If you are planning on using technology that involves the internet or sharing among students within a more closed community (via an intranet, or by sharing media) you should consider how you can make this venture into the digital realm safer. ‘Safer’ can be concerned with (as an example) student interactions with outsiders, the exposure of personal information, peer bullying, and the perceptions and concerns of parents and administrators.
Whether you are planning a lesson, unit or entire year with components online you should consider devoting some time to developing a safety plan. This will be more important for teachers in a K-12 setting where responsibility for student safety is assumed by the teacher. In post-secondary settings aspects of online safety should also be considered in relation to learning outcomes (ie. are you expecting some ‘digital citizenship’ to be developed?) and technology uses that may be new or poorly understood. While post-secondary students are typically adults, there is a varied level of understanding when it comes to online safety. As an instructor you can expect better results from your online components by planning for and guiding students towards safe use of the technologies used.
The amount of time spent on a safety plan should be proportional to the complexity of the tools (and your planned use of the tools) for your learning. Understanding the basic principles and components behind planning for safety will enable you to make quick, informed judgements about different opportunities as they arise. This system can also be applied to activites outside of the online world.
Safety Plan Steps
- Risk assessment
What are the potential risks to students in undertaking this online learning? Try to be imaginative but limit yourself to the risks that seem reasonably possible in your lesson/unit. You might record risks like:
- students could contact ill-intentioned strangers online
- students might encounter pornography or hate sites during onine research
- students might engage in bullying during an online discussion
You might see more risks to consider on BECTA’s “Safeguaring children online” brochure.
- Develop strategies to eliminate, reduce or mitigate identified risks
While ‘eliminate’ and ‘reduce’ target the probability of experiencing a risk, ‘mitigate’ is about lessening the impact of an even on the students that experience it. For example, you might eliminate or reduce the risk of bullying in a discussion forum by requiring posts to be moderated (approved) by you before they appear online, or by limiting discussion to logged-in class members. You could mitigate this risk by starting your unit with a lesson on bullying with strategies for how students should deal with bullies online. Remember that your aim is to develop strategies that don’t impact, or minimally impact, your learning outcomes.
- Create a plan for safe use of technology
If appropriate to your teaching context, your safety plan:
- specifies perceived risks and adopted avoidance and mitigation strategies
- includes info for parents
- includes specific instructions to students
- includes specific steps or parameters that you (or other instructors) will use to setup and/or guide this learning
- includes info for administrators