By Nancy Gropper, Merle Froschl, and Barbara Sprung, authors, Cybersafe Young Children
In recent months, schools across the United States and around the world have closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online education has become pervasive as a way of ensuring that children continue their education while confined to their homes.
If they did not do so before this pandemic, teachers have quickly learned the ins and outs of online platform usage in order to provide distance learning to their students. And with families immersed in social isolation and many parents working at home, it is certain that children are also spending a lot more time online after their virtual school day is over.
This immersion in the virtual world puts children at greater cyber risk, and teachers have an invaluable role to play in fostering safe use of the Internet. While we recognize the heavy demands teachers already face during this health crisis, this is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed.
Cybersafety involves the safe and responsible use of information and communication technologies. Research and intervention programs related to cybersafety have for the most part focused on students in the upper elementary, middle and high school grades. But in this climate of social isolation, it is clear that younger children are also spending more time on line, not just for school work but to pass the long hours at home. They should not be overlooked in efforts to foster a cybersafe environment.
Here are some suggestions on how to address cybersafety with students, regardless of grade:
- Remind students about classroom rules regarding respecting others, already established early in the school year. Discuss how these apply in the virtual classroom and in extracurricular online social activities.
- Ensure that children’s privacy is protected when they are in the virtual classroom. (Different platforms offer different ways to protect privacy and it is up to the teacher to use features that prevent anyone other their students from entering the virtual classrooms.)
- Spend time helping children understand how to use the school’s platform before beginning any lessons.
- Introduce or remind students of the importance of password protection. For example, the password used to get into their online classroom should not be shared with others or used for other purposes.
- Consider the meaning of the work “permanence” as it applies online and how posting photos and messages are accessible and remain in cyberspace indefinitely.
- Raise the issue of teasing and bullying and what it means to be a bystander to such incidents in the real world; discuss how the issue applies online.
In early childhood classrooms, children may need concrete experiences to help them understand these concepts, and there are existing resources that teachers can turn to for activities already designed to provide such experiences. A few are listed below.
Finally, teachers should let parents know how the issue of cybersafety is being addressed in the virtual classroom, acknowledging that parents may have their own concerns about cybersafety but are too overwhelmed to deal with it themselves.
Resources For Teachers to Address Cybersafety
Sprung, B., Froschl, M., & Gropper, N. (2020). Cybersafe Young Children. NY: Teachers College Press.
Featured image by April Bryant on Pixabay