Managing an online environment

Jonathan Valentine, MD at e-safety software specialist Impero, discusses how schools can properly manage their online environments

In the last 15 years, new technologies have given students lots of ways to access the internet. Social media and instant messaging have led some to become involved in cyber bullying while others are using the internet to access inappropriate content at school. According to a recent survey of schoolchildren we carried out, 35 per cent of students have circumnavigated online blocks to access restricted online content at some point, and ten per cent do so three times or more a month.

Too often, the issue of e-safety is left to those in the IT department to deal with, but if schools are to properly manage their online environments and keep pupils safe, breaches of protocol must also be handled proactively by teachers. That means the common approach to managing online behaviour needs to change. Instead of IT managers putting web blocks in place to prevent access to inappropriate sites, staff must be given the power to monitor computer use and teach children what’s wrong and right. Only then can e-safety be proactively addressed in the classroom.

Don’t block 

Around 96% of students we surveyed said that their schools rely on website blocking to control access to web content. However, 45% say they know classmates who have managed to view prohibited websites that include pornographic, gambling, self-harm or pro-anorexic content. It seems clear that blocking doesn’t deter determined school children and it does not help them safeguard themselves and their personal information online, a vital skill for both children and adults in the modern age.

Provide the right tools

Just like you once did, students have their own set of ‘in’ words and phrases which teachers struggle to keep up with. Only today, the task is doubly hard because students conduct their conversations online as well as in person.

And because teachers are unaware of the language used by children, incidents of bullying, racism, homophobia, sexual exploitation and self-harm are going unnoticed.

Luckily, there is a way to tackle this issue. When a person wants to find the definition of a word they look it up in a dictionary. Teachers can do the same with specialist e-safety software. Teachers can spot policy violations and take control by proactively managing situations, using software to identify and translate terms used by students online. 

Training

Even with a translation and monitoring tool available, teachers need training to keep up with online trends and student behaviour. They need to know which social networking platforms are used most and which blogs are popular. And this training needs to be topped up regularly because trends change rapidly. 

If teaching staff are aware of popular terminology, the names of online hangouts and the current apps in use, they will be able to approach students on a level playing field, with the confidence to confront incidents as they arise.

Teachers have a duty of care to their students. In order to protect them in the modern digital world they need to have full control of the classroom environment and an understanding of their students’ behaviour online, the language being used and of popular social trends. Schools must therefore adopt a proactive approach to e-safety, providing teachers with the regular training and the necessary tools to understand and govern their students’ online behaviour.

www.imperosoftware.com

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