I have written about it before (I am sure) but here is my latest think on internet safety and security in schools. ACER, you could have had the whole lot if you wanted it. Instead I give it to the world (well, that tiny fraction of the world who will read my blog anyway).
Filtering software gives a false sense of security to school staff, leading to teachers believing they have no role to play in ensuring students are appropriate in their net use. Additionally, legitimate sites are often caught up in the filtering net (ie, a filter which blocks facebook can also block cyber safety sites which reference facebook or newspapers who use a facebook plugin to manage comments). Likewise, the common ban on youtube prevents teachers using a myriad of relevant content and leads to situations where tech-savvy teachers are bypassing set terms of service and copyright restrictions in order to be able to access the most useful resources for their classes.
Cyber bullying is also treated in an disjointed manner as if it is somehow disconnected from bullying in the schoolyard. Responses are also driven by paranoia rather than in a rational, considered way. As such social networks are banned meaning that responsible use can be neither taught nor modelled. A ban on facebook due to cyberbullying is like digging up the football field due to a lunch time fight, yet too often this overreaction is not questioned. Additionally, some schools seem to be taking on an online policing role and assuming responsibility for things which happen out of school hours. This sort of thing oversteps the mark in terms of a schools duty of care and of their sphere of influence. In the same way that a school is not responsible for a fight on a football field on a Saturday morning, nor should they be accepting any responsibility for a Skype chat between 2 students at 7pm on their own computers. While there may be a role in ensuring these students are able to deal with each other the following school day, this should not be by way of playing web detective.
Likewise, bans that exist in some jurisdictions, prohibiting facebook contact between students and teachers, only serve to prevent teachers using new media as a teaching and learning tool. Why this should be prohibited but contact by email (or other social media) is not only permissible but often encouraged is bizarre. Teachers should certainly be aware of their own digital footprint and what information students can find out about them but a blanket ban prevents teachers demonstrating good online citizenship to their classes.
The paranoid manner stranger danger online is spoken about, leads to unwarranted fear amongst some children. A sane view of the facts would demonstrate that (as has always been the case) it is not strangers that our children need to fear. Rather, most abuse is suffered at the hands of those who they know and who should be looking after them.
Any discussion with students on the dangers of abuse, bullying or stalking should not separate the digital world from the rest of the world and act like there is not a solid connection between the two. However, too often this is the way these issues are managed. One cannot be raped nor murdered on facebook. If a student accepts an invitation to meet someone they have met online, this is not a cyber issue it is a real world issue. In Australia this has happened (to the best of my knowledge) once and that did not involve facebook, myspace or any popular platform but on a chat room for people who believe they are vampires. With this in mind the paranoid push to cybersafety is barking up the wrong tree. We would be better focusing our attention on mundane cyber issues such as password security and the potential future damage drunken facebook photos could have on your career (if you don’t learn how to use the privacy controls).