Customer Story | Prince Edward County Public Schools Protects Students And Data In Google Workspace And Microsoft 365

How One Virginia District’s Technology Team Found Their New Favorite Student Safety And Data Security Partner

When Prince Edward County Public Schools decided to migrate to cloud computing, they did so mainly to improve data security and redundancy. Initially, the Virginia district’s 2,000 students and 400 staff and faculty members were only minimally using the collaboration tools in Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. COVID-19 changed that.

“The pandemic escalated our use of Google and Microsoft as primary core learning tools, and now we’re sustaining that use even as we’re coming back to the classroom,” explains James Walker, Technology Coordinator at Prince Edward County Public Schools. “Using these cloud-based systems helps with engagement, efficiency, and collaboration for students and staff alike.”

As the Technology Coordinator, Walker manages the district’s overall technology budget, resources, and staff. His team of seven is responsible for district technology, IT operations, and instructional technology.

“While we have other related products, such as GoGuardian, they are very different tools that provide very different services. ManagedMethods provides behind-the-scenes access to Google and Microsoft 365 that allows for bulk changes, automated changes, and automated flagging that are all pieces of the bigger student safety and digital safety puzzle. It’s actually one of my favorite platforms to use.”
— James Walker, Technology Coordinator

The Challenge

Walker’s security tech stack includes a Watchguard firewall and GoGuardian for content filtering and student monitoring. They also use a variety of network-related and email phishing scanning tools.

As students and staff started using Google and Microsoft more, Walker’s team had access to native security and admin tools. But, he quickly realized they didn’t provide the visibility and control needed to address threats.

“When you’re moving to the cloud, there’s a significant learning curve for sure. There are implications for staff development, as well as student training and, in many cases, family training. Especially in a one-to-one remote learning environment,” Walker says. “And then there’s the visibility challenge. We lacked visibility into our cloud infrastructure, which results in a lack of risk awareness.”

On top of the lack of visibility, his team’s cloud data security process was manual and time-consuming. When identifying an issue, it was nearly impossible to find evidence to address it. Further, they had to manually switch between Google and Microsoft admin consoles.

“We had an incident occur when a teacher improperly shared about 100 different Drive files with their personal Google account. Before, finding all those files and breaking the sharing would have been a nightmare. With ManagedMethods, I was able to break all the shares in about five to ten minutes. That is just one thing that I really love about it.”
— James Walker, Technology Coordinator

When the 2020/21 school year began, most students were learning remotely and using Google Classroom as their primary learning platform. This worked out great for students and teachers, but Walker’s team was burdened with an onslaught of Classroom support tickets. Plus, they had no easy way to get into Classrooms to diagnose the problems.

That was when Walker decided it was time to start seriously looking at third-party solutions.

The Solution

Walker found ManagedMethods during an online search for a Google Classroom management solution. Later, during the demo and free trial period, he realized the many other benefits that a cybersecurity and safety solution like ManagedMethods provides.

“With COVID-19, there were so many different resources, tools, systems, and programs that needed to be added to the mix,” says Walker. “It was important that anything we were going to invest in for this be sustainable now and post-pandemic when the emergency funding runs out. ManagedMethods is definitely something that we will want to sustain over a long period of time unrelated to the pandemic.”

ManagedMethods provides Walker and his team the quickest and easiest way to access Classrooms across their entire domain, add teachers and co-teachers, and troubleshoot problems that end-users are experiencing.

“After experiencing a demo of the platform, we added criteria to our purchase decision because they showed us things that we hadn’t originally thought of,” Walker explains. “Things like having the ability to view emails, view Drive files and break unauthorized sharing, and audit third-party app permissions all came up that hadn’t been available in other solutions we’d looked at.”

Comparing ManagedMethods with General Audit Tool (GAT), Walker found that ManagedMethods had more features and a better user interface. He felt like it was a better all-around product related to the cost.

The Results

“It’s funny because we initially started with ManagedMethods specifically for the Google Classrooms admin tool, and now that’s the thing that we use the least,” Walker chuckles. “ManagedMethods is our primary tool to identify and remediate data privacy risks, cybersecurity threats, and policy violations. That wasn’t our original intent simply because we didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

Since becoming a customer in late 2020, ManagedMethods has helped Walker and his team with various risks relating to both data security and student safety.

“We are all moving into this realm of students being in cloud services like Google and Microsoft for almost all of their learning. Not having the level of visibility and control provided by ManagedMethods is both frightening and irresponsible. Now that I know how many things we catch and are able to find that we would not have been able to before, I don’t see how we could go back to not having it.”
— James Walker, Technology Coordinator

ManagedMethods automates risk notifications when a defined policy is violated. Then, they can either create remediation actions in the policy or use the notification to quickly find the risk and determine what needs to be done. As a result, risks like malware detection and data loss prevention are caught and fixed quickly.

Another incident that ManagedMethods helped with occurred when someone accidentally sent an email containing sensitive information to everyone in the district, rather than the person it was intended for. Using ManagedMethods’ Live Email Search, Walker quickly found the email and deleted it from everyone’s inbox.

There have also been incidents when malware was able to breach the district’s other protective layers. ManagedMethods identifies malware in emails, attachments, and shared drive documents and then quarantines the source in question. When that happens, Walker gets a risk alert and can quickly investigate the issue to determine a legitimate risk.

“ManagedMethods helps automate some of our tasks so we can work effectively. The phishing policy has been particularly helpful. It’s artificial intelligence scanning for toxicity and self-harm content is another one that is important for maintaining a safe learning environment. It’s the ability to see what’s happening versus not having any idea,” says Walker.

ManagedMethods has alerted the team to student safety signals in Google Chats, Gmail chains, and Drive files. The information provided led the staff to conduct in-depth threat analysis on many incidents. Without ManagedMethods, they would not have been able to get students in crisis the resources they needed.

“We are all moving into this realm of students being in cloud services like Google and Microsoft for almost all of their learning. Not having this visibility, I think, is both frightening and irresponsible,” Walker explains. “Now that I know how many things we catch and are able to find that we would not have been able to before, I don’t see how we could go back to not having it.”

There are also those incidents of improper sharing of sensitive information, often by teachers and staff members. While these occurrences are usually well-meaning, they can still create problems from a data security and privacy standpoint. One example that Walker recently experienced happened when a teacher shared documents with their personal Google account that they shouldn’t have. When Walker was alerted to the issue, he quickly found all the shares and broke them in bulk.

“This particular incident involved about 100 different Drive files. I was able to break the shares in about five to ten minutes. Doing that would have been a nightmare without ManagedMethods, so that is one thing that I really love about it.”

ManagedMethods is now an integral part of Walker’s tech stack to keep Prince Edward County Public Schools’ students and data safe.

“While we have other related products, such as GoGuardian, they are very different tools that provide very different services. ManagedMethods provides behind-the-scenes access to Google and Microsoft 365 that allows for bulk changes, automated changes, and automated flagging that are all pieces of the bigger student safety and digital safety puzzle. It’s actually one of my favorite platforms to use.”

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