April 16, 2012
By Shana Dorfman
Research indicates that students can be effectively educated on the safe and civil use of technology through various methods. In 2009, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services, and Skills (Ofsted) undertook an e-safety survey of 20 primary schools, 13 secondary schools, one pupil referral unit, and one special school in the U.K. The survey evaluated the extent to which schools taught students to adopt safe and responsible practices in using technology. In the resulting report, Ofsted reviewed each school’s approach to e-safety, described the most and least effective instructional methods, and offered a set of recommendations for schools. The report’s recommendations suggest that schools should:
1) “Audit the training needs of all staff and provide training to improve their knowledge of and expertise in the safe and appropriate use of new technologies.”
In the survey, staff training was the weakest aspect of e-safety initiatives. Most training provided was “one-size-fits-all” and therefore did not meet the needs of all staff. The best training was planned systematically and included all teaching and support staff. Often, families and administrators were encouraged to participate. Such training took into account participants’ previous experience.
2) “Work closely with all families to help them ensure that their children use new technologies safely and responsibly both at home and at school.”
Almost all schools in the survey required families to sign an acceptable use policy, detailing what their children were allowed (and not allowed) to do when using new technologies at school. The best policies clearly laid out the consequences of breaching the regulations (typically a ban on using the school’s computer system for a set period). The most effective schools monitored whether families had signed the acceptable use policy and were rigorous in contacting any who had not done so. Additionally, schools had a variety of strategies for increasing parental involvement. At the most basic level, they displayed prominent posters on e-safety in the areas of school that families were most likely to visit. Three schools provided advice to families through one-on-one meetings with trained staff. Through these sessions, families were taught how to ensure safe practices at some—such as monitoring the sites their children use and blocking access to unsuitable sites.
3) “Use pupils’ and families’ view more often to develop e-safety strategies.”
The most effective schools catered to potentially vulnerable students, such as those in the early stages of learning English and those without access to new technologies outside school. One school encouraged vulnerable students to stay after school to use the learning center and the school’s ICT system. By working closing with such students and increasing parental involvement, the school provided advice on several aspects of e-safety, including chat rooms, mobile phones, monitoring software, and filtering systems.
4) “Manage the transition from locked down systems to more managed systems to help students understand how to manage risk, to provide them with richer learning experiences, and to bridge the gap between systems at school and the more open systems outside school.”
Locked down systems keep students from viewing inappropriate sites, but are less effective in helping students learn how to use new technologies safely. Students in locked down situations tend to be more vulnerable overall. The most effective schools identified in the survey used “managed” systems to help students become safe and responsible users of new technologies. Managed systems have fewer inaccessible sites than locked down systems, requiring students to take responsibility for using new technologies safely.
5) “Provide an age-related, comprehensive curriculum for e-safety which enables pupils to become safe and responsible users of new technologies.”
In the best schools, even the youngest students were clear on the policies and procedures of e-safety. Their knowledge was appropriate to and sufficient for their age and developmental stage, enabling them to stay safe and use new technologies confidently.