Nov 01 2016

Boost Online Safety in K–12 Schools with the Help of Technology

From cyberbullying to malware, students face a number of threats every time they surf the web.

As a tool for schools, the internet can be fantastic for encouraging collaboration and accessing resources, but it can also be ripe with threats. Cyberbullying. Scams. Hackers. Technological advances, like “safe search” tools and devices with built-in security protocols, have done much to help combat these issues.

However, as ISTE notes, the first step is teaching kids and teens how to make the most of digital resources while staying safe.

A survey from the Pew Research Center reported that 24 percent of teens say they are online “almost constantly.” The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2013, 71 percent of the U.S. population aged 3 and over had used the internet. That percentage is likely even higher today.

By encouraging digital citizenship, teachers can show students how to use online resources properly and teach them which security elements to keep in mind while doing so.

Common Sense Education, a nonprofit devoted to helping kids navigate the tech-filled world, has a set of resources for teachers and administrators to help “build a positive school culture that supports the safe and responsible user of technology.”

In the lesson plan for privacy and security, it says a key step for teaching online security comes from guiding students on how to create a strong password. For example, Common Sense suggests that passwords should be more than eight characters long with a blend of letters, numbers and symbols.

“With your help, students can master the fine art of password creation, recognize and avoid online scams, and distinguish positive and safe sharing from oversharing,” states the lesson plan.

Georgia educator (and Must-Read K–12 IT blogger) Vicki Davis writes in a post on Edutopia that a great way of engaging students in lessons about digital citizenship is having the students actually teach them.

“Students will create tutorials or presentations exposing common scams and how to protect yourself,” Davis writes. “By dissecting cons and scams, students become more vigilant themselves.”

Web Filters and Built-In Device Features Create Online Safety

Even the most studious digital citizens still need a safety net. EdTech: Focus on K–12 has touted the security prowess of one of education’s biggest tech tools: Chromebooks. The notebook computers that make up 4 million of the 8.9 million one-to-one computing devices have default settings for phishing and malware alerts.

Google for Education says the devices were designed so that no additional security software had to be purchased.

“A full 10 percent of boot time is dedicated to reverifying that the device has not been tampered with, so every time you power on a Chromebook, your security is checked,” the company states on its website.

Many districts, like DeKalb County Eastern Community School District in Indiana, also use web filtering software like GoGuardian to make sure students are visiting strictly academic sites.

Last year, GoGuardian launched a management tool specific to Chromebooks to help teachers stay on task, but also to provide educators with easier ways to monitor student internet activity — such as screen sharing and activity timelines, THE Journal reports.

Fedscoop’s roundup of cybersecurity tips for K–12 schools also suggests instituting a policy of multifactor authentication. Instituting practices like a security photo or a code sent to a mobile device go a long way toward keeping kids safe on school networks.

Crack Down on Cyberbullies with Digital Tools

Though these technologies can help keep students safe from malware, hackers and inappropriate websites, they can’t combat a troubling, ever-growing trend: cyberbullying.

The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that about one out of every four teens has experienced bullying while online. Now, thanks to some new technologies, there are resources to help reduce that disturbing trend.

Bark is a watchdog software that monitors kids’ social networks (through the use of advanced algorithms) and sends alerts to parents when an issue like cyberbullying might be occurring.

After seeing the devastating consequences of cyberbullying, Trisha Prabhu, then 13, sought to create a software with context filtering to take cyberbullies head on, reports U.S. News and World Report. Her creation, ReThink, is now available for free to schools and parents.

Using its filters, ReThink determines if something a student is about to post is offensive and gives that student a second chance to reconsider what they are about to say.

“Research shows that when adolescents are alerted to rethink their decisions, they change their minds 93 percent of the time,” ReThink’s website states.

Prabhu told U.S News that her creation stemmed from a desire to flip the script and make bullies take responsibility.

“It just seems ironic that we’re putting this burden on the victim to block the cyberbully that’s embarrassing and humiliating them rather than focusing on the cyberbully,” she says.


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