Thoughts on Safer Internet Day

This week included Safer Internet Day, the 8th of February, with a lot of additional posts on internet safety making their way onto social media.   I think safer internet day is great to sign post resources, focus thinking and share thought and ideas regarding online safety, however equally I worry that it becomes a single shot deal.  I worry that it signifies the 1 day a year when online safety receives a focus.

I have recently tended to focus on the cyber security aspect of online safety in particular, talking to students about securing their accounts, data breaches, etc.   This has largely been due to my interest in this particular area and a feeling that this area is sometimes neglected or is believed covered through a discussion of what makes a strong password.  I think that students have found our discussions useful however I wonder about the overall impact where these discussions happen infrequently.     Students may listen intently, engage and even contribute, but once they return to their daily lessons and the daily requirements of study, homework, etc, I feel that the discussion of cyber security and the concepts raised may largely become lost in the sea of other information and priorities.   When they next pick up their device, or sign up to a new online service do they give thought to the presentation they received, or do they simply repeat their previous behaviours and sign up with little consideration for online safety?

One of the big challenges is how we fit digital citizenship, online safety and cyber security into the available time such that it occurs regularly.   With ever increasing curriculum requirements the available time is only shrinking, and I note that seldom do we see net impact of curriculum changes resulting in less things to cover.    As we use more technology in our schools, as our students use more technology in their education, but also in their day to day lives, surely, we need to spend more time discussing the risks, as well as the benefits.   Surely, we need to spend more time looking at how we manage ourselves in a digital world, how we manage our online identity and our personal data.   But where is this time coming from?

And this is the crunch;  Safer Internet day, which I have already acknowledged I like, may highlight the limitation of our current approach to online safety.    It feels tacked on, an additional item, rather than something core, something truly important.    We might run presentations or get guest speakers in, but all this really does is tick a compliance box.   To truly cover online safety we need something more embedded, something which is ongoing throughout a students time in schools or colleges, we need to develop a culture of online safety.   We ideally need everyone modelling behaviours which represent good online safety, whether this is the teachers or the students.   We also need poor behaviours to be challenged and questioned.

Developing organisational culture is a long term and slow process, which in my experience is often the sum of lots of little actions taken across an organisation, which adds up to a statement of “how we do things around here”.   As we use greater use of technology, we need to be increasingly focussed on making sure our usage of technology is “safe”.   

But technology, unlike culture, moves quickly so we have no time to waste.   I think we all need to ask ourselves, what is the online safety culture like in our school and how can we develop it, how can we make sure it equips students with the knowledge and skills they need in this increasingly digital world.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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