Many teachers are experiencing distance learning for the first time, and while online learning can be exciting and offer new possibilities, it also comes with its own set of challenges. One of those challenges is to make sure that students become responsible digital citizens, equipped with the skills necessary to safely and responsibly navigate an online environment. This will be important in the short term as students transition to virtual learning, but these skills will also be important in preparing our students for their future beyond a K–12 education. In fact, digital citizenship—in our increasingly tech-rich world—has become an essential college and career readiness skill.
When taking part in distance learning, students will not be in a physical classroom with their teachers, so teachers will not be immediately available to guide and redirect them. And while it would be ideal if all students were under the watchful guidance of an adult while they are learning at home, we know that this will not always be the case. Even in homes where parents/guardians are doing their best to be available and engaged in their children’s online behavior, it is impossible for anyone to be aware of everything that is happening online.
Schools and families may implement home-monitoring tools and internet safety filters to help observe student behavior, but it’s important to acknowledge that no system will be perfect. At times, these systems can even lead to a false sense of security. Because of this, our most impactful approach is to empower students with the skills they will need to make wise decisions about their own behaviors online, both today and in the future.
Five Tips to Get You Started
- Provide a private and secure classroom space: Ideally, students will need to log in to be able to access your online learning space. This will ensure that only you and your students can join the class and interact in this space. A learning management system (LMS) is an ideal choice and often provides secure parent access, as well.
- Establish protocols for acceptable online behavior: Even though your students may be “digital natives,” they do not automatically know how to interact online. Teachers must provide guidance and learning activities—just as they would in their physical classrooms—to help students develop these skills. AVID’s Heart and Brain feedback protocol is one good example.
- Adhere to age requirements for online accounts: There are many powerful, free tools online that students and teachers may want to leverage for class activities. If teachers ask students to register for an online account, they should be sure to adhere to age requirements. Many sites require anyone aged 13 or under to have parent permission to set up an account.
- Upload or link content in your online classroom: This is the safest approach and will ensure that students access the materials you intend for them. Of course, pay attention to copyright and only post what you have rights to use. If your online classroom requires a login to enter, collaborative class work (such as an online discussion) is typically safe in this space.
- Be aware of ads and suggested links: Many sites include links to related or sponsored materials. While this may be unavoidable, be aware of this when sending students to external sites. Even YouTube will expose students to public comments and offer suggested videos that can lead students to unintended content.
- Choose sites that contain fewer ads.
- Consider having students/families install an ad blocker on their internet browser.
- Consider using a safe link creation tool, such as Video Link, to create video links that do not have comments or ads.
- Teach students how to safely search online: This might be the most important tip of all. Students will undoubtedly search the internet for their own answers, and this can be very empowering for them. To guide them through this process safely, teach your students safe internet search strategies. One key tip is to scan the description before clicking the link to make sure that it is really the content they want. “Look before you click.”
- Phishing is the practice of tricking users into giving out private information, such as usernames and passwords. This can lead to identity theft or other privacy violations.
- Give students some basic tips for avoiding phishing schemes.
- Don’t open emails or messages from people you don’t know.
- Don’t reset accounts and passwords from links within an email. Go directly to the official site, log in, and change your information there.
- Don’t open attachments (videos or files) in emails from people you don’t know. These attachments often contain malware that installs on your device.
- Don’t share your personal information online.
- Beware of offers that seem too good to be true.
- Conduct class in your secure space.
- Teach your students safety skills.
- Don’t connect with strangers online (including social media friend requests).
- Create secure passwords and keep them private.
- Don’t share personal information that can lead someone to your location or allow them to guess your passwords (date of birth, address, school, online surveys, etc.).
- If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut and tell an adult.
- Parents/guardians are the face-to-face adults in the classroom now and can be great partners.
- Provide parents/guardians with guidelines and tips.
Extend Your Learning
Common Sense Media is a well-respected leader in the area of digital citizenship and internet safety. They provide excellent resources for all audiences, including a strong catalog of lesson plans. To study internet safety more deeply, explore these helpful links from Common Sense Media: