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.

13 thoughts on “So, where are we at with Cybersafety?

  1. I totally agree that banning it won’t solve anything. The thing I keep reading is that we should be accepting that we have a digital footprint and making it a positive one.

    Educating the parent community is tricky as many have a ‘head in the sand’ attitude as they fear what they don’t know but their kids do! I know that is a generalisation, but anecdotally I find it true.

    I also agree that teachers need to be operating within the on-line world to have a good concept of the benefits and associated risks.

  2. Thanks for your comments Celia.

    I totally agree with the idea of having a positive digital footprint as being extremely important for both students and teachers as well.

    Regarding parents I don’t think it’s too big a generalisation, but we need to look at key times to educate them. Year level parent nights at the start of each year are a good time to add some content.

    When our schools roll out 1:1 programs we encourage them to have parent nights that need to be attended before the laptop can go home.

    I think there are lots of opportunities in schools to help educate parents, we just need to find them or be a bit more creative as they are essential partners in this.

  3. Often I’m asked by parents what our reasoning is for allowing students in years five and six to have their own laptops. In their minds we’re opening our students to an unmanageable online world, rife with cyberbullying, copyright issues and social networks.
    My response is that usually these students are already online but without any education at all about how to be ‘respectful’ digital citizens or how to protect their privacy and stay safe online. Also, they will be handed a laptop in year seven with often very little education about how to conduct themselves when online.
    What a great opportunity we have (under a 1:1 program) to educate our students about how to be good digital citizens. Discussions about social networking, cyber bullying, privacy … are more meaningful when we, as teachers, are able to share our own experiences. Students love the discussion. Discussions and questions about how students connect online are far more relevant when students feel that teachers ‘get’ what their issues are.

    When I talk about social networking sites I’m very clear with students and parents that we are also talking about sites available to under 13’s. Students/adults often think that we are only talking about Facebook or My Space. The same rules apply for any times that we connect with others online. (Instant Messaging, email, Club Penguin, Bebo…)

    I agree wholeheartedly with Glenn’s belief that parent education is also a necessary component of any cybersafety program. We can be very quick to judge parents about what we know their students are doing online. I would suggest that this is mainly because parents are not educated about the sites that their children are visiting. They too need to be supported in this area so that they feel equipped to deal with the problems that their children may have when online. It’s also important to note that often children won’t tell their parents that they’re having problems with cyberbullying because the price they pay may be that their laptop or access to a particular site is immediately withdrawn. We want to avoid this dilemma for our students and parents. Education is the answer and schools are the best equipped place to put this into action.

    Great article Glenn… Thanks for the chance to respond

  4. Thanks, Glenn, an excellent article. You have just covered many points some of us have been making for some time now and awakened a few more to-do things for the near future with staff, students and parents.
    Thanks again.

  5. I forgot to mention, I am happy to help out in whatever way I can to help facilitate an evening for parents, in my part of the world.

  6. Thanks Ann, Oronzo and Marie for your comments.

    Ann I agree with you that the parents are often the ones who need the most educating around why we use ICT tools etc in schools.

    It’s tricky to do but is as important as the education of the students.

  7. Hello All,
    An interesting conversation. I thought this maybe of interest.

    In May 2007 we attended a Symposium in Melbourne about cybersafety run jointly by the Centre for Strategic Education (CSE) and the National Coalition Against Bullying (NCAB)which you may know as the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. I went with one of our secondary wellbeing coordinators who was vigorously chasing down anything and anyone who might know how to deal with fallout of an social networking gone wrong. First contact March 2007. The negative effects had just started to flow into the secondary colleges Wellbeing Coordinators and Cousellors Offices.

    The symposium keynote speakers (overseas and Australian) were saying the ban/filter approach had failed and would continue to fail and we needed to shift the response to education of ethical responsible digital citizens. There were clearly two sides. We came down strongly on the educate side.

    Tom Wood made one of his first outings as a digital advocate and was the speaker who made the most sense. He was in year 11.

    The other main thread of the symposium was the need for Australian based research in the area so we could get government funding and programs directed at the development proactive responses rather than ban and filter. The symposium was held just before the John Howard Government’s filter was released. You may remember Tom Wood was the student who got round the filter.

    We came away with a passion to get some research happening. We wanted to influence government spending on programs and to make an immediate start of the changing the conversation from ban/filter to ethical digital citizens.

    To this end we (Loddon Mallee Community Digital Reference Group) put together a project and received funding from the Telstra Foundation for the Centacare Sandhurst Loddon Mallee Cyber Safety Project. This project has had three key aims:
    1. research of staff, students and parents in the use of digital technologies
    2. pd for staff, students and parents
    3. development of resources to prompt the ethical, responsible, digital citizen conversation between, students, staff and students, and staff, students and parents.

    One resource produced has been ‘Photograph’ a film about sexting. The film is to prompt the conversation not to ban or scare. Two links to find out more. – how to order…bssc/…/newsletters/…/Parent_News_Issue_10-dec.pdf – general blurb

    Dr Helen McGrath is working on a Cybersafety and Wellbeing Initiative with the National Coalition Against Bullying (The Alannah and Madeline Foundation). You can find more info on the website.

    The UK has just put out a really good E-Safety Self Review Framework to support schools respond to digital issues We are presently working on putting together a project with Robyn Treyvaud to pilot this in 3-5 schools across the diocese. Robyn is meeting with the UK team to seek permission to use the materials so we can adapt them to suit our settings.

    We have worked with Robyn Treyvaud since 2007 because she is an educator, an early adopter of the digital world, focuses on the strengths of technologies while enabling the ethical, resilient, responsible digital citizen conversation.

    In Term 1 2008 when we attempted to get primary and secondary schools to participate in the RESEARCH, PD, STUDENT project I had one school out of 22 tell me they would come on board. All the others told me they had no digital issues, their students had no digital issues. By Term 4 2008 I had school calling and asking me what was happening and when the PD, student forums and community input were going to happen in their area. It shifted that quickly.

    In late term one 2008 we ran 6 parent community nights from Bendigo to Mildura. Well advertised, cross sectoral, catering, the works. We had 20 adults in total across the 6 nights. One night we sat around for 1 hour waiting for anyone to turn up, attempted to make a dint in the catering and went to get a stiff drink. We needed to rethink the strategy parents weren’t coming to parent info nights.

    We changed the strategy to student produced films highlighting an issue of digital safety they had chosen, provided student teams with flip cameras, and PD from techies and Robyn we had 3 community viewings with over 1200 people in attendance. Same message different delivery.

    You’re right people want an alternative to you’re not with it, ban it, doom and gloom and scary stories. To this end I’d appreciate any feedback you may have on the E-safety Framework out of the UK.

  8. Thank Frances for a wonderful reply and links to sites that will be of interest and value for everyone

  9. Thanks for an amazing piece of writing Glenn. And to everyone else who has commented. From my own experience at our school, we have used our positive behaviours program to discuss issues with our students. Its all about respect! Respect for themselves, others and property. This has worked very well. We have had bullying issues in schools since year dot. It is a social issue not a technological one. When it comes to parents, we found that in the two years that we have been 1:1, our parents and students have attended an information session in the first week of school, sign contracts etc. and we actively discuss issues such as these. The meeting is not a big event, but we do use technology to explain and the correct use of it.

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