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Balancing IT Security with Educational Opportunities

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This morning I attended a breakfast sponsored by CDW-G, a Vernon Hills, Ill.-based company that sells IT products to schools, and Orange, Calif.-based Marshal8e6, which provides Internet and e-mail security products, that gathered together company leaders, school district administrators, as well as a few members of the press, to talk about the most pressing issues in cyber security for district technology administrators today.

One point of focus was the new federal regulations that require schools to archive and manage all e-mail correspondence for certain school district employees under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or FRCP, which we covered in this Digital Directions story. Keeping track of this data has become a challenge for school districts, which often are not prepared to store such large amounts of data. Administrators at the breakfast agreed that the federal regulations pose a significant challenge to school districts, although emerging technologies, such as those proposed by Marshal8e6, could help administrators tackle this responsibility.

Another issue school districts face is balancing the need to keep students safe and limit their access to inappropriate material without stifling the educational opportunities that some new technologies, such as mobile technologies like cell phones and PDAs, and Web resources, like wikis and blogs, present. Jim Culbert, the information security analyst for the 140,000-student Duval County public schools in Jacksonville, Fla., explained that at his district, it's no longer acceptable to tell teachers they can't access certain tools because of safety concerns—he has to instead find a solution that satisfies both the teacher and the IT staff's concerns.

Georgianna Skinner, the director of technology for Hampton City schools in Virginia, explained that in her district, they use internal blogs and wikis that can only be accessed through the district's network, keeping student information safe, while still allowing teachers to incorporate those tools into the classroom. And Larry Wong, the IT security officer for Montgomery County Public Schools, said that sometimes a resource, although it can have some inappropriate material, is worth the risk because of all the educational opportunities it provides, such as the Web site YouTube.

Getting the perspective of a number of different technology administrators from schools in several different states was a great way to see the different ways that school districts are finding creative ways to keep their students, and their networks, safe without compromising the potential educational opportunities that those technologies have.

1 Comment

Our school district does not allow access to any wikis, blogs, etc. When I recently asked my building principal about setting up an internal blog, he was very supportive and said he would clear it with our tech department if I had any problems. Since it was so close to the end of the school year, I decided to wait until fall. Before I get started, I have two questions for someone who has already done this:
1. If security is the issue, how do you prevent students from giving the web address and password to someone else?
2. With an internal blog or wiki, obviously there's no audience outside the school. Does that defeat the whole purpose? If the students can only talk to others within our building, have we accomplished anything that couldn't be done with pencil and paper?
I'd appreciate input from someone who has experience in this area. Thank you.
Rebecca Polzin

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