Use these easy tips to make hybrid learning in Google Classroom more secure

Millions of students will be going back to school in just a few short weeks. Over 60% of school districts are planning for some level of hybrid learning, at least for fall 2020 sessions. A large number of students and teachers will be using Google Classroom as their primary Learning Management System (LMS). Therefore, Google Classroom security is a critical issue.

Since “back to school” has a new meaning this fall, what can you do to help make remote learning secure? Here are five Google Classroom security settings that you should check and configure before students begin logging in.

1. Access to Google Classrooms for Users in Your Domain

Controlling who can access your Google Classrooms is an important first step in securing it. Access management is a fundamental layer of cybersecurity and it’s important for Google Classroom, too. You can turn the app on or off to control access by the different organizational units (OUs) in your district. You’ll have a large number of district users accessing Google Classroom, but you should limit that access to those who need it.

In the Admin Console, you’ll find four access options that control who can join classes in your domain:

  1. Only users in your domain
  2. Users in whitelisted domains
  3. Any G Suite user
  4. Any user

You can also control which classes users in your domain can join. In the Admin Console, there are three options:

  1. Classes in your domain only
  2. Classes in whitelisted domains
  3. Any G Suite class

Google Classroom gives you the tools to control who is assigned to OUs, who can join your classes, and who has access to different classes. Review the Google user access support page for more information.

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2. Access to Google Classrooms for Users Outside Your Domain

At times, it can be useful for you to allow some of your users to access Google Classes outside your domain. But, you need to tread lightly while controlling this access. Be sure that you only whitelist domains that you know you can trust.

Besides letting some outside users access your classes, you can also use this setting to allow your users to join Classrooms hosted by domains on your whitelist. The control can go both ways.

Two things need to happen to allow this exchange. You will need to configure your Google Drive security settings to allow file sharing between your domain and your whitelisted outside domains. And, the admins of those whitelisted domains will need to whitelist yours.

You can find out more about configuring outside domain access from Google support.

3. Verify Teachers and Set Teacher Permissions

When a user first signs in to Google Classroom, they see a prompt asking them to identify themselves as a teacher or a student. The system automatically adds a user who identifies as a teacher to a Classroom Teachers Group. You can see the opportunity for problems if students have the privileges of a teacher.

Some schools are going to allow some student user groups to create their own Google Classrooms, but most aren’t. As your district’s admin, you’ll need to ensure that your Google Classroom creation access for students is properly configured to your internal policies. You need to monitor the list of teachers to verify that they really are teachers.

You can manage Classroom creation permissions in the Admin Console and you may need to change those permissions periodically. You have three options:

  1. Anyone in this domain (teachers and students)
  2. All pending and verified teachers
  3. Verified teachers only

You may want to start the school year with the “verified teachers only” setting, and then open it up slowly if needed. This will help to avoid Classroom creation chaos in your domain.

However, depending on our district’s rollout process, you may want to use the “all pending and verified teachers” option to make sure teachers have easy access to Classrooms at the start of the school year. With that option, you won’t need to verify every teacher before they can start work. The downside of this approach is that it could create some compliance issues if students identify as teachers without permission.

To avoid that problem, it’s best to establish a policy requiring teachers to log in to their Google Classrooms for the first time during the week or two before school starts. That way, you can get the teachers verified ahead of time, and then keep the system restricted to “verified teachers only” during the initial surge of Classroom use.

Visit Google support to see step-by-step instructions on how to verify teachers and configure permissions in the Admin Console.

[FREE WEBINAR] Google Classroom and Beyond: Attendance Reports, Cybersecurity, and Student Safety Monitoring in Hybrid Learning. REGISTER >>

4. Audit “Orphan” Classrooms and Transfer Ownership

If your district has used Google Classrooms in previous years, you’ll want to make sure you don’t have any “orphaned” Classrooms before school starts. A Classroom becomes an orphan when the teachers who created them aren’t working in your district, or have changed the subjects or grades they will teach in the new school year. You can save the Classrooms by transferring ownership to another teacher. That teacher can decide whether they want to use the existing Classroom or not.

It’s important to note that if a teacher has left your district, you must transfer ownership of their Classrooms before you delete their account. This is critical since a teacher’s Classrooms will automatically be deleted when their account is deleted.

As the admin, you can transfer ownership of a teacher’s Google Classroom to any other teacher in your domain using the Classroom API. Teachers can also transfer their own Classrooms to other teachers. You can share the Google support documentation to help them complete a transfer on their own. And, you can learn more online about transferring Classroom ownership.

5. Activate and Configure Google Meet for Classroom Integration

Many districts don’t enable Google Meet and Chat with Google Classrooms because of the Google Chat security and safety issues. However, Google created an integration between Google Classroom and Meet in the spring of 2020 to help improve hybrid learning experiences for students and teachers.

You can now turn on Google Meet independently of Google Chat, so you may want to turn Meet on for the coming school year. You can learn more online about configuring Google Meet for hybrid learning.

Back to school will be a challenge for parents, students, teachers, and district teams for the fall 2020 sessions. As a Google Admin, many of your challenges will center on properly configuring G Suite for Education security settings to keep your students and data safe online. Hopefully, this Google Classroom security checklist will help make the return to school a bit easier for you.

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