Keeping K-12 Students Safe When Using EdTech

While technology is certainly a necessary – and beneficial – tool in educating 21st century students, it also comes with its own inherent set of dangers and risks.  Schools need to work harder than ever at keeping their students safe.  Now, not only must they contend with physical threats, but they must also work to keep cyber threats at bay as well.  Furthermore, students may need to be protected from themselves.  Schools can work to prevent cyber bullying or restrict access to some technological features that put kids at risk for jeopardizing their futures through misappropriation of technology resources.  Here are five key elements to promoting safe use of technology in K-12 schools:

  1. Restricting Access

Obviously, schools want to be able to use technology to teach students the best ways to navigate the seemingly endless supply of information available on the web.  What sources are reliable?  Which are trustworthy?  But the fact of the matter is, students in elementary, middle, and even high school cannot necessarily be trusted with unlimited, unrestricted information.  Schools can use programs like Cyber Patrol or Net Nanny to restrict their students’ access to certain websites or types of websites. These websites work on either a school-by-school basis or a network-wide basis and can provide important protections from students.  They also can protect teachers by encouraging students not to use their technology for off-task activities.  Schools and districts can restrict access to chat boards, gaming sites, and movie and video sites.

  1. Controlling App Availability in 1-to-1 Initiatives

When schools provide technology to their students through 1-to-1 initiatives, they also have the opportunity to control the access to the apps on mobile devices.  Districts that rent or purchase tablets, for instance, can eliminate individual app stores on the students’ devices and push out only the apps that will be used for the students’ educational benefit.  Coupled with restricting access to the internet, controlling the app store keeps students on task and prevents them from stumbling onto websites that could be detrimental, inappropriate, or unsafe.

  1. Educating Students on the Consequences

Schools shouldn’t simply make and enforce rules; they should also educate students on the consequences of inappropriate technology use so that they can begin to make wise decisions on their own.  Bringing in guest speakers to talk about the dangers of cyber bullying and cyber predators helps students understand the real-world consequences of misusing technology.  Communities often have programs through the local police department or through the district attorney’s office through which law enforcement officials come and share their experiences and stories dealing with cyber crimes.

  1. Using Spyware to Watch Over Students

There are many computer programs, such as Vision, that give teachers the ability to watch what the students are doing in a computer lab in real time.  Usually, these programs require all the computers to be connected to the same network or the same closed circuit, and the teacher can view all the computers at once, or toggle between them.  This is good because it keeps the students on task, but it also allows the teachers to provide on-the-spot one-on-one guidance to the students as they do their work.

  1. Having an Acceptable Use Policy

The most important thing a school or district can have alongside its technology is an acceptable use policy.  Acceptable use policies should be clear, consistent, and explicit.  They should outline what is expected of students and what is strictly prohibited, with specific examples.  They should also clearly outline what the consequences of violating the policy will be.  Most acceptable use policies are formulated by school boards, with input from teachers and administrators, and are an official part of the district handbook.  Acceptable use policies should be reviewed with both students and their parents; many schools require a parent and student signature on the acceptable use policies.

Safety is paramount in any educational setting.  Students learn best when they feel safe and protected.  Having an acceptable use policy and procedures in place for keeping students on track and out of digital harm’s way is extremely important.  Watching over the students through educational monitoring systems, restricting access to prohibited sites and apps, and educating students and parents will keep the students safe and will make the technology as useful and educational as possible!

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