An Educator's Role in Protecting Students Online

Statistics of Home Internet Safety Highly Concerning
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As the year unfolded this year, my teaching partner, my teaching partner and I were committed to getting our class blogs up and running for our respective classes. As we discussed what this would look like on a computer screen and in the classroom; we knew that we would need to consider our students needs. The things we considered were how to keep students safe, did we want the public to access and share on our blogs, and how do we ensure the students are acting appropriately online. As we continued our discussions, colleagues began to inquire about our methods. We found that not only were we working at ensuring student safety, we were also in dialogue and sharing ideas with our peers.
According to OCT Standards of Practice, teachers should promote and participate in the creation of collaborative, safe and supportive learning communities (OCT Standards of Practice). At times, participation in learning groups happens in formal settings and other times it happens informally. The two of us have been involved more with informal learning. As I have stated, we often discuss the learning that is occurring in class and where we are heading with the students. I had one colleague ask one day, “What do you two talk about each night?” One of the things that I shared with her was how we were working on getting our blog started. This sparked an interest in her as she had attended a tech night, put on by our board that dealt with classroom blogging. Suddenly, our informal group of two grew to include another member and we had begun to create our own personal learning network. It has since grown further with a few other staff members who are venturing into blogging and other 21st Century learning experiences with their students.

Within our PLN, our main focus was how to manage the blogs with our different grade levels. We wanted to expose students to the world of blogging while keeping them safe. According to the ethical standard of Care, teachers are committed to students’ well-being and learning through positive influences, professional judgement and empathy (The Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession). It is with the Ethical Standards in mind, that we began to share some of the knowledge we had gained in our Integration of Technology Course Part 2. We began to share lessons we had created with our colleagues and we continued to discuss the importance of ensuring the safety of students. Using our professional knowledge, we decided that with our primary grades, we would create a blog that would be worked on as a class in a type of shared writing opportunity. We would focus mostly on sharing our information and comments within our immediate community of students and parents. Our juniors would start blogging as a shared experience as well, with the goal of eventually interacting with our blog independently from home and by interacting with other blogs globally. This decision was based on our knowledge of students’ ability and their access to technology. With in class support and modelling, we felt that this was the best way to ensure the safety of our students. The next step would be putting our theories and planning into practice. 
Within our PLN we have had many discussions about how students today are part of the ‘digital generation.’ Most of them are online on a regular basis (whether their parents like it or not). This year when surveying our students, we learned that most of them are online at least once a week and many of them are online daily. We feel that not only does this show us that using online tools is a motivating factor for our students, but that it is also becoming more and more important to have conversations in the classroom about online safety and digital responsibility. As well, a quick conversation is not enough to instill good habits into our students. Rather, frequent modelling and practice of these skills is what will help ensure safe and responsible use for our students.
With doing so much activity online at school, we have developed lessons to start the year off to introduce safe online activity. In addition, we have continued to revisit these concepts with our students each time we get online or use our class blog. Our students have now become ‘experts’ at pointing out when someone else in the online community has done something poorly to impact their digital footprint or when someone else has provided information that may not be keeping them safe.
Without us intending on doing so, this has become great sharing and modelling within our PLN. Our colleagues see how our students now naturally think about their actions online. They see how much students online activity increases through the primary grades into the junior grades and they have come to recognize that early discussions about safety and online etiquette help to shape responsible digital citizens. While our lessons and ways of teaching are newly developed and will need tweaking in the future; they have provided some of our colleagues with a jumping off point or with an idea of how to create their own lessons on internet safety and digital responsibility. Our informal discussions within the PLN have encouraged others to agree with our views that tackling these issues in the classroom is important and valuable. Hopefully this suggests that we ourselves are becoming good leaders with respect to our online actions.

In the spirit of sharing, here are some of the things we have done to help ensure the safety of our students online, as well as some of the lessons we’ve used to encourage them to be good digital citizens. It is our hope that these actions are ensuring the safety of our students.

Discuss the value of blogging with students and parents - WHY BLOG

Create blogging guidelines for our students to follow and send this home with a letter letting parents know what will be involved in our online activity at school

Teach lessons on what information should not be shared online - STUDENT SAFETY ONLINE

Teach lessons on creating Quality Comments so that students are safe and so that they are kind to others online

Teach lessons on how to copy work properly, so as to respect other online users and the original authors of online work - COPY THE RIGHT WAY

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