Ensuring students' online safety

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In the third of her series of articles on social media and digital tools, Jennifer Begg looks at the key questions and issues we must discuss with students to help them behave appropriately online.

Dangers accompany many of the opportunities that exist for teenagers online. Unfortunately one of the main problems is protecting teenagers from themselves. What are they sharing online that will come back to haunt them later? Do they understand what can be accessed and that people are watching? 

We need to ensure that every student understands the potential impact of their online behaviour. Working with teenagers, I often bring up online privacy and sharing and you would be surprised how often I hear things like, “but why would an employer look at my Facebook profile?”. As an adult, it seems obvious to me that what I do and say can affect my reputation. However, I am not sure that this is something that would have occurred to me as a teenager.

I love digital technology. I would go so far as to say I am passionate about it. The opportunities digital technology provides are endless and I feel very privileged to work in such an exciting and dynamic industry. However, I am not naïve. Like anything, digital tools can be abused and are dangerous when in the wrong hands.

The truth is, digital is just a platform. The skills we use to network online are the same as we use in real-life – and we need to develop them in our students.

Two key questions

As educators, there are some key questions and issues that we must discuss with our students. The laws and guidelines we have as a society still matter online and this is a really helpful way to look at things when explaining potential issues to a teenager.

Would you share this with someone you just met? If the answer is “no” then why are you sharing it online? 

Platforms like Twitter are just like meeting people every day for the first time. I have seen many a lightbulb moment when I have this conversation with students. If they are chatting with friends online they can quickly forget who else could be watching.

Another killer question is: would you want your parents to see that picture? Again if “no”, don’t share it! Even if it is on Facebook and your privacy settings are up-to-date. That’s not enough. 

Are you very good friends with all 400 of your connections? Would you trust them not to take a screen shot of that picture you just shared privately and “reshare” it? Oh, I see, never really thought of it that way? (It is usually at this point I push my nerdy glasses up my nose to further make my point).

Tackling the cyber-bullies

Cyber-bullying is talked about a lot. As it should be, bullying of any kind is abhorrent and needs to be dealt with thoroughly. However, the thing I love about cyber-bullying (bear with me, here), is that we can easily arm our students with the tools to gather evidence and stamp it out.

It can be difficult sometimes to provide evidence of bullying, especially when friends gang together to cover things up. Not so when activity happens online. A quick “cntrl + print screen” on a PC, “home + off button” on an iPhone, and so on, and an image of any interaction is saved, even if the perpetrator deletes the comments later.

Sadly, the internet has opened up many more opportunities for bullies and online predators, but this does not mean we can’t also use those tools against them.

Empowering students

Three things – first of all, as a teacher, you need to understand the space you are playing in. If you do not use or understand social media, your students will not trust your advice.

Get online and explore. Don’t be afraid if it is not your thing, you do not have to become an expert. All you want to do is understand things from a user’s point of view. See my blog on this point (link below).

Second, get your students thinking from an employer’s point of view. This is something I bring up a lot. Education is about focusing on each individual student, their needs and future. This changes when we enter the workplace and it can be a huge culture shock. 

Students need to understand more about the responsibility attached to working life, part of which is how you represent the company you work for.

Third, firewalls are not the answer. You cannot protect students from online predators by keeping them off certain sites in the classroom. They will go onto those sites at home, on their mobile phone, with a friend; the options are endless. And when I say “certain sites”, I don’t mean the chatrooms that have gained such a bad reputation, but sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter etc. It is not the sites themselves that can be damaging but how we use them.

Conclusion

It is your job to make sure your students have the necessary skills to keep themselves safe when they are online. And isn’t this true of everything we try to teach students? We want to prepare them for when we are not there anymore. Just like instilling a love of learning that will ensure future success and development, we need to instil a sense of online awareness that will keep our students safe.

  • Jennifer Begg is a digital obsessive, trainer and campaigner. She is also the founder of JaniesSchool.org and is passionate about girls’ education and its impact on equality and development. Visit http://livefreerange.com

Resources and references 
Further information
This is the third in a series of articles on how schools can make effective use of digital tools and social media. Jennifer’s articles are online at www.sec-ed.co.uk/article-search/author/128 and her next piece will appear on Thursday, June 27. 

 


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