Online life for students grows apace – and as pedagogical technologies continue to grow on campus, students spend a greater percentage of their education time online. It’s up to teaching staff to embed online safety messages into teaching programs to ensure students keep safety at the forefront of their minds at all times.
By building online safety messages into a teaching ethos, students and teachers can benefit. Students are comforted to know that their individual health and well-being are being taken seriously, which goes a long way to building trust and appreciation between student and teacher.
In this article we look at some key points to consider – and to avoid – when embedding online safety messages.
The Reality of Online Safety
In our current climate instructors seem to have an ever expanding job description with more responsibilities heaped on them each semester. As budgets tighten and time schedules squeeze, the day-to-day business of educating is not always the biggest portion of a day’s work.
As a result, certain aspects of a college educator’s role can sometimes slide off the radar as other aspects grow in urgency – and one such responsibility is keeping students safe online.
By the time students begin their college career, it’s easy to assume they have been through all the tutoring around online safety – at school and at home. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander University (Germany) recently conducted a study where results showed that messages about online safety were not always carried into young adulthood for students. Despite a high percentage of the 1,700 test subjects claiming to be aware of online risks, more than half clicked on specific targeted ‘phishing’ emails and messages, often out of sheer curiosity.
Set Boundaries Together
This is an opportunity to talk about self-respect and respect for others. Work together to create boundaries in class to create a safe learning environment and demonstrate how the same values should be an expectation for them when they are online, too.
- As a group, build a list of aims, goals and values that create a safe space where all thoughts and opinions are taken into consideration. Ensure everybody has had a part to play in drawing up a ‘constitution’.
- Have students sign a commitment to being part of the values they’ve helped to create. Giving them ownership means they’ll respect their place in the process more.
- Once they are part of a respectful, safe and tolerant learning environment off-line ask them why they wouldn’t want the same for themselves online? This can lead to meaningful dialogue about what they will and won’t accept and can even lead to the development of an online safety plan that they sign up to.
- Having carefully crafted a dialogue around safety remind students that they can use the safe space as a way to air any concerns or questions around their health and well-being.
Online Safety as a Life Skill
Students expect every portion of a lesson to have a logical place in their learning. They will switch off if there is a sense of being patronized or simply not any of the teacher’s business. By framing the idea of online safety as a ‘life skill’, they are likely to pay more attention.
Remind students that anything shared online now, stays online forever. As companies search for the best quality candidates each year, their selection processes often include in-depth online searches. Ask students to think about their current online activity – would they be comfortable with it being brought up during a first interview for a much desired job in the next few years?
Finances are at Stake
Most students fit an impoverished stereotype at some point in their college career. Remind them that their own personal finances are at risk if they don’t consider online safety important.
- Ask them to list everything they would need to change online if their bank account was hacked – all the sites with a password, bank & membership cards, email providers, shopping site accounts, PayPal, iTunes, Spotify and other subscription memberships and the countless log-in details for social media sites and beyond.
- Once the lists are complete, use them as an exercise to draw a map to show them how intertwined their online world is with their off-line world and how difficult it would be to go through the processes of changing after being hacked.
Once the conversation has opened up around the personal inconveniences – use this as a way to open up a conversation about other aspects of online safety that are important to them.
Universities across the States are focusing on student and staff safety on campus. Use your own institutions safety constitution as a way to encourage dialogue around respect and trust. Often the tendency is to believe that online is a free-for-all in terms of behavior. By concentrating on how important institutions see ‘safety’ offline there is a real opportunity to work out what should and should not be tolerated online and remind students about the ethos of being a ‘good online citizen’.
Something to avoid: Blocking Websites
A block of any websites deemed ‘dangerous’ by teaching staff will only frustrate students. If students are not using their own devices (which they more than likely will be), they will find a way to access the sites they want to – and if they go down the route of accessing information through proxy servers, trouble really could lie ahead, leading to much bigger issues.
By tackling an area of student health and well-being previously considered out with a Higher Education instructor’s remit, a healthier and more rewarding relationship can be developed between student and teacher. It is vital for institutions to enhance relationships of this nature so that each student’s experience at college is rewarding, and means that student satisfaction standards are maintained across the faculties.