K-12, Meet Higher Ed

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The two arms of our education system have much to gain in recognizing their common ground.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher SECURITY, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT, mobility, technology funding, eLearning, the smart classroom—these were some of the clusters of topics at the recent Campus Technology 2006 conference in Boston. Hosted by Campus Technology, the sister publication of T.H.E. Journal serving higher education, the event covered the same key issues as those in K-12, but with their own higher-ed twist to them. As I listened to presentations and discussions in the conference sessions, as I talked with university CIOs and others involved with technology on college campuses, I found myself thinking yet again, Man, could K- 12 and higher ed learn a lot from eachother!

For example, in the area of security, there is a lot for both sides to learn. One panel speaker cited a recent USA Today article, which noted that there have been 109 computer-related breaches of security at 76 US colleges and universities since Jan. 1, 2005, and nearly half of the publicly recorded security breaches between February and September of this year came in higher education. This is at a time when colleges and universities are being asked to collect, process, and store more and more data about students, faculty, staff, and alumni. So what can K-12 learn from such an abysmal record? For one thing: It can happen to us, too.

One of the best approaches I heard for addressing security needs is one that focuses on awareness and spreads responsibility for protecting data to everyone on campus—faculty, staff, and students. For example, at the Rochester Institute of Technology (NY), a security officer took a random sample survey of faculty, asking if any student Social Security numbers were on any of their computers (RIT had recently changed from using student SSNs to unique student identifiers). Among the 25 surveyed faculty members, 23 said there were none and two said they didn’t know. When the IT staff went to each of the 25 computers, they found student SSNs on every one of them. The results of this survey were distributed across the campus and became a startling wake-up call for everybody. The attitude began to shift from “This is IT’s problem that it should solve with firewalls, software, etc.” to “I have some responsibility for the safety and security of campus data.”

Safety and security is a shared responsibility in K-12 as well. Everyone has to protect passwords and change them periodically. Teachers cannot rely solely on software to ensure that students are not going to inappropriate websites. They need to get up and walk around their classrooms and look at student computer screens. Students need to abide by their school’s acceptable use policy, and their parents need to support the school in the enforcement of it. “Kids will be kids” is not a reasonable stance when the safety of students or the integrity of a school district’s data is at stake.

While the cultures of higher education and K-12 are different in many respects, leaders in technology in education at all levels have more in common than not. Florida’s Department of Education is moving to a consolidated K-20 system, and Texas requires the Texas Education Agency and the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board to cooperate on technology planning. We need more of that from bureaucracies, but we also need to attend each other’s conferences and read each other’s publications. A little collaboration will go a long way.

—Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial director

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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