Creating a Safer Online Learning Environment for Students and Professors: Cybersecurity in Online Learning Environments

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Leandro, Saturlino Lohure
Online Learning , E-Learning , Online Security , Privacy Online , Distant Education , Cybersecurity
This project report is a design of an online security investigation from the perspective of professors and students, to provide information to higher educational institutions that would help them prepare professors and students to work securely online. Therefore the project has the secondary purpose of creating a safer online learning environment for students and professors. Post-secondary educational institutions are responding increasingly to demands for online distance education, demands fuelled by the exponential growth of the Internet and associated information and communications technology (ICT) (Fan, 2011; Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL), 2009; Kingkade, 2013; Rudestam & Shoenholtz-Read, 2010). As institutions increase their dependence on the Internet to deliver courses to students online, they encounter rapid growth in malicious online activity, which happens literally everyday (European Commission, 2013; Johnson, 2005; Orrey, 2010; Shaeffer, 2009). Literature on the security of online education has acknowledged this fact (Adams & Bradford, 2003), but offers little guidance for protection. Every online education stakeholder has responsibility to ensure safety online. Administrators depend on ICT professionals to meet most of their security needs, but professors and students also have responsibility for security and may need guidance and support. The results of inadequate security can be catastrophic, leading to loss of trust and revenue (European Commission, 2013; Kovacs, Markam & Sweeting, 2004; Kennedy, 2011). E-Learning demands change in curriculum and in attitudes from the traditional educational system to the new online distance education (Zhang & Nunamaker, 2003). Professors and students need to be protected online; they also need to feel free to choose computer programs and applications that facilitate online learning. Balance is required in addressing the needs of professors and students versus those of the administrators of institutions of higher education (Power, 2008). This study addresses the following research questions: What online security problems do professors and students face? What do they know about online security? What steps do they take to protect themselves? What are the gaps between their security knowledge and practice? How do professors and students learn about online security problems, and what can they do to address these problems? The design uses a qualitative research methodology. The proposed data gathering consists of interviews and a focus group (McMillan & Schumacher, 2010), all conducted online. The interviews and focus group discussions will be recorded and the collected data later analyzed using NVivo software. The outcome of this project report is a design of research to guide those working in higher-education institutions to support professors and students in the safe use of the internet.
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