Nina MK, Ph.D.
Online safety is not one but rather several important topics. Let us look at them.
• Teacher safety. I believe we should start with ourselves. How do we find bona fide project partners and legitimate web publication sites? I was fortunate to begin back in 1997, when it was all relatively new in education. Surfing the web in search of teacher organizations, I found IEARN, the abbreviation stands for International Education and Resource Network. I subscribed to the monthly eNews, sent emails to the New York office, and contacted teachers who were listed as project coordinators. Later on, I began to take part in the annual international conferences, which are usually held in July; each year, a different country acts as host. It is a great way to meet teachers and students from all over the world, and to establish new contacts. One can also exchange methodological materials, send in one’s news, and post announcements on Teacher Forums. EUN, the European School Network, is a similar organization which also provides wonderful opportunities for information sharing and communication.
• I believe that before we embark on any kind of online work with children, we should inform their parents and learn more about their views. Surprisingly, even today not every parent would use the internet in their daily life; ICT in Education may come as a complete surprise. Considering that the National Curriculum does not exactly specify the use of ICT in the classroom or the number of lessons which can be conducted with the new technology, we all face quite a number of methodological challenges.
• Primary school pupils may have to be taught the use of the computer prior to going online. We should ask their parents if they warn their offspring at home about talking to strangers. Then we have to explain the concept of online safety to the pupils, and repeat the rules each time we are online with them. Understanding that a stranger in virtual reality may turn out to be even more dangerous than a real life one may take a bit of drilling in. If you Google “kids safety online”, you will find a lot of helpful sites.
• We did quite a number of international projects with primary school pupils. First, I would find a partner in another country, or they will contact me. Children would begin by writing short emails, exchanging photos of themselves, asking questions. The important detail is, all the correspondence is conducted only via the teachers’ emails, thus ensuring that all the data remain within our own safe circle. What do the children write about? In one case, we suggested the usual list of topics: Myself, My Family, My Town, My Pet. Pupils came up with their own themes. Ten-year-olds, for instance, sent each other their mathematical problems, to compare the school curriculum and the amount of homework. An African class asked us what “the white stuff” on the ground in Siberia was, since they had never seen snow. The next question was, “Is it allowed to step on it?”
• Teenagers are quite different. First of all, they know (or think they know) a lot more about ICT than we teachers do. Secondly, they try to act like adults, the “know-it-alls”. Many a time I would get a supercilious smile and/or a dismissive shrug when talking about online safety. Again, a tactful inquiry, a meeting with the parents may be in order. Many parents tell us that they have no idea what their adolescents do online. Warn both the parents and the children we must, then. If the pupils write an essay or make a presentation, we check not only their grammar, but also all the contact information. No personal data should be included. It is not a guarantee that they will not post whatever they wish from home. But when it is part of the school work, we should be sure that anybody who wishes to contact a pupil can only do it via the school.
• When I conduct a seminar or deliver a lecture for teachers today, I give them a list of safe sites where one can easily post anything, like . I also teach them how to create their own sites, which can be a good platform for any children’s work they wish to post online.