What we're doing to keep our online classes safe

Dear Mind Stretcher parents,

Several of you have asked how we make sure our online lessons are safe in light of MOE’s announcement that it will temporarily suspend the use of Zoom in its own classes, and is working with Zoom to enforce the right security settings.

It appears that the MOE is open to continue using Zoom, but needs some time to enforce the right security settings. Quoting from the article above, Mr Aaron Loh (divisional director for the educational technology division) has said that “the ministry is working with Zoom to enhance its security and make security measures clear and easy to follow”.

This reflects our understanding of the issue. With the right settings and users playing their part (incl. teachers, parents and students), we can create a safe online environment for our children.

Understanding the issue

Our team came across similar reports of Zoom bombing in the US a week ago, before the recent incidents in Singapore.

These incidents happen because Zoom’s default settings make meetings less secure. Meetings are not password protected and anyone with the link can join.

But it’s also worth noting that Singapore’s COVID-19 press conferences by the government and legal hearings have been hosted on Zoom — with the right security settings enabled.

The hard truth is that all platforms are vulnerable to attacks if users do not use the security features offered by the platform.

The good news is that Zoom in fact has substantial security features that if enabled can protect against Zoom bombing. This is the view of security experts cited in these articles by the Straits Times and Today as well.

What we have done

We have implemented these recommended security features and practices for our online classes. These are summed up in our infographic below.

Before class

  • Class links are private and sent out via email to our parents.
  • Our classes have been password-protected from the beginning and we change these passwords frequently.
  • Students are asked to change their Zoom display names to their real names.
  • Students join a Waiting Room where they are unable to chat or turn on their video. Teachers will check our attendance sheets and only allow those registered with us through to the classroom.
  • No one can join our classes before our teachers are in the room, so our students are protected.

During class

  • Attendance is re-taken to ensure only registered students are in class.
  • Teachers can permanently remove participants. These people cannot rejoin the Zoom room.
  • Only teachers can share their screens with students.
  • Private chats are disabled. Students cannot share images in the chat.
  • Students join with video off by default. Teachers can allow them to turn this on for interactive discussions during class.

We are working closely with our teachers to ensure they are familiar with these settings.

How parents can help

  • Parents must keep meeting details private. No platform is safe if login details are shared with others, as strangers can use these to similarly disrupt a Google Hangout or Microsoft Team meeting.
  • Parents should change their Zoom display names to their child’s name. This will help teachers take attendance in the waiting room and only admit registered students into the virtual classroom.

One way we can make our online lessons even more secure is by increasing the frequency with which we change our meeting passwords. However, only 40% of parents have downloaded the Mind Stretcher Communications app, and our emails still end up unread or go to junk mail. We do not have a reliable way to inform parents of new passwords. Many parents were frustrated by login issues when we changed passwords last weekend.

It would be a big help if you could download the Mind Stretcher Communications app now. It’s admittedly still quite bare but we are ready to upload your class details there for your reference. Parents will only need to check it before their class for their latest passwords, and only Mind Stretcher parents can use the app. This will make our online lessons more secure for everyone.

If you are unsure how to login to it, please drop us an email at elearning@mindstretcher.com and we’ll get back to you quickly.

Sum-up

We continue to do everything we can to keep our lessons safe. It is clear to us that there is no technology solution that is 100% safe (especially with human error). We need to get the human element right as well.

Hence, we are also making every effort to educate our teachers and parents on how to keep classes safe during this period of heightened online activity.

We appreciate your kind help in these efforts.