In the current era of digital education, online learning activities are becoming more common in classrooms. Regardless of whether you embrace online learning tools or prefer to minimize their use, a fundamental concern persists; students need to acquire the skills to navigate digital platforms with both safety and efficiency. Grasping the fundamental principles of online privacy, security, and responsible online conduct is vital, as these abilities collectively foster a positive and enriching online learning experience for students. The Australian Curriculum acknowledges how important digital literacy is through its inclusion of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) General Capability.
ICT capability entails more than the use of digital tools; it encompasses a holistic understanding of how to leverage these technologies effectively and wisely. In tandem with their technological competence, students must cultivate a strong awareness of responsible digital conduct. This includes minimising risks to themselves and others within the digital sphere. With all these different aspects to consider, you wouldn’t be alone in wondering where to begin. Let’s have a look at some simple tips for teaching ICT capability in your classroom.
Start with the basics
Begin by explaining fundamental concepts such as what the internet is, how websites work, and the difference between browsers and search engines. Ensure students understand basic terminology like URLs, hyperlinks, and domains. While it may be tempting as the teacher to power through digital demonstrations, showing students what buttons to click and when to click them, it is more valuable to future understanding if students know what the buttons are and why they are clicking on them. That way they can apply this understanding to different situations in the future and become more independent as they use their digital skills. This does take time, but by making the effort to build a strong foundation earlier on, it will save time and make more advanced concepts easier to grasp in the future.
Teach critical evaluation of online information
Teach students how to critically evaluate online information for credibility, reliability, and bias. The internet is flooded with information that is available to our students instantaneously, but as we know, not all of it is accurate or reliable. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of misinformation, fake news, and biased content, making it difficult for students to discern between what is credible and what is not. Teaching critical evaluation helps students recognise the difference between credible information and false or misleading content, enabling them to make informed decisions and avoid being misled. Having this skill will also provide a layer of protection against online scams, phishing attempts, and hoaxes, as students will be less likely to fall victim to these schemes. Discuss as a class the importance of verifying sources, checking for bias, and recognizing misinformation and fake news. Encourage students to cross-reference information from multiple sources before considering it reliable. You could also have a bit of fun with your students by watching one of these YouTube videos that demonstrate the way false and misleading information can be presented in a very credible way.
Privacy and security awareness
Educate students about the importance of online privacy and security. We wouldn’t send children out into the community without teaching them about stranger danger and how to keep themselves safe. The same principle applies to using the internet. Students require opportunities to develop the skills and awareness they need to navigate the digital landscape effectively and responsibly. They also need to understand the importance of creating strong passwords, recognize phishing attempts, and using two-factor authentication where possible. A worthwhile activity to do with your students is to look at websites that tell you the most common passwords and how long it takes hackers to crack them. Most students are surprised that their very original ‘qwerty’ password is also used by over 67000 people (in Australia alone) and takes less than 1 second to crack!
Note- v9 of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies introduces privacy and security content descriptors across all year levels Foundation-Year 10. This highlights the importance of explicitly teaching students these skills.
Teach students how to unsubscribe
Many students (and people in general) don’t understand that by providing personal information such as their name and email address to a website, that they are essentially signing an invisible contract allowing the website to use that personal information. One valuable practice that students should adopt is refraining from signing up to anything online, unless it is essential. When students use their email addresses to register for complimentary accounts or subscribe to newsletters, they unwittingly grant permission to receive correspondence and advertisements not just from the originating site, but frequently from affiliated sites as well. Consequently, their email address is added to automated contact lists, resulting in the regular sending of communications that often surpasses the intentions of the subscriber. This can be frustrating for students when they start to receive an influx of emails cluttering their inbox, especially when they don’t understand why they are receiving them. This frustration can be avoided when students understand how to unsubscribe from unwanted emails. Most newsletters include an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of their emails or there are plenty of YouTube videos that step out the unsubscribe process.
One important lesson for students to grasp is that even though emails might be automated, the recipient on the receiving end of return emails is a genuine individual. It’s essential to maintain the same level of courtesy and respect when sending emails as they would in a face-to-face interaction. Treating email communication with professionalism and empathy contributes to building positive relationships in the digital realm and fosters clear and meaningful exchanges.
Practicing netiquette – kindness online
The virtual world might seem detached from reality, but the consequences of our actions online can reverberate beyond the screen. Students need to understand that their online presence contributes to their digital identity. What we share, comment on, or post can have lasting impacts on our reputations, relationships, and even future opportunities. We need to teach students how to present themselves positively and thoughtfully online. Emphasise that actions in the digital world can have real-world consequences and encourage students to think about the long-term effects of their online behaviours and what effect they might have on their reputation and relationships. Address the importance of treating others with respect and kindness online, just as they would in person. Discuss the negative impact of cyberbullying and help students understand the significance of digital etiquette and responsible communication. Our screens may separate us physically, but they shouldn’t deter us from showing genuine empathy and consideration. Behind each profile lies a person with feelings, experiences, and aspirations. Whether we’re navigating social media platforms or participating in online communities, our words and actions can spread positivity like ripples in a pond. In an interconnected world, where every keystroke has the potential to impact lives, let’s choose to leave a trail of kindness. It’s crucial to think before we click, pause before we post, and reflect on how our digital choices shape our identity in the eyes of the world.
The eSafety Commissioner website has loads of online safety resources for teachers, parents, and students. Including classroom resources for every Year level such as posters, activity ideas, videos and lesson plans mapped to the Australian Curriculum.
Fostering a Collaborative Approach
Teachers undoubtedly hold a pivotal role in guiding students toward safe and responsible online navigation. However, this responsibility doesn’t rest solely on teachers’ shoulders. Ultimately, parents bear the primary responsibility for imparting these crucial skills to their children. To foster a collaborative approach, consider sharing a link to the eSafety Commissioner website with parents and caregivers. This resource can empower them to better understand the measures they can take to aid their children in navigating the digital realm safely and responsibly. By forging this partnership between educators and parents, we create a unified front in equipping young minds with the tools to flourish online while at the same time safeguarding their well-being.