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Getting safe online in the classroom

Nick Shaw looks at the threats in the online world and offers tips for safeguarding pupils in the connected classroom

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 14, 2015 | Technology

The UK government has committed to investing £3.5 million in technology to help schools adopt the new IT curriculum in 2015. While this technology investment is welcome, the rapid advancement of connected classrooms and e-learning has left many teachers struggling to keep up.

In fact, a recent research report by Microsoft found that teachers are increasingly finding themselves out of their depth when it comes to the new IT curriculum: 68 percent of primary and secondary teachers are concerned that their pupils have a better understanding of computing than they do. With computing now a compulsory part of the national curriculum, and the UK government pushing for more tablet-based learning, are teachers being given enough support when it comes to protecting their pupils in the online world? 

The rise of e-learning in the classroom

It’s no surprise that children are increasingly bringing the internet into their daily lives. A recent report by Childwise found that children spend an average of six hours a day in front of screens, so it seems natural that these screens have found their way into the classroom. From smartphones to social networking, children today are not only naturals when it comes to the latest advances in technology, they’re not afraid of them either.

Today’s internet accessibility paired with the fearless nature of children online creates certain safety concerns for pupils when browsing in a classroom environment –  unless the correct barriers are in place to mitigate these risks. Research by Norton found that 52 percent of children in the UK have experienced what they class as a “negative experience” online. Even more worryingly, nearly a third (30 percent) said they had suffered a “serious” negative experience. This included invitations to meet online “friends” in real life and exposure to indecent pictures.

“E-safety education remains a grey area in schools and that is putting teachers in a tricky situation”

While the internet is undoubtedly a great tool to aid children’s learning, it is fraught with risk. So who is responsible for ensuring children are secure and, more importantly, cannot access and/or be targeted with inappropriate content when using internet-connected devices in the classroom? 

E-safety in the classroom

E-safety education remains a grey area in schools and that is putting teachers in a tricky situation when it comes to meeting the tech/IT guidelines of the new curriculum whilst keeping children safe on these connected devices. Until a time comes when a unified approach to e-safety education is adopted, it’s important that teachers take responsibility for installing a culture of online safety education. If you’re unsure how to go about doing this, these are good ways to start: 

  • Educate children about the internet It sounds simple, but educating pupils about the internet is step one in making sure they remain safe when online. Setting simple ground rules about the dangers of clicking on suspicious links, over-sharing and talking to strangers online will help pupils identify the dos and don’ts of online etiquette.
  • Become an expert If your school doesn’t have funding in place to support e-safety training, there are plenty of free resources online to help make sense of online safety. Get Safe Online and Cyber Street Wise are just two of the organisations that can help teachers instill a culture of e-safety education in the classroom.
  • Change their perception of the online world Children often struggle to see the implications or severity of their actions online; one example of this is cyber-bullying. It’s important you encourage pupils to view the online world as an extension of their real world; anything they wouldn’t do or say in the real world they shouldn’t be doing online. To help change perceptions get them to ‘think before they post’ by asking themselves would I do/say this in the playground? Would I share this information/secret with my friends?
  • Keep security software up-to-date Make sure all devices are equipped with age-appropriate security software and privacy filters – ideally a product that includes antivirus detection in addition to identity/web protection. 

Nick Shaw is general manager at Norton UK & Nordics.

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