How does SSO work for schools, students and teachers? It’s important to ask as remote learning, and digital studies become more common. Before diving into the technical answer, there is something critical to explore first.
Why Does Single Sign On (SSO) Matter For Schools?
Single Sign-On technology makes IT security easier for students and teachers. Many IT security measures require people to develop new habits, like creating better passwords. SSO is different because this technology simplifies life without hurting your security safeguards. The benefits are easier to understand if we look at this from the perspective of teachers and students.
As a teacher, you have a great deal of work to get through each day. You probably have a morning meeting to discuss the day’s key events, challenges with students, and administrative matters. In class, you need to show up and inspire students to learn and reach their goals. You might use a specialized website to send and receive homework assignments. Late in the day, you finish your grading work and then have to enter grades into a school database. Before leaving, you check your email. In this example, you have accessed at least three different systems. Each time you access those systems, there is another login prompt. These little speed bumps slow down your work.
Students, especially those active in sports and clubs, also have a full schedule. You might have early morning practice where a dedicated coach asks you to enter your exercise results into an app. During the day, you receive homework assignments. To get those assignments done, you research using the library computer or access the school Wi-Fi. At home, you have several more access credentials for games, social media and other websites.
With all of these different systems, it is no wonder that password reuse disease is a problem. Students and instructors are busy! Asking them to memorize a dozen different passwords may be asking too much. Therefore, it is little surprise that this results in using the same password multiple times. When IT staff hear about this password habit, they encourage users to come up with unique passwords. There is a different way to solve this problem.
How Does SSO Work: The Fundamentals You Need To Know
In schools, there are multiple databases and apps you need to use throughout the day. That’s the reality of modern education. However, there is no rule that you have to keep track of dozens of passwords. There is a way you can use one password to access every system. Having fewer passwords to memorize makes life better for SSO users.
On a technical level, let’s answer the question of how SSO works. The exact details vary depending on the applications you have. In general, single sign-on works based on the following steps:
1. A user opens their device and enters a username and password.
2. The access system verifies the username and password and what systems may be accessed by the user.
3. The user then sees their desktop and can open an app (e.g., a database with student grades for a teacher).
4. Instead of being prompted to enter a second password, the SSO system transmits a “token” to the database to instruct the database to provide access to the user. This step happens behind the scenes so your users never have to worry about it
5. The user gets to open their application much faster because they do not have to enter multiple usernames and passwords.
Resource: Find out more about the multiple types of SSO available today so you can choose the right one for your school.
Keeping Students Safe With SSO: A Step By Step Guide
Single sign-on keeps students safe because it relies on IT systems to a large degree rather than user behavior. Instead of students having to keep track of multiple passwords and writing that sensitive data on scraps of paper, many will be able to remember one password. Once an SSO system is implemented, you can keep students safe in the following ways.
1. Require multi-factor authentication for highly sensitive changes
If students need to make a system change involving sensitive data, like updating their family phone number, they need to feel safe about that change. Therefore, use multi-factor authentication in these cases. Since your SSO system is saving them time every day, an occasional request to authenticate with MFA is unlikely to be a problem.
2. Improve acceptable IT use policy tracking
Unfortunately, cyberbullying remains a problem in many schools. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “An estimated 14.9% of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months before the survey.” Detecting and preventing this abuse sometimes requires the ability to track student users on the school network. Since a single sign-on simplifies user access, it is easier to identify users and follow up with appropriate disciplinary action.
3. Verify administrative accounts are being used appropriately
Sometimes, school staff makes mistakes in how they manage access. In these situations, it is crucial to be able to trace when and how a privileged user account was used. By using an SSO software solution, you can track privileged user activity and determine if they are creating or approving user access changes appropriately.
How To Get Approval For SSO At Your School
You have learned about multiple ways single sign-on software can protect students and teachers. Yet, your school may not have this essential system in place. In this situation, you have two choices. You can choose to tolerate a lower level of IT security protection for students, or you can solve the problem. Your school’s administrators are interested in protecting student data. That said, we need to realize that administrators have many different concerns. Asking for SSO may not make sense. Instead, you need o to develop an SSO business case that clearly shows the benefits to the school’s teachers. For example, you might point out that an SSO system can contribute to your school’s anti-bullying policy. To organize your request for SSO, we recommend developing and presenting an SSO business case.