is not ‘user friendly’ – they will find a way to work around the problem:

  • What happens if information cannot be shared via approved channels and they resort to using a technology that is not endorsed and managed by the school?

The risks to the school, of technology that they have no control over being used, are large. The school is responsible for the actions of the teachers using that technology, regardless of whether they endorsed its use or not. The requirement to control the technologies that teachers use comes down to their duty of care.

Addressing these concerns

Setting up workflows for staff to understand and follow is incredibly important in combatting ‘workarounds’. This will limit or prevent employees from creating their own ‘quick fix’. This ties back to your technology strategy, which should therefore include contingencies for issues with technology.

 

To improve efficiency

It is important to determine how much time is spent:

  • educating online,
  • communicating with parents, and
  • planning lessons

Some systems record and monitor useful metrics. Understanding how to utilise these metrics could provide great insight into operations and areas for improvement.

Other ways of ascertaining metrics include simple and positive communication with staff.

Consider building a culture which values open dialogue with individuals, enabling them to provide constructive feedback.

Your staff and users are your best line of defence, enable them to assist you through open dialogue where they can discuss with you what is, and what is not working.

Ask what time they’re logging off each night and then how long after that it takes them to actually ‘switch off’.

You can follow this by discussing solutions that include resource management, changes to how they deliver content, or increased communications with parents about the boundaries and expectations of everyone involved.

 

In summary

An appropriate response to the cyberlaw related concerns experienced by schools and their stakeholders both during COVID-19 and during normal working conditions, is to follow a strategy that identifies how technology is being used and how people are communicating and working.

The following step is to discuss and allocate appropriate resources and budget, as well as strategies for communication workflows and changes to process. This will assist with challenges in the short term and will set you up in the long term to ease the ongoing relationship with technology in the school.

The importance of compassionate conversations with those involved and impacted will help you understand what is working and what can be deferred, transferred, or scrapped altogether. The people who use the systems you provide hold a lot of valuable information – let them share it with you.

In closing, our experience has shown that by following these steps, administrations have the ability to empower their teachers and students to make informed decisions about how they use technology.

The positive result on the individuals and the system as a whole cannot be underestimated. You have a chance to improve their experience while giving your school a competitive advantage.