It’s October: How Safe is Your Course?

October 20, 2016

It’s October which is National Cyber Security Awareness Month so we’ve all heard from our IT colleagues about how we should avoid being lured into a moneymaking scheme, being hacked, or having a ransom note for all our data suddenly appear on our computer screen.  But it’s the everyday disasters that we create for ourselves that should put fear into our hearts.  Perhaps like me, you don’t follow the “no liquid near the computer” rule you’ve set for your children only to reach for something across your desk and watch in slow motion as you knock your newly filled coffee cup onto your keyboard.  Or your laptop has slipped out of your hands as you’re hurrying out the door and then promptly shuts off with a “cyber-concussion,” leaving you not knowing if/when it will ever “awake”.  It doesn’t take an overseas hacker to turn your day into a nightmare.

Some might think that data protection/recovery is a strange topic for a teaching and learning blog but as educators we are always in the process of creating something new.  We have books, articles, presentations, research, grant proposals, and course materials that are always in the process of being developed and redeveloped.  Technology is now an integral part of that creative process.  While we’d all like to believe our IT colleagues can fully protect us from any technological harm, we must also take individual responsibility for our technology.  So here are the top 3 things you should be doing to protect your course files and other professional work.

1 – Develop and Communicate a Course Technology Outage Strategy

Develop a “technology outage” policy for your course and include it in your syllabus.  If the course site goes down at crucial moments such as when assignments are due, what will you do?  You may want to consider a one-time pass for late submittal of an assignment in the event you or your student’s technology is out of commission.  Also encourage students to back-up their own computers as well so that they have copies of all coursework in the event an assignment needs to be submitted.

2 - Install Anti-Virus Software and Keep It Current

A major line of defense is installing a security suite such as McAfee, Norton, Bitdefender, etc. on your computer.  It minimizes the risk of being invaded by a little known virus and passing it on to your students when you comment on their work and upload it to the course site.  Also install all security software updates as soon as you are notified of them as the vendors are often aware of the latest threats before they are made common knowledge.

UC Berkeley provides this software free of charge for university-owned and personally-owned computers.  For more information about this service see

3 - Have a Personal Back-up Strategy    

Buy an external drive and make backing up your computer part of your everyday activities. Every time you plug your computer in to recharge for the night, plug in your external drive and back-up your system.   Do it twice a day if you are working extensively on course development, research, grant proposals, books, or articles. Remember to keep that external drive in a safe place out of sight to prevent theft of it.  Having a regular back-up strategy means that when (not “if”) any level of “disaster” strikes you’ve only lost a day’s worth (or less) of work.

Don’t think keeping things in “the Cloud” makes you immune from loss of files.  It’s not always clear how “the Cloud people” are backing up.  They are only as good as their company’s security practices and may be even bigger hacker targets than individuals.

If you’d like to purchase UC Berkeley’s automated back-up service, information is available at

Final Thought

Taking precautions such as those mentioned here will not make you immune from a technology loss but at least it will make recovery quicker and minimize the impact on you and your students.  

Enjoy October!