technology

What USB is doing to ensure teaching and learning continue during COVID-19

USB News

What USB is doing to ensure teaching and learning continue during COVID-19

  • JUL 15
  • Tags COVID-19, studies, teaching, technology, remote learning, blended learning

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The COVID-19 pandemic has required universities around the world to explore online learning. The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) is no exception. Although not new – the USB has been developing its Blended Learning format since 2015 – even more digital platforms have been investigated since then.

Prof Martin Butler, Head of Teaching and Learning at USB, says the business school has introduced new technology platforms and online learning conventions for lecturers to ensure that students are able to complete their degrees in the minimum given time – without compromising on the quality of teaching and learning.

“Online classes have been designed by learning experts for delivery via various multimedia platforms. We are using technology to take the teaching and learning to the student. Currently we are using quite a few digital platforms, including Teams, Zoom and the Learning Hub,” he says.

“There are also ample online resources available to support students’ learning journey,” he adds.

USB’s lecturers have also been trained to deliver a world-class virtual learning experience prior to the pandemic and currently there are online learning conventions happening to ensure that the new Blended Learning format provides an optimal experience for USB students.

“We went on a massive remote teaching development drive to get the lecturers to use the new technology platforms effectively and to facilitate the teaching successfully. We want to ensure engaging and interactive classes for the students via the remote online classes,” Butler says.

He says the Zoom Advanced training session has especially been popular, in which breakouts, polls, sharing screen and desktop, and student interaction via chat were discussed. He says from feedback sessions that were held, 92% of the students found the remote online classes average to excellent.

“Most students have indicated that they are comfortable that they will be able to complete their studies in this manner. There has also been a 90% plus class attendance to date (June 2020).”

Comments from students include:

  • “The class is amazingly interactive for an online platform.”
  • “…manages to combine very interesting exercises so that I even forget we are online, and the online participation has been even better than in class.”

Butler says they have also been recording classes so that students can watch it again if they were unable to join at a specific time. “We realise that our students are people who need to work from home, with children, and they sit in front of their computer the whole day.

“This isn’t the time to sweat the small stuff. Lecturers have been encouraging five-minute breaks after every 45 minutes of class to help with online fatigue. Our students’ needs are different, but we have tried really hard to accommodate everyone and to still provide them with a quality learning experience,” he says.

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#Flattenthecurve on Cybercrime

USB News

Flattening the curve on Cybercrime

  • APR 07
  • Tags Cybercrime, COVID-19, coronavirus, cybersecurity, work-from-home, technology, software, digital, passwords

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Dr Martin Butler, Senior Lecturer in Digital Transformation at USB warns against digital vulnerability and how to flatten the curve on cybercrime.

The COVID-19 global pandemic forcing millions of office workers to become remote workers has created a “perfect tsunami” for cyber criminals seeking to exploit the crisis and penetrate corporate defences via unsecured home networks.

Unprecedented digital dependency has created unprecedented vulnerability, and an increase in malicious attempts to exploit the mass shift to online platforms for remote working, with South Africa experiencing a ten-fold spike in network attacks in mid-March[i] when much of the country moved to working from home.

…companies should ensure that the “digital equivalent of handwashing, face masks, social distancing and decontamination” is being implemented by their now-remote workforce.

Dr Martin Butler, Senior Lecturer in Digital Transformation at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) says companies should ensure that the “digital equivalent of handwashing, face masks, social distancing and decontamination” is being implemented by their now-remote workforce.

Cybersecurity provider Kaspersky reported a spike in South Africa in devices affected by cyberattacks, from the norm of under 30 000 daily to 310 000 on 18 March1, and “extremely high levels of cyber exploits since – similar to reports from across the cybersecurity industry and across the world”, he said.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) said this week (1 April 2020) that the rise in cybercriminal activity seeking to exploit the COVID-19 crisis made cybersecurity “critical to collective resilience” in the face of the pandemic’s impact on the global economy.[ii]

Butler said the risk of “brute force attacks” – in which cybercriminals attempt various password combinations to gain access to corporate systems via individual user accounts – remained high and, with compromised credentials responsible for over 80% of breaches2, businesses need to implement encrypted communication such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) now more than ever.

“Ensuring company policies are applied on the corporate laptop that shares a home network with multiple devices such as mobile phones, is not sufficient,” he said. It is also important to make employees aware of the risk inherent in using home networks where other devices could be compromised. They should ensure the routers and other WiFi connected devices like printers and smartphones are also secured.

Cybersecurity company Cynet[iii] has identified two main trends in the coronavirus-linked information security breaches – attacks aimed at stealing remote user credentials, and weaponised email attacks such as phishing and malware that may not be picked up by home email software.

With most work-from-home employees using online collaboration and video conferencing software, Butler warned that some of these systems are not yet integrated into corporate single-sign-on systems or thoroughly tested and embedded in safe remote environments. Employees need to sign out of video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype when not using it actively.

They can attack devices on unsecured home networks, mostly running outdated software or unsecure hardware…

“The significant amount of people working from home and often using new collaboration platforms like Slack, Zoom, Skype and Teams creates a perfect tsunami for cybercriminals. They can attack devices on unsecured home networks, mostly running outdated software or unsecure hardware, or exploit employees who are using relatively new systems at the extreme of their comfort levels.

“For cybercriminals it is the perfect time to get a malware link to the anxious, and not very tech-savvy, end user wanting to know the latest COVID-19 news and information. One ill-informed action may be all that is required for ransomware to penetrate corporate defences from remote locations,” he said.

While highly secure corporate networks should be able to prohibit or at least identify unauthorised activities to ensure that data assets remain protected and services are uninterrupted, home-based WiFi networks and 4G connections don’t have the benefit of corporate security policies and technologies.

“Although it is in principle possible to secure these distributed onramps to the internet that have become central in the work-from-home context, protection of them is now the responsibility of each individual user and not corporate IT – and therein lies the danger,” Butler said.

In addition to using encrypted communication such as a VPN, Butler recommended that remote workers take precautions including:

  • Using secure and complex passwords.
  • Never sharing or recording passwords in any format.
  • Ensuring that all home equipment’s software is secure and up to date.
  • Make sure you use the highest level of encryption possible on your home network.
  • Not replying to or clicking on links in phishing emails or messages.
  • Be on the alert for COVID-19 scam emails.
  • Ignore and delete WhatsApp messages with unknown links (especially from unknown senders).
  • Take extreme care when connecting to unsecured networks.
  • Signing out of video conferencing platforms when not using them actively.

Cybersecurity expert and futurist Dr Rianne van Vuuren, a PhD Future Studies graduate from the USB, advised that IT managers promote cybersecurity by:

  • Ensuring that a full-service internet security suite is used by all employees.
  • Regular updates of all software, which could save a company from significant future losses if such vulnerabilities are exploited by cyber-criminals.
  • Keeping up to date on major cybersecurity breaches in order to proactively ensure that potential vulnerabilities in their networks are secured.
  • Developing a risk model as well as a disaster recovery plan with the necessary backups – “this would be a lifesaver in case of catastrophe”.

Butler said where corporate IT polices on using company assets off-site used to focus on physically securing devices, and losing a device was a nuisance – “today, losing control over a device and thus enabling remote access to company systems and data, could be disastrous”.


[i] https://mybroadband.co.za/news/internet-of-things/344479-massive-increase-in-south-african-network-attacks.html

[ii] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/covid-19-is-a-reminder-that-its-time-to-get-rid-of-passwords/

[iii] https://threatpost.com/cynet-the-coronavirus-is-already-taking-effect-on-cyber-security-this-is-how-cisos-should-prepare/153758/

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Organisations embracing technology in response to COVID-19

USB News

Organisations embracing technology in response to COVID-19

Empty meeting room with conference table, whiteboard and chairs. Front view.

  • MAR 12
  • Tags COVID-19, coronavirus, World Health Organisation, Fourth Industrial Revolution, economy, telecommuting, systems

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By Dr Lize Barclay, Senior Lecturer in Futures Studies and Systems Thinking, University of Stellenbosch Business School

Rumour and misinformation around COVID-19 (coronavirus) have spread faster than the virus itself. This has led to various levels of government, business and individual responding in widely divergent ways, from extreme measures to ridicule. The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for a ‘Whole of Society’ approach, which includes social distancing, as expressed in quarantine measures and the cancellation of events in affected areas.

Countries are debating lockdown, as in the case with Italy.  China placed several cities in lockdown and where there are isolated cases, such in South Africa and the USA, individuals are in self-quarantine. Internationally stock markets have taken a knock, certain essential products are flying off the shelves and supply lines are disrupted. Historic events, gaming simulations like Superstruct and recent cases have shown that people are not comfortable with social distancing and will leave isolation or quarantine for religious worship, social events, and professional networking events. Many companies have embraced telecommuting and event organisers are cancelling conferences, even including health conferences.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for a ‘Whole of Society’ approach, which includes social distancing, as expressed in quarantine measures and the cancellation of events in affected areas.

Technology provides us with the means to communicate, collaborate, network, socialise, work and shop in the digital and virtual realms. Often, when the Fourth Industrial Revolution is discussed, it paints a picture of a world where people work from wherever they want, with products delivered to them and their mobile devices as a gateway to this lifestyle. The technologies that enable this reality already exist and are used by businesses and individuals all over the world.

In reaction to COVID-19 many companies and education facilities have moved their day-to-day operations onto technology platforms. This has led to companies leading in the remote-work field, such as Zoom, Slack, Adobe, Broadcom and Oracle, seeing their share price rising, amidst market uncertainties. These technologies enable workers and students to communicate “face-to-face”, collaborate on digital whiteboards and with digital sticky notes and cut down on meetings with scheduled and focused discussions on collaborative platforms. Many of the conferences canceled their physical on-site programmes and then moved the presentations and discussions to digital platforms.

The barrier to adoption of these technologies is largely due to personal and interpersonal considerations as managers want to maintain oversight of their workers.

The barrier to adoption of these technologies is largely due to personal and interpersonal considerations as managers want to maintain oversight of their workers. Additionally, agreed upon productivity metrics for teleconferencing are still developing and a general fear of change prevails. People want to socialize with co-workers and do not trust their ability to stay focused while working remotely.

Already China has reported a marked decline in air pollutants due to a lessening in production activities and fewer people driving. Telecommuting will also lead to a decrease in other communicable disease deaths as exposure is limited. This highlights the importance for companies to maintain flexibility in the face of unexpected challenges, which can even include infrastructure limitations, such as load shedding.

Telecommuting will also lead to a decrease in other communicable disease deaths as exposure is limited.

Disasters and reactions to these should not only prompt resilience, but individuals and organisations should embrace anti-fragility, become more innovative, create better systems for themselves and the environment and leverage technology accordingly.

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