Digital technology: Safe and responsible use in schools
This guide provides principals and teachers with the information to act confidently and in the best interests of students with regard to digital technology.
Prevention is better than response
The characteristics of digital technology make it more important than ever for schools to work with their communities to prevent the likelihood of incidents occurring in the first place. Schools are encouraged to prioritise prevention activities and to make explicit links between these and their incident response plans. For example, prevention strategies aimed at understanding and ‘breaking down’ the school community’s ‘digital bystander’ culture can also assist in the response to an incident.
Involving students, parents and whānau in meaningful discussions about the role of digital technology at school and beyond can help to prevent incidents occurring and reduce their impact when they do.
Balancing protective and promotional strategies
The key to effective prevention is to support the development of safe and responsible online behaviours. A deliberate, planned approach that balances protective approaches, such as technical mediation of student online access, with strategies that promote safe, responsible and pro-social behaviours is required. There are no quick fixes. A prevention strategy is ideally composed of a balance of activities that are:
- promotional: resources and interventions that lead directly to healthy development; and
- protective: when risk is mitigated or buffered by protection, support or intervention.10
Guiding young people's learning in the digital world
NetSafe’s ‘Learn, Guide, Protect’ model provides schools with a framework for structuring their prevention strategies around. It has 3 components:
- Learn: Students develop the competencies and values to keep themselves and others safe online. These are part of the broader concept of ‘digital citizenship’.
- Guide: The programmes, practice and resources put in place to support student learning and develop a culture of positive digital technology at school and in the wider community. For example, integrating online safety into the school curriculum, developing teacher and leadership capability, strengthening relationships with family and whānau and engaging students in planning and delivery.
- Protect: Technical methods to restrict or monitor online access and school developed policies that underpin a safe and secure digital learning environment. For example, incident response plan and reporting channels, school policies and technical restrictions or monitoring of online access.
Active and ongoing risk management approaches
Effective approaches to implementing safe and responsible educational use of technology are underpinned by ongoing risk management processes.
An effective strategy could include initiatives such as:
- Implementing ongoing procedures for how digital technology is used at school. For example, by using Acceptable Use agreements and consent forms as living documents that are revisited during the school year.
- Developing a clear incident response plan for staff to follow that makes explicit links to prevention activities.
- Introducing a ‘online safety or digital citizenship’ theme across all school policies, processes and practices.
- Implementing processes to ensure that these policies are consistently applied.
- Developing communication channels that involve students, parents and whānau in discussions and decisions around online safety and digital citizenship. For example:
- implementing an online safety or digital citizenship committee
- creating a programme of training for staff, students and the community training to build whole school digital capability, or
- creating opportunities for students to share their understanding of digital technology and challenges with adults and their peers.
Controlling student use of digital technology
Young people are accessing the internet with increasing frequency through a range of connection options. In addition to a school’s network, students can get online via:
- Cellular networks, e.g. a mobile data plan that gives access using a smartphone.
- Community Wi-Fi, e.g. free or paid access to Wi-Fi using a laptop, tablet or other handheld device in a public space such as a café or library.
- Home broadband, e.g. via multiple devices that include smart TVs and games consoles.
The range of available internet access points means that young people can potentially go online anywhere or at anytime using connections that may not be controlled by the school. This is just one way in which students can bypass technical protections designed to restrict or monitor their online access at school.
Effective prevention strategies emphasise approaches that actively involve discussing with students how they use digital technology, and more specifically, the challenges they experience online and how they can keep safe.
Involving the school community
It is recommended that schools actively engage with students, parents, family and whānau about the incident response plan, and seek their involvement in supporting the school’s digital policies and procedures.
It is recommended that schools actively engage with their communities to help to:
- create the idea that being safe and responsible online is a shared concern
- support students transition between home and school digital technology use
- reflect socio-cultural factors in the use of digital technology for teaching and learning
- develop an understanding of how young people use the internet and the online challenges they experience
- develop a positive culture of internet use where challenges are understood to exist and where mistakes are part of the learning process.
A starting point for developing a shared solution is to discuss how the school and its community envisage digital technology being used in the classroom and beyond.