Tackling Cyber Safety in Your School 1:1 Program

Cyber security is a crucial component of a school 1:1 or technology program. Yet, many schools aren’t equipped to tackle this area in a way that incorporates the needs and concerns of parents, teachers, kids and other stakeholders. We spoke with Peter Geale, CMO ofNetbox Blue, a provider of advanced security protection for schools’ networks and data, on new cyber security threats, cyber bullying and how to continually educate all of your school’s populations on appropriate online use.

Q: Beyond the typical online threats and cyber safety issues affecting schools, such as bullying and inappropriate images and web sites, is there anything new or unique you are seeing?

A: There are, and often they revolve around specific web sites. For instance, there’s Ask.fm, which by its nature is rather insidious in that it encourages anonymous questions. People can post hurtful things: ‘Why are you so ugly?’ ‘Why would anyone ever be your friend?’ In the past, kids would create a fake account and harass people that way. Thankfully, Facebook’s number of phantom Facebook profiles has dropped dramatically over the last few years.

Security experts will tell you that the biggest risks come from people from within — in other words, people you know. Kids won’t often pick on people they don’t know.

Q: In your opinion, do schools perceive that they have a duty of care to protect students from cyber bullying just as they do for in-person bullying?

A: There’s no question, they certainly do perceive that they have a duty of care. What happens on Facebook on the weekend comes to school on Monday. Teachers know they are dealing with issues. Teachers recognise the impact this is having on educational outcomes. That’s why they are getting involved, not because they want to spy on or control kids’ lives but because it’s affecting day-to-day life. School laptop or 1:1 programs legally require the school to consider online activity that impacts learning as part of their duty of care.

Q: How do you recommend schools come up with a security strategy around 1:1 device use and behaviour online both inside and outside of school?

A: It’s actually not that difficult. The key thing is they don’t try to do it by themselves. Learn from other schools. Most schools are part of a wider group, such as an independent schools association. Even if they are not, most schools post policies on the Internet that you can refer to. Look around and see what’s available publicly.

Early on, absolutely engage all the stakeholders. Not just the school employees, but parents, kids and the organisation the school belongs to. What’s happened in the past is that the IT manager has put together policies and they are not necessarily the right person as they might look at issues from a purely technical perspective and not the holistic approach necessary for a comprehensive use policy. Once the policy is out there, make sure it’s well-taught and make sure it’s monitored.

Q: How do we make sure children have a broad range of ongoing support, education and encouragement in order to make sound decisions online?

A: Broadly, one of the things schools try to do is create a community full stop. The good news is that some types of activities they are doing include engaging with parents — providing info to parents. These are the trends we see happening. For instance, the school shares a message saying, ‘A recent publication in education shows 75 per cent of all issues in respect to social media are on Facebook. Here are some of the areas we think might cause issues down the track.’ Then schools pass this on to parents. This happens a lot in primary school. It happens less in high schools. It needs to happen more in the high school because kids are getting more access to technology.

Q: Some peers and even adults might not be setting a great example for kids in terms of acceptable online use. How do you talk to kids and parents about this, about where kids can find a role model?

A: Earlier in 2013, Professor Donna Cross from Edith Cowan University came out with a statement that said today schools need to be involved and actually using and modelling good Facebook behaviour — if we’re not doing it, it’s like teaching kids how to swim in the classroom versus in a swimming pool. They are only going to get ordinary learning, they are not going to know how to swim. Parents also need to demonstrate positive use of the technology.

Q: What is your advice for engaging parents on issues of cyber safety?

A: There are lots of good opinions on this. For instance, making sure computers are used in public places, no computers in the bedroom and, if they are, only for a limited period of time. It should be viewed in a similar way that parents set boundaries — the same boundaries that exist offline. Kids are going to places online that parents don’t know about, to online playgrounds you don’t know, and they are going to do this in their room or on their mobile phone. Just as these boundaries exist in the physical world, they should be in the online world.

Schools can make sure parents are reminded about technology on an ongoing basis in a newsletter and online forums. Give the parents more understanding and, if they do know nothing, teach them. Make sure the parents are at least informed and know what the boundaries are and support their boundaries at home.

Additional resources to use include:

The Easy Guide to Socialising Online

Who’s chatting to your kids? 

ThinkUKnow Australia

Cyber Bullying in Australian Schools: The Question of Negligence and Liability

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