Keeping students safe online

James Timpson

James Timpson is a husband and father of one. He’s a keen writer in the fields of business and education. When not working, James an avid gardener, and you can often find him at the football or devouring a good book.

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As teachers we are very much aware of the dangers students face online, much more so than the children in our charge. These can be issues of data protection, bullying, hacking and dangers posed by strangers. Of course, protecting children has to be done in partnership with parents, but there is much that can be done in a classroom environment to start raising awareness.

"It can be helpful to undergo some training on key issues you need to be aware of, especially when dealing with minors."

Training for Teachers

Issues of cybersecurity can be complex, and they often lie outside our sphere of expertise as teachers. It can be helpful, therefore, to undergo some training on key issues you need to be aware of, especially when dealing with minors. As PGI highlights, leaders within organisations need an understanding of what can be done to mitigate risks and to plan proportionally to the dangers faced.

Protecting Hardware

There are a number of ways that you can protect PCs and laptops against hacking issues, and these steps should be performed on the equipment in your classroom. It is also important to teach your students to carry out the same steps. Cheeky Munkey offers an easy guide to cleaning up your PC, and is a good place for students to start.

  • Malware: This is the generic terms for any malicious software such as viruses, worms and Trojans. It is used by hackers to cause issues with your hardware or to access personal details, and it is the number one reason why computers run into problems. Ensure that your PCs are scanned for malware regularly, and that any found is quickly removed.
  • Antivirus software: This should be installed on your network or on any standalone PCs, and should be updated regularly to keep current as malware evolves swiftly. Set updates and scans to run automatically, so you are always protected.
  • Passwords: Ensure that your students understand the reason behind the importance of having strong passwords which are changed frequently. Encourage them to create random passwords that are at least 12 characters long, including upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers.
  • Avoiding downloads: It is easy to be lured into clicking a link or downloading a file that can end up containing malware. We are all vulnerable to this risk, adults and children alike. Warn students not to download anything from a site that they don’t fully trust, and if they receive an email from a name they don’t recognize, they should simply delete it.

Stranger Danger

Children and young adults also face a number of dangers relating to bullying, grooming and sexual abuse online. The NSPCC provides in depth information on the measures that can be taken, in conjunction with parents, to offer a level of protection for the under-18s. There are two key areas which are a good place to start discussions about this in the classroom. Both can help teenagers to start looking at the wider issues.

  1. Boundaries: It is never too early to start kids thinking about boundary issues. One of the problems with the internet is that it creates an aura that everything isn’t quite real, and therefore we can get fooled into revealing more than we would normally wish to. A good place to start is to ask students whether they would be willing to give out information, chat or even exchange images with strangers in the real world. If their answer is no, you can reinforce this by stressing that it is even more dangerous online, as people can be hiding behind fake ages and photographs.
  2. Permanence: Another issue students are often not aware of is the permanence of anything written or published online. Even if data is deleted, it can still hang around in cached files or be passed on by people. They should also be aware that more universities and employers are now looking at social media profiles to find out about candidates. Therefore, it is important that students only put out into the world what they would want people to see and read about them.

"One of the problems with the internet is that it creates an aura that everything isn’t quite real."

The wider issue around online safety is no longer merely about the PC in the home or classroom. Kids now have access to a wide range of gadgets including mobile phones and tablets, which mean they can access the internet around the clock and it is very difficult to monitor what they are viewing or who they are contacting.

A photo taken on a mobile phone can come back to haunt them many months or even years later. If they are being bullied online, they can feel that they are never out of reach of the perpetrators, as they are checking social media constantly. It is important therefore to instil in children, from a young age, a sense of responsibility about their actions online. This will stand them in good stead as they grow and combined with a strong sense of self-esteem it will equip them to handle whatever online issues they face.

Do you utilise these methods in your school? Let us know in the comments.

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