So, where are we at with Cybersafety?

I’ve been awaken from by blogging slumber by all the current news about Facebook, privacy, cyberbullying, digital citizenship and cybersafety.  I don’t think what I say below is earth shattering, but I have felt the need to say again.

First up, I use Facebook and won’t be deleting my account.  I see it a as valuable communication tool and that’s how I use it.  I don’t play the online games, I only upload minimal information and I use it to keep in touch with others. In relation to privacy and the concerns about who has my info, I only have minimal information on my page and all my privacy settings are set by me to allow who I want to be able to see my information. (if you are not sure of how private your settings are, use this tool)

This is how I think we need to look at all online sites.  As a user I need to be aware of how the site works, what info I should or shouldn’t put online and how that is shared by others.  Note that phrase, ‘as a user I need to be aware‘.

So, how are our kids ‘aware’ of how to use sites?  My guess is mostly from their own experiences or friends predominately, with schools and then parents after that.

Although I have no ‘actual’ figures to back this up, my opinion is that we have a cohort of students who are aged between 13-18 who were the early adopters of using social media and online spaces in the past 3-5 years.  As sites like Myspace, Bebo, Facebook etc took off, these students were at the forefront, long before teachers/adults, began using these sites and really there were no real boundaries or set parameters to use them.  It seems to be this age bracket who are having the most difficulty in being safe online, because there were no ‘rules’ of what they should or shouldn’t be doing as they were exploring this space.

However, given all the doom and gloom from the media and others would have about cybersafety etc, I hold great hope for the current cohort of students in our schools because we are now aware of what they need to know about how to be safe online.

But, and this is a big but.

This will only occur if we take systematic approaches to cybersafety in our schools.  Given the huge amount of focus on schools/teachers using technology in our schools, we are perfectly placed to make an impact in educating our students in this area.  It has to be joint approach with parents too. (I understand it’s tough when some think it’s ok to let an 8yo have a Facebook account, when you actually legally need to be 14 and they don’t see the problem with it – until something goes wrong.)

A systematic approach means more than a one off parent night or ‘special presentation’ for students. Teachers also need to be operating themselves in online spaces to really understand how it works and what digital citizenship is all about.  You can’t really teach it unless you are active in it.

I am loving the fact that lots of schools I work with are really beginning to actively engage in this area, but as I mentioned, we need to plan for more than just the once a year look at it.

We need:
– Constant, consistent information in newsletters.
– Parent information sessions across the year, not just a stand alone one.
– Student discussions with teachers as they are using technology.
– Teachers to be educated themselves on digital citizenship and cybersafety and be active online participants to see how it all works.
– To be honest, up front and frank with our students.
– Current and almost termly updating of acceptable use policies for staff and students.
– Resources/links made available for parents, students and staff on school websites and intranets.

I’m over the constant ‘ban it/don’t use it’ philosophy.  Let’s not put technical solutions around what are social problems.  It does more harm than good.  We teach our students before grade Prep about how to cross the road safely, about stranger danger etc, so teaching about cybersafety  is just a natural extension of that.  VELS even has an assessable standard about our students understanding why we have passwords by the end of Level 3.

We educate our students in relation to how we would like to see them being positive, respectful, contributing members of our communities.  Let’s not neglect educating them fully in relation to the community spaces they really like to engage in.  Until we really take this on, the stories we hear about in the media will be more and more about the negatives.

Wouldn’t it be better to hear about the fantastic things our students can do utilising the online spaces instead.