The Connected Campus: Digital Transformation in Education

A successful digital transformation involves a comprehensive technology, personnel, and budget strategy. This is especially true in education, where common transformation efforts range from content conversion to automating administrative processes and integrating systems. As new learning applications, media channels, forms, and communication and collaboration technologies emerge, IT teams are faced with a re-evaluation of security, personnel, budget and operational issues.

Campus life from an administrative, teacher and student perspective is targeted for a vast disruption. To remain competitive, institutions need to keep pace with digital innovation without losing sight of security. Identifying devices, segmenting users and updating protection policies are three critical components to securing your digital ecosystem.

Digital Transformation in Education

Today, technology is pervasive in many facets of learning, from the physical layout of classrooms (with computers and smart boards) to how lessons are planned and results evaluated (automated grading, and engagement tracking). Here are some of the top areas in which digital transformation is affecting education.

  • The Internet of Things

As schools embrace digital transformation, many are looking to outfit “smart classrooms.” Smart classrooms are those that track and measure performance and efficiency through various connected IoT devices. Forty-six percent of IT professionals in K-12 and higher education anticipate that the Internet of Things will have a major impact on school operations within the next two years. These smart classrooms often include tablets and eBooks enabled with educational software and applications, smart whiteboards, attendance tracking capabilities, and more. Aside from IoT devices that specifically facilitate learning, schools are also incorporating connected HVAC and lighting systems, as well as waste management systems to optimize efficiency.

  • Artificial Intelligence Powering Personalized Learning

One of the main drivers of tech adoption in education is the desire to enable personalized learning. New tools and applications are helping educators to customize learning plans for individual students based on their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, enabling personalized learning is the number one priority for schools, according to a survey from Digital School Districts.

This has led to blended learning curriculums that combine face-to-face teaching with online activities and instructions, and the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) in education. AI can facilitate individualized learning by understanding the needs of each student to ensure that they are provided with the material they need to succeed. This can be done through AI-enabled tutoring, AI that provides immediate feedback, and more. Additionally, AI can be used to speed up the grading process, giving teachers more time to focus on student needs.  

  • Big Data

Big data is also being leveraged by schools to measure and improve courses and curriculums. While personalized learning focuses on the needs of individual students, big data can help educators improve classes on a broader scale. As information is collected about student engagement and success through IoT devices and AI interfaces, this data can be analyzed to understand trends demonstrating where students are most engaged or areas where improvements could be made.

Digital Transformation Risks

As schools embrace these technical advances to improve the success of their students, they are also embracing a host of new threats. In the end, incorporating new technology that collects large quantities of data about individual users into the network opens schools up to cyberattacks.

This does not mean that K-12 schools and universities should stop pursuing digital transformation initiatives, rather, that they must also incorporate security features to achieve defense in-depth alongside them.   

With students using tablets and interactive applications in a classroom while getting feedback from AI programs, a DDoS or ransomware attack that knocks a school offline or locks up the network can be catastrophic. That is why strong network defenses are integral.

Secure Technology Use in Classrooms and on Campuses

As schools plan their cybersecurity infrastructure, they should be sure to incorporate a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW), secured network access and endpoint protection.

NGFW’s provide the strong perimeter defenses schools need to enable digital transformation. As cybercriminals launch sophisticated attacks against exploits in software and hardware connecting to the network, NGFWs are able to assess this traffic on a granular level using current threat intelligence to permit legitimate traffic, while stopping that which is suspicious.

Secured network access solutions are integral to a connected campus. Fortinet’s secure access solution includes protection against cyber threats from internal user devices and IoT products. This solution is a necessary component to achieving CIPA compliance.

Endpoint protection is also crucial when securing the digital transformation and the IoT devices involved with it. With smart campuses and classrooms growing, more endpoints are connecting to education networks than ever before. From smartphones and tablets to wireless printers and lighting systems, all of these endpoints serve as entryways into the network. Strong endpoint protection provides end-to-end threat visibility and automated protection from malware and exploits.

As digital technology becomes more entrenched in daily operations, schools will be well served to deploy these security controls, as well as any others, as part of an integrated Security Fabric, or unified threat management system.

Final Thoughts

Schools are striving to be leading edge in their curriculum and security is an enabler of that mission. As schools move to incorporate technologies such as big data, IoT, and AI, cyber defenses will be a requirement to support digital transformation efforts.

Visit our education sector solutions page for more information or read examples of how educational institutions are leveraging Fortinet to secure education.