Online safety in a remote or blended education context

Following on from our recent online safety blog post and Safer Internet Day 2021, here’s a quick consideration of some of the themes of our recent conference (which covered digital literacy and critical thinking, as well as safeguarding and online safety) through the lens of the six principles (shown in image above) that we are highlighting in BlendEd. BlendEd is a programme of free professional development and resources for teachers and school leaders to support blended learning pedagogy.

Dialogue

The importance of a trusted adult that a child or young person can turn to, who can address concerns, reassure and empower them, has long been recognised as a key part of safeguarding. Ideally we would want there to be several such trusted people – and now with Ollee we have the addition of a digital friend, which may enhance or ease the broaching of conversations between a young person or child and an adult. (Read our ‘dialogue’ blog post)

Teacher presence

In a remote or blended context it is vital to maintain that relationship a teacher seeks to have as a trusted adult who is there to guide and help, as well as to teach. This is the case even when the opportunity for direct individual communication may be less frequent – particularly for a child or young person who may be in challenging circumstances. (Read our ‘teacher presence’ blog post)

Engagement with peers

There needs to be safe space opportunities for children and young people to engage with each other, share concerns and hear from each other strategies for self regulation and digital resilience. With careful consideration for the appropriate place for anonymity, for example, there are various digital tools and platforms that a teacher can use as a counterpart to similar opportunities that might happen in person in school, for example circle time, carefully prepared student digital leaders or online safety peer mentors or ambassadors.  Such peer mentors need to know when it’s appropriate to pass something on to an adult to deal with or help them deal with.

Community of inquiry

Respecting the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of others is a key aspect of being part of a community of inquiry, as well as being able to engage in polite and thoughtful debate or dialogue. Reminding students about behaviour expectations when online and off (and the principles behind these expectations) may help them to know how to deal with new situations that may arise, and to be confident in assessing what they can trust – whether it is a source of information encountered online or through social media, a communication from someone they suspect may not be who they say they are or in understanding the difference between opinion and fact. Listening to other viewpoints may also help young people (and adults) realise that there are sometimes different ways to respond in difficult or challenging circumstances and that there is not always a simple correct answer. Being able to do this in a safe and supportive way may lead to increased confidence and digital resilience.

Belonging

Knowing that you are part of a community, such as a group of friends/peers within a class or year group is a way to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. If in a blended or remote context teachers are able to build in safe times and spaces for students to have more informal conversations within the school day (or even before it, as one school is doing) then social interactions and engagement within lessons may be influenced positively. Many will be able to think of analogous opportunities that adults may seize, whether scheduled or unscheduled during online events or meetings; other channels such as chat or collaborative documents could be used similarly. (Read our ‘belonging’ blog post)

Remote learning design

The phrase ‘safe by design’ has been around for some time. As tools and platforms continue to evolve, new opportunities for blended and remote learning can be presented, but new risks may also come into play. Often these can be minimised through careful attention to detail by the teacher designing a sequence of learning activities, pre-empted by regular reminders about safe and appropriate behaviour, and by having in place clear procedures for dealing with things if they go wrong, that everyone whether student or teacher or other member of staff is familiar with, and that families understand too. In an online element with teachers and students not in the usual carefully maintained physical classroom environment, instead perhaps, in their own homes, additional considerations can come in to play, and thoughtful design will take these into account, whether it’s around concerns over privacy for family members, suitability of working space and background when on camera or robustness of settings and security in an online meeting space and who can gain access, as well as what’s subsequently shared or stored. It’s a real challenge for any teacher to keep on top of all these aspects and details so shared responsibility for digital safeguarding and reminding of good practice can help with everyone recognising the need to be vigilant. (Read our ‘learning design’ blog post)

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