There is a lot of controversy about the best way for schools to approach the subject of keeping students safe online. There's the block them and lock them out approach of some schools, where many websites are inaccessible unless these sites have been approved by teachers, and there's the managed system, whereby students are educated as to the dangers and how to deal with them. I suppose the difference in approach can be summed up in the words "being safe" and "being responsible".
The best analogy of this is the example of a child trying to cross a road. If a parent always insists on holding the child's hand then of course that child is safe, however if the child is never taught to cross the road independently then how will they manage by themselves? As a parent once said to me, "Being a good parent isn't preventing bad things happening to your child, it's helping them to know how to deal with a bad thing when it does happen". Students who are locked down at school and closely monitored, may not develop the skills to use the technology responsibly when they are outside of school, and if they are not responsible then they are not safe.
At my school we start introducing the students to internet safety, along with other kinds of safety, in Kindergarten in the Who We Are unit of inquiry. This year we have used Hector's World with our students to help them understand why it is important not to share personal information or passwords. In addition students created their own Mr Men or Little Miss avatars on the Mr Men World website to show safe and unsafe behaviour. These avatars were later turned into puppets for the students to play with in class.
In Grade 1 we build on this in the How We Express Ourselves unit, giving the students their own email account and teaching them how to skype. We started skyping with other members of the class, the class parents and students on another campus. Eventually we'd like to have our Grade 1 students skype with other Grade 1 students in schools around the world.
At the top end of the primary school, we examine internet safety in the Sharing the Planet unit with our Grade 5s. We use the Thinkuknow Cyber Cafe activities and have the students blog about all the good and potentially risky aspects of using websites, email, SMS text messages and IM, online forums and social networking sites. Our message is to think before you post and to remember that anything posted on the internet or sent electronically can be stored forever. This leads us onto looking at cyberbulling where we use the excellent movie from Childnet International. In the blogs we have asked students to write about the problems of cyberbullying, how they can prevent it and what to do if you are the victim. Our focus here is not just on a student's own actions, but how they are responsible for their own actions and how these actions impact on others.
Keeping students safe is extremely important, but without teaching them responsible practices it seems only a half-way step. Teaching students responsibility will keep them safe too.
Photo Credit: Macbook by Swansea Photographer