Should higher ed play a larger role in building digital media literacy and discussions?
- The College of Westchester's CIO, Kelly Walsh, writes in University Business about the growing need for colleges and universities to take responsibility for building digital media literacy among students and communities.
- Students' well-being and societal freedoms are at exponential risk, he writes, because of growing use of technology and social media among millions of users who are open to sharing information and embracing new ideas and cultures. This openness is what makes colleges and universities, and their tech infrastructure, particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacking.
- According to Walsh, digital literacy should be a core element of classroom discussions and course development. "Some would argue that helping our students and our citizens become aware of important issues is a responsibility higher education must consider," he writes in UB. "And many of us seem to accept that our safety, privacy and more can be affected when digital systems that we use are compromised. So why aren’t we bringing these ideas together, and leading a richer discourse about the dangers of digital technologies?"
From classroom and laboratory use to typical student online access, IT infrastructure on most college campuses around the country is susceptible to hacking or breaches of data. These prospects are extremely dangerous for campuses which hold thousands or millions of pieces of information on current and former students, faculty and executives whose identities and finances could be at risk if just one person compromises a system.
These realities are part of the reason why IT knowledge is gaining value in executive searches and rising on the priority lists for trustees and presidents. But the first step in trying to create a digitally defended campus is identifying weak spots created by users and areas which are especially vulnerable to hacking. IT departments should be directed to implement internal phishing campaigns which can quickly and safely identify specific users who are prone to click bad links from foreign email addresses.
CIOs should also audit pages created by faculty, students and departments to ensure that old versions of directories, websites and portals are deleted from active databases so that hackers cannot easily identify soft entry points into a system or server. These are just two of the many best practices campuses can take, but every day more are waiting to be discovered to keep pace with the evolving know-how of hackers from around the world.
From a public safety perspective, administrators should also prime public safety departments to monitor social media for potential threats and possible signs of future violence from campus stakeholders. While arrest or prosecution may not be a possibility in most cases of online threats, it goes a long way in schools being able to disclose the steps they took to make campus constituents safe, and in making students a helpful resource in reporting suspicious activities.
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