In June 2019 the DfE released the non-statutory guidance for schools, ‘Teaching Online Safety in Schools’. We’ve partnered with e-safety adviser Alan Mackenzie to bring schools and MATs 5 helpful bitesize instalments along with expert insight to make it easier to digest. In this second instalment Alan discusses the 5 important ways that we can encourage children and young people to recognise and assess information or behaviours that may pose a risk online.
The Guidance from the DfE recommends that education providers enable pupils to ‘underpin knowledge and behaviours’ that will help them to navigate the online world safely and confidently across devices, platforms, apps, trends and related threads.
Behaviour, not technology is the key element here. Technology moves at too fast a pace to keep up to date with and blaming technology for the behaviours pupils see is simply a smokescreen. True, technology and service providers have a very important role to play but history suggests that engaging with these big, worldwide companies is as problematic as it is frustrating.
It goes without saying that education is vitally important if children and young people are to be able to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that worldwide interconnectivity brings to all of us, whilst also being able to recognise and critically risk assess information or behaviour that may pose a risk.
Within the Teaching Online Safety guidance, 5 important areas are highlighted:
1. Evaluate what they see online
Critical thinking, asking the question, ‘Why…?” This could be related to a news story, an email, an advert and much more. Why am I seeing this? Why does someone want me to see this? Is it true, factual or opinion? Is it from a real person? How do I find out? Usefully, the Teaching Online Safety guidance document gives examples of questions that students should be critically asking and some of these are great conversation starters or debate topics:
I. Is this website/URL/email fake? How can I tell?
II. What does this cookie do and what information am I sharing?
III. Is this person who they say they are? IV. Why does someone want me to see this?
V. Why does someone want me to send this?
VI. Why would someone want me to believe this?
VII. Why does this person want my personal information?
VIII. What’s behind this post?
IX. Is this too good to be true?
X. Is this fact or opinion?
2. Recognise techniques used for persuasion
Persuasive techniques take many forms and are commonly used for example in advertising, but equally amongst those who would commit harm, e.g. sex offenders, radicalisation etc. Many apps and games use persuasive techniques to keep users within the service longer and keep them coming back over and over, which may have an effect on wellbeing. This goes by different names such as sticky design or captology (computers as persuasive technologies).
3. Understand what acceptable/unacceptable online behaviour looks like
In its annual report, the NSPCC cited bullying behaviour as the most common inappropriate behaviour that children and young people see online. Most people are genuine, respectful, honest and well-behaved, but certain situations can lead to behavioural changes, for example something that is commonly termed ‘hiding behind a screen’. Why do behaviours change or become more exaggerated online? There will be a number of different reasons, but one of the most useful to understand is ‘online disinhibition’, specifically ‘you don’t know me’ and ‘you can’t see me’. Again these are useful conversation starters with students to delve deeper into other topic areas, such as why some people who are normally introvert in the real world may be more extrovert online, or why some people may share much more information online than they would to strangers in the real world. See the useful resources below for a link to online disinhibition.
4. Identify online risks
The term ‘online risks’ is an umbrella name for a huge and growing list. Consider the term ‘real world risks’; you would never be able to write everything down, the same is true online. To simplify, consider the risks using the 3C’s: content, contact and conduct. This can be a useful exercise for students to collaborate on:
- Content – what have I seen that is worrying or inappropriate?
- Contact – have I had contact from somebody (either known or unknown) that gave cause for concern?
- Conduct – have I ever done something myself which may have increased my level of risk? The ‘Teaching Online Safety’ document gives specific examples, such as ‘online reputation’ and ‘risks posed by another person’s online behaviour’. There is one example with which you need to be particularly careful of, this is ‘discussing the ways in which someone may put themselves at risk online’. Although a very important area of discussion for students to have, be very careful as it can come across as victim blaming. For example using a situation where something has gone wrong and then asking questions such as, “What could he/she have done to prevent that?” A child or young person is never to blame, he/she is a victim of age and/or circumstance.
5. Seek support when needed
When talking about online risks, behaviour or persuasion techniques, any lesson with children and young people should include where they can go for help and support. We should always encourage students to talk to parents or to the school, but in some situations they may not wish to do this for a variety of reasons. The particular advice or support would be wholly dependent on the subject matter of the lesson, for example if you were discussing grooming you would highlight CEOP. But there are so many issues and so many different charities and helplines (which is good) so it’s always useful to include Childline who will be able to signpost to specific support and guidance dependent on the concern.
• Children and young people need to be taught to critically evaluate; to understand what they are seeing and why they are seeing it in order to make an informed decision.
• Persuasion techniques come in various forms, e.g. tech companies to get you to use their products, advertisers to get you to purchase their products, offenders to commit an illegal act (such as grooming). A persuasion technique is simply a way to get a person to do something for a specific purpose.
• The term ‘online risks’ covers a vast area of issues, try not to over-complicate things.
• In all lessons be supportive, not judgemental.
1. Captology: https://captology.stanford.edu/
2. NSPCC Annual Report 2019 – Online Abuse: https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/how-safe-are-our-children/
3. Online disinhibition: http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html
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