How do we keep students safe online? This is a common question I hear from teachers and parents alike. As our district moves towards using digital tools for student work, there is a rumbling of concern with how and why these tools are being used when “we learned just fine with paper and pencil back in the day.”
The reality is this: we live in a digital world. Most children are exposed to digital tools years before they walk through a kindergarten door. (I know this to be true, because I am constantly correcting children that swipe across a laptop screen with their finger.) We want to expose our students to the tools that are available and keep them safe in the process, but we are caught in the cross-hairs of fear and naivete. There are many myths about online student privacy, several of which I addressed in my blog article for ISTE in 2014. How can we meet in the middle to raise our children to live in this new, digital world?
By teaching them.
As a technology integrator (ITRT), much of my job centers around providing professional development for teachers and district leaders, empowering them with tools and knowledge that can enhance their purpose of instructing and leading students. One way we do this is a form of OJT (“on the job traing”) where we teach a classroom lesson with the teacher/administrator observing, modeling good teaching strategies with a healthy heap of technology integration thrown in the mix.
There are 6 elementary ITRTs on my team (including me) supporting the needs 15 schools. This can get a little crazy sometimes for the ITRTs who have to split their time between 2-3 schools, but I’m fortunate enough to be assigned to only one school (ironically, the school my husband attended as a child, but that’s a blog post for another day!) Last year, our team launched a Digital Citizenship curriculum for fifth grade students that pulled in the collaborative efforts of ITRTs, Librarians, Counselors, and DARE Officers. These nine lessons are taught throughout the school year as an effort to guide our students in the “best practices” of using the internet and digital devices in a responsible way.
With the help of resources from Common Sense Media, we share open conversations with students about how they are currently using technology in their personal world and expectations for school-based use. We answer questions like “What do I do if I see something I shouldn’t see?” or “What is cyberbullying?” We take the time to share our knowledge in hopes that students are empowered to do the right thing when working and playing online.
This week’s lesson centered around privacy: understanding the difference between personal and private information and what information is OK to share online. We discussed identity theft and how young people are often victims of this crime because they have a clean credit history with little to no digital footprint to be tracked.
These are important conversations to have with children.
The photo below illustrates one part of this lesson, where we use colored paper to represent information shared from one person to the next. Students quickly see how one bit of information shared online can spread from person to person, suddenly becoming viral.
It’s always a highlight to my day when I can work directly with students, especially with instruction that directly relates to their world. We’re making a difference with our students, one lesson at a time!