cyber safety


This article from The Guardian has been sitting in my inbox now for about a month. Waiting mostly for me to calm down so I can write about this halfway intelligently.

Let’s start with this:

Andy Phippen, professor of social responsibility at Plymouth University, said sexting – where schoolchildren are encouraged to take explicit photographs of themselves and send to other pupils – was a problem in most schools, despite the study revealing that 89% of parents believe their child has not been touched by cyberbullying or sexting.

“There is a disconnect between how safe parents think they can keep their children online and their actual ability to do that,” Phippen said. “Those conversations are not being had – we have a hell of a long way to go on internet safety. In schools we hear teachers unwilling to talk to teenagers about sexual images because they worry about their jobs, schools unwilling to record instances of cyberbulling because they are worried about their Ofsted reports.”

Now add this:

AVG security expert Tony Anscombe said half of the parents consider a school’s internet safety policy when making their selection, and 95% thought online safety should be mandatory in schools. “We know parents take responsibility of online safety seriously […] yet we’re not living up to the standards we’re setting by avoiding conversations about exposure to explicit adult content, privacy or other Internet-related threats,” he said. “It comes as no surprise then that nearly 90% of parents aren’t aware of whether their child has been exposed to cyberbullying or sexting – two of the most common internet risks facing children.”

So where do we go from here? Well it should start with conversations both at home and at school. However, conversations at school are hard when the sites that we need to have the conversations about are blocked and do not allow us to teach about them. When we don’t face websites like Facebook head on, we allow them to become places of Cyberbullying. You want to help decrease cyberbullying on Facebook? UNBLOCK it! Not one school that I have talked to has said that cyberbullying has increased once Facebook was unblocked. Instead cyberbullying decreases because:

  1. We have shined a light on the dark corner
  2. We can now talk about it in school
  3. We can use it and show students how powerful of a tool it can be as well as how dangerous it can be
Photo Credit: Joybot via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Joybot via Compfight cc

Two of the most common internet risks facing children are sexting and cyberbullying. Not predators on the Internet. By blocking sites, we are not keeping our students safe, we are giving them a place to hide. The online predator thing was and has continued to be an overblown idea since 2009 with this report (NYTimes article worth a read).

Yet when schools tell me “we need to keep kids safe” they more often than not are talking about online predators when really we should be talking about keeping kids safe from kids. That we can do by educating, but we can only educate if we are given the tools to educate with. Which means unblocking social-networking site and teaching students how to use them propertly.

Let’s start by giving every student a public blog in say 3rd grade and then teach them what it means to be in public. Who can access it? Where does the content go? How does this all work becuase class after class that I visit from 4th grade through seniors in high school have no idea where their content goes when they click “Publish”.

The survey of 2,000 parents carried out by AVG technologies and Plymouth University found 92% were confident about their ability to teach online safety. “People tend to think they are protected in some way, that there are parental fixes in place – but that is not always the case,” said Phippen.

Let’s get over this idea of “protection”. The best way to be protected is to be educated. The best way to educate is to be in these spaces, understand them, learn how to use them, with an adult. Sure at my last school we had students misuse their blogs, but it led to a conversation to help that student understand. I would much rather have a conversation about how to use these sites properly in 4th grade before habits are set and they mess up their careers later in life. We’re so worried about protecting that we are not educating.

The only way we are going to help solve this issue is through education. By unblocking sites we not only actually help educators do this, but we open up amazing learning opportunities at the same time. It’s a win – win situation for everyone.

So I still have Shirky’s post running through my head.

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

When today I head into a 4th grade class to talk about cyber safety (the school counselor talked me into it 😉 ).

As we were wrapping up I asked the kids, “How old do you think the Internet is?”


Counselor: “What!” laughing “No way!”


Me: “Well actually the web as we know it today got started in 1996.”

“What! That’s it?”
“No Way!”

Every student but one has their own cell phone
Every student raised their hand when I asked if they go on the Internet at least once a week.
Every student has an mp3 player

To reword Shirky from above:

Here’s something fourth graders know: Media is free, content is free, it’s always been that way. Here’s something fourth graders know: Information that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because fourth graders, the students we’re teaching are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that we have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching (Insert favorite sitcom), they just assume that information is consumable, producible and sharable.

And that’s just the way it is!

What interested me the most is in all six of the classes, as soon as I start talking about technology they all get that look….teachers know the one…..the one of complete attention, of wanting to know and wanting to share what they know.

We talk about all their favorite sites, we talk about who has this gaming console and who has that one. We talk about cell phones…and when they are really excited, we talk about staying safe on the web. What do you share, what not to share, were are the “cool places” and where should you not go.

One fourth grade lied and is on Facebook

Three others have older siblings who are under 13 and are on Facebook.

Ladies and Gentlemen we’re missing opportunities here to teach with the tool they so desperately want to use and want to learn. I could have asked them to write about their favorite features on their cell phones. To write a letter to their parents about why they should get an iPhone (persuasive writing).

We could have discussed the lastest podcast from ?????

We could have discussed the latest developments in Club Penguin.

We can do so much with what they are excited about. So many opportunities to bring learning into what they are doing, what they want to be doing, a where they are and want to spend their time. Opportunities….so many opportunities.

I share with you and e-mail I sent out to the staff at my school today. Yes, I know that most of what I write would not fly in your school/district. But then again, we are a private international school…things just work differently here, and that’s a good thing! I strongly believe that international education will change and adapt faster than any public system. What slows us down is the larger educational system (colleges, SAT, IB, AP, etc).But I do believe we are the front runners for change because at times we’re allowed to out run ourselves.

Question: What is the school’s policy on using student names and pictures on the Internet?

Out of CTRL

A question that has been coming up more and more as we put more and more information online is what is the school’s policy. I will do my best to keep this short.

The school does not have a policy at this time about what and how we handle student information on the web. The “unwritten rule” use to be that we did not put students names with pictures on the web. Last year the communication department started putting Parent Talk online in the form of a PDF and Google at the same time release an update that allowed it to search PDF documents. So at the highest levels within SAS we have been discussing this very issue. Where do we draw the line?

As more and more research comes out on just how NOT dangerous the Internet is we’ll have to look at how we protect our students.

New York Times: How Dangerous Is the Internet for Children?

APA: Internet Predator Stereotypes Debunked in New Study
For example, in spite of public concern, the authors found that adolescents’ use of popular social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook do not appear to increase their risk of being victimized by online predators. Rather, it is risky online interactions such as talking online about sex to unknown people that increases vulnerability, according to the researchers.

What we do know is that there are a couple little things we can do that will keep students safe and at the same time allow them to be acknowledged on the Internet (which is what they want, what they demand in their digital world).

1. Do not post personal information
Students and teachers should not post personal information on the Internet. Street address, Passport (SSN#) Number or information, phone number, cell number, date of birth (although this is tough as many websites require you put your birth date in. a.k.a. facebook).

2. Do not use last names
Using just first names allows students to be recognized for their work but still allows them to remain some what protected. If we expect students to site information they find on the Internet for validation purposes then we must also allow them to be sited on information they create/produce. Using a students first name allows the student to have a sense of ownership for their work. They might not put their name on a paper, but you better believe they’ll put it on the Internet so others know who they are.

3. Pictures with permission
There is a form in the student/parent handbook at the beginning of the year that allows parents to opt out of the school using student pictures and work on the Internet. We use an opt out form giving us inherent rights to use pictures and work in both online and traditional publications. Most schools use opt out forms and find that very few parents sign and return the form (even less Internationally…grandparents love seeing their grand kids!)

How do you know if you have students with this form? You don’t…at the moment. This is a communication piece that we are working on for next year and that the Communication and Marketing department will be organizing for distribution next year. In the mean time we suggest that you ask students if it’s OK to take their picture. Once again modeling what we want to teach our students that having permission before hand can save you time and heartache (or your job and friendships).

New Acceptable Use Policy
This year we have been working on a new Acceptable Use Policy that will go into affect next year. At this time a select group of 11th graders are helping me to revise and talk about the new AUP. We want to make sure we have student buy in and next year’s 12th graders will be our leaders in helping us all understand how this new network is affecting communication on a global level.

I hope this helps clarify any questions you might have had on the topic. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to stop by my office, send me an e-mail, or grab me in the hallway for a chat. It’s a new wired world out there and we’re feeling our way through it together.


Jeff Utecht

[tags]sas, cyber safety[/tags]

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