Remote Work May Transform Higher Education. But Will Printers and Alexa Undermine Its Privacy?

An “uber trend” of remote work for higher education information security is coming, at a time when more connections are being forged between higher ed and other state data. Plus: printers, smart speakers and privacy (oh my!) — all in this Edtech Reports Recap. 

That Horizon Seems to Be … Closer

“Higher education may never be the same again after 2020, and that will be an exciting prospect to some.” So declares the newest forward-looking publication from the higher-ed information technology association EDUCAUSE, “2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Information Security Edition.”

The trend-spotting Horizon Report series is a long-standing tradition—it dates back to 2004, first under the banner of the now-defunct New Media Consortium and then, after 2017, continued independently by its long-time partners: the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) in K-12 and EDUCAUSE in higher education. But this Horizon Report represents a couple of firsts.

One: It’s the inaugural Horizon Report focused on information security, after the many previous editions that broadly covered “teaching and learning.” Two: It’s the first Horizon Report to not simply forecast developments in several areas, but to declare an “uber trend.” 

In 2021, that pandemic-inspired uber trend is “remote work.” It’s significant, the report says, because its “multifaceted” impacts on the future of higher education information security can’t just be tucked under one of the report’s five trend categories. That “would both seem to diminish the importance of this trend relative to the other trends and mischaracterize it as one type of trend and not any other.” 

The potential impacts, good and bad? A greater hiring pool for now-remote infosec professionals, heightened data privacy concerns, and a need to rethink information security staff and resources now that the campus security perimeter no longer is just physical.

In short, the authors note, “security and data privacy have an extraordinary and increasing significance on the horizon of higher education institutions.” 

This being a Horizon Report, it’s dense with detail. Some 50 higher education experts from the United States, Canada and Australia took part in a modified Delphi process of discussion and consensus voting to identify and condense trends. The result is 50 pages that include what are considered the three most important infosec trends in each of five areas: social, technological, economic, environmental and political. Some of the 15 seem obvious (“shifts to remote learning”), others eyebrow-raising (“demand for electricity”), and some downright creepy (“authoritarian surveillance”).

The report goes on to highlight six key technologies and practices that could provide comfort: cloud vendor management, endpoint detection and response, multifactor authentication/single sign-on, preserving data authenticity/integrity, research security, and student data privacy and governance. These are followed by several scenarios and essays on the implications. 

It makes me insecure to assume this higher-ed information security motherlode could be summarized concisely in ten paragraphs. But it may be enough to know the report exists and can be freely downloaded and doom-scrolled to assess the thinking of dozens of experts. 

And in case you’re wondering: EDUCAUSE does say there will be a second 2021 Horizon Report, implying its annual “teaching and learning” edition will continue.

Data Tendrils Increase Their Reach

Higher education data is being connected in more ways, including into K-12, workforce and early childhood data systems. At least, this is happening at the state level.

A new survey from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) finds that in 2020, agencies in 43 states currently or plan to link their postsecondary data to K-12 data, up from 15 states in 2010. In addition, agencies in 43 states either do or will link to workforce data, and those in 23 states plan to or now link postsecondary data to early childhood data, both increases over a decade ago.

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