Teaching online safety in a post-COVID world

Caroline Allams

Caroline Allams started her career in the UK and has subsequently taught in international schools in Amsterdam and Barcelona, before becoming Assistant Headteacher at Kellett School in Hong Kong. 

Caroline is the founder of the 30+ award winning classroom resource provider The Pedagogs and most recently Natterhub, which she co-founded with Manjit Sareen. Powered by TwinklHive, Natterhub is a school-safe, gated social media site for primary aged children to learn the genre of social media. Based on the feedback so far, Natterhub looks set to start the revolutionary ball rolling by modernising the pedagogy used in the primary classroom to reflect the skills needed to thrive in a connected society.

Website: www.natterhub.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The COVID-19 epidemic has fundamentally changed the way we use the internet. According to Ofcom, we’re spending on average an hour longer on the internet every day than we did in 2018. This has been especially true for children, who’ve relied on video calls and online games and lessons as a way to continue learning, socialising and playing. 

Teachers up and down the country have done amazing work helping their pupils to continue to learn from home. They’ve given lessons in their back gardens and kitchens, written songs and conducted science experiments, and even cycled hundreds of miles each week to visit their pupils and deliver lunches! 

However, whilst greater connectivity brings all sorts of benefits to children, it also brings with it greater risks.. Some children find it hard to put their screens down: 45% of children who own a device take it to bed with them! Along with possible disturbances to sleep or mental wellbeing, there’s always the worry that children might be interacting with harmful content or people, or seeing something not designed for their age range.. 

Young people are certainly aware of the potential pitfalls of their devices - according to a report by the Cybersmile Foundation, 35% of young people feel that the internet and social media is having a negative impact on their health. However, around 33% also feel that their parents and teachers wouldn’t be able to help if they came to them with a problem. 

With this in mind, it’s a relief to know that the UK curriculum is being adjusted and refined to reflect our increasingly online world, with a much-needed emphasis on online safety. However, it’s difficult for teachers to cover such a complex topic by simply talking at the front of a classroom. We need to make sure schools are properly equipped to provide pupils with the skills they need to thrive online, and that children feel more comfortable talking to the trusted adults in their lives. 

This is why I decided to create Natterhub: a gated social media platform designed to teach children about online safety in an interactive, experiential way. Providing children with a space in which they can better understand their own emotional state, and their relationships with the people around them, will make them more resilient and empathetic - both online and offline. Showing them concrete examples of the internet in action, with examples of both appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, will make them more digitally savvy. As Professor John Hattie, a leader in the field of metacognition, puts it: “We need to develop an awareness of what we are doing, where we are going, and how are we going there.” 

As a teacher, I fervently believe in mimicry as a compelling route for learning, and that social media and its powerful potential needs to be explicitly modelled to avoid the pitfalls. When we give pupils real reasons to learn and opportunities that relate most closely with real life experiences, pupils will reflect on their own behaviour, resulting in learning that is deeper and more impactful. 

Imagine the excitement when, last year, we ventured up to Sheffield to chat our idea through with Twinkl. We share their mission to ‘help those who teach’ and at Natterhub, we are dedicated to ‘help those who learn’. With over twenty years of school/business experience, and four children between us, Manjit and I continue to share our commitment to supporting children with crucial online life skills which will support them during, and for years beyond, school. Natterhub is now powered by TwinklHive. We launched two months ago, and with over 1000 users in over 30 countries, Natterhub’s voice is starting to be heard! Online safety issues transcend borders or socio-economic boundaries, and social networks use a universal language. With Twinkl’s support, we look forward to scaling Natterhub as it is relevant to all school curricula, anywhere in the world. 

The world has changed as a result of the pandemic. Now more than ever we depend on screens as a means to conduct both personal and professional relationships, and the genre of social media, digital communication and intelligence needs a greater profile in our children’s school life. Natterhub enables teachers to seamlessly weave both knowledge and application into classroom practice. We’ve recently been described as a ‘zeitgeist product’, and we are thrilled that Natterhub is empowering children to thrive online.

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