Online Safety – Meta/SWGfL Event

This week included a little visit to the Meta offices in London for an SWGfL event focussed on online safety.   Now I decided to attend this event as I believe in the importance of online safety and in the wider issue of digital literacy or digital citizenship.   I am also highly conscious of the challenges from a technology point of view given the ongoing focus by technology vendors on individual privacy, including the use of encryption, over public good and online safety. It was also a great opportunity to bump into Abid Patel although he had to remind me as to the need for the obligatory selfie.

Digital Literacy

During the course of the event the term digital literacy was used which I take to mean similar to “normal” literacy, but in terms of digital media.   Now I don’t think this term goes far enough although I am happy for others to disagree with me on this.   For me digital literacy may cover the users use of technology and understand how and when, etc, but it doesn’t stretch to the issues of behaviour online and the online identities we develop as we post increasing amounts of content online.   As such my preference over the term “digital literacy” has always been a focus on “digital citizenship”, where digital literacy may form a part of this. It may seem a minor point, but for me it is an important point.

Being online

One message which was quite clear from the event was the extent that our students are now online.    The opening session quoted figures of 3hrs and 36mins as the average time spent online by 9-16yr olds.   If we assume 8hrs sleep, that’s over 20% of a child’s waking day spent online.   And for weekends the figure only increased, plus it was noted that children are increasingly “multi-screening” where they are using multiple devices such as a laptop and phone at once thereby allowing them to consume more content in less time.    From a risk point of view, the more content consumed the greater the risk of inappropriate or even harmful content being consumed.

Another similar statistic shared identified below 5% of internet users in 2003 as being under 18, yet now the figure standards at almost 40%.   A big jump, suggesting a clear trend, again highlighting how our children and students are now highly active online.  

Guidance and help

In relation to help dealing with living online it was noted that parents were viewed as the main source of help and support in relation to issues experienced online with teachers taking second place.    Unsurprisingly though a survey of teachers noted training and the ability to keep pace with technology being two barriers towards being able to properly support students online.    In relation to keeping pace with technology, I think we need to acknowledge that we can never really keep pace.    On reflection, I found myself more able to keep pace when I was a younger teacher than I am now; this may be age related however it could equally be technology related in that the pace of tech change is now quicker than it was when I was younger.    I think here the importance isn’t necessarily knowing the answers but about being open about not knowing the answers and accepting that the discussion with student may itself have value.

In terms of training this makes me think of a poster in my office regarding students never asking for professional development, or training, on using technology.   Now I will note this statement is overly simplistic but aimed to get across a point regarding the massive number of resources and help available online plus the increasingly intuitive nature of [simple] apps.  Maybe we need to be more willing to “just Google it” in relation to technology?   That aside, the issue with training is where is it going to fit into the already busy curriculum and crowded workload of todays teachers?    Surely it cannot be yet another thing added, and who every subtracts, from workload?   I don’t have an answer to this one however I think the topic needs to become something regularly discussed in staff rooms, insets, assemblies, etc.  It needs to become part of culture however with this I recognise it may take time for this change to occur, at a time when technology changes occur so much faster.    So, for now, for me, I am regularly trying to prompt discussions and thinking in relation to digital citizenship just by doing simple things such as highlighting news stories in our school weekly bulletin.   The individual effect is low however my hope is that over time it will build awareness and discussion.

Conclusion

The event had a fair few points of interest and things I could take away.  Far more than I have outlined above. I had hoped that it might help and answer the challenge of balancing out the need to protect students with the prevailing narrative regarding the importance of individual privacy.   Sadly, I don’t think the event provided any real answers in this area beyond some evidence that Meta are partnering with organisations to help to address the problem, and that efforts are being made.   Are these efforts enough?   Am not sure there will ever be enough effort as any single loss of life or significant impact on the life of young person will aways be considered sufficient evidence that more could have been done.    The fact Meta are supportive of a programme allowing individuals, including children, to log a fingerprint of non-consensual intimate imagery such that it can be automatically quarantined and even removed is good news.   I actually find this interesting given Apple seem to have allowed their proposal of scanning for Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) to quietly disappear from discussion. So maybe there is progress being made after all?

It was a useful event.   The more we can discuss the challenges the more they evident and the greater chance we can seek to manage and mitigate them together. And this is another takeaway, that the event marked a number of individuals and organisations coming together to discuss the issue; This needs to continue and grow in frequency. 

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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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