Architecture & Design, Higher Education, and Technology

Universities remain proactive in data protection

Growth of online courses means more opportunities for data breaches.

March 22, 2019
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The internet has made it easier for students to take classes, but there are risks involved.

Through the internet, thousands of students can take advantage of online classes that are offered at higher educational institutions, whether they are solely online or hybrid courses that allow students to enroll in a class that is both taught in the classroom and online.

Grand Valley State University started offering online courses before 2007 and the number of online/hybrid courses and enrollment are increasing annually.

For the 2016-17 school year, there were 319 online courses in which 7,848 students were enrolled. During the 2017-18 school year, 334 online courses were offered, and 8,405 students were enrolled. This school year, 2018-19, 375 online courses are being taught to 10,221 students or 38 percent of the university’s student body.

This fall, the school reported one student, a graduate student, was enrolled in Canada, while six students, three undergraduate and three graduate students, were enrolled out of state.

While Calvin College offered the same number of online courses, both hybrid and distance education courses, during the 2016-17 and 2018-19 school year, which was 27, the number of students enrolled have increased. During the 2016-17 school year, 290 students were taking online courses. For the 2018-19 school year, there are 381 students taking online courses.

“We do have a small number of students from outside of Michigan and outside the U.S. each year,” said Tom Van Eck, associate director of enrollment research at Calvin College. “In the fall of 2017, for instance, there were five taking distance education courses at Calvin living in states outside Michigan and one living in another country (this data is reported to IPEDS each year by all Title IV institutions). We typically have more offerings in our M.Ed. program during the summer months and those online courses typically attract a number of Canadian students, among other locations outside of Michigan.”

With both the number of courses and student enrollment for online courses increasing at GVSU and the student enrollment for online courses increasing at Calvin College, there are risks for data breaches of students’ and instructors’ information.

According to Breach Level Index, 6,500,715 data records are lost or stolen every day, 270,863 every hour, 4,514 every minute and 75 every second.

With that in mind, colleges and universities have taken precautions.

According to Ellen Schendel, assistant vice president for academic affairs at GVSU, courses and programs that are delivered in distance education formats are vetted for academic and pedagogical technology by a specific faculty committee called the Online Education Council.

“All faculty who teach in online or hybrid formats must undergo a several-week training in online pedagogies and course design,” Schendel said. “All faculty at the university have access to Blackboard to support their in-seat classes, as well, and there are many workshops offered to help faculty integrate technologies into their classroom in ways that enhance teaching and learning.”

Susan Korzinek, associate vice president and chief information officer at GVSU, said when students are enrolling into an online/hybrid class, all internal and vendor systems that utilize student data are reviewed for data security best practices, Family Educational Rights Privacy Act regulations and General Data Protection Regulation prior to use.

She also said any student enrolled at GVSU must be admitted and enrolled prior to being allowed into an online/hybrid course, and GVSU provides a unique login and password for each individual who is admitted/enrolled.

“Students are instructed to keep logins/passwords confidential and expected to abide by GVSU policies,” she said. “Logging of user activity, including where they logged in from, date/time stamps of login and logout, that can be reviewed as needed. Logging of user activity within certain applications, like a course management system, that shows what areas were viewed or data manipulated that can be reviewed as needed.”

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