The Key to A Successful Online Safety Policy

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70.3% of students we surveyed did not know what web filter their school was using, if at all.  ALL of the students we interviewed were unaware as to what sites were prohibited on their school’s network.  Teachers themselves are often surprised and irritated by blocks to YouTube clips planned for class lecture.  Both teachers and students feel that they waste time trying to navigate their school’s web filter.  The solution is simple: greater transparency.

Transparency may seem counterintuitive; isn’t the whole point of web filtering to screen content?  Well, teaching the school community about their web filtering system will optimize internet safety features and help students/teachers maximize web resources.  Students seek knowledge of the categories of websites that are blocked, which they feel would preempt incidents of being surprised upon being served a blocked page.  In fact, majority of students understand the rationale and support the concept behind web filters and safety measures that schools have put into place.

By the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools are required to 1) employ technology protection measures and 2) educate students on appropriate online behavior.  The latter should:

In addition, IT Admins should notify teachers of protocol for whitelisting sites.  Each process is different depending on the specific web filter.  Most school web filters require approval from the IT Admin, others allow teachers to temporarily whitelist a website using Google Apps for Education.

This simple tip should help schools safely integrate technology into the classroom!  For more information on creating a CIPA-compliant Internet Safety Policy, check this out!

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Safe Image Search Resources for Students

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The rise of edtech and 1:1 devices affords teachers to encourage online research.  Recent Pew Research Center data suggests that the very nature of research has drastically changed: students quickly find just enough information to satisfy research assignments via big name search engines and stop there.  Transfer a few sentences and an image onto a Prezi slide and voila!  According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study, many teachers “see the combination of text and images on the internet ‘bringing to life’ the subjects their students are interested in, in ways that prior generations did not experience”.  They consider image access a wonderful asset of the internet.  Explicative images accommodate visual learners and captivate students.  

Google Safe Image Search is a great place to start research.  However, the internet is a forum for public exchange of information and Google Image results can be inappropriate or irrelevant for student use, not to mention biased.  Students may stumble upon unsavory content more often than not.   Similar can be said for Yahoo and Bing image searches.  Instead, have students use sites and databases designed for educational purposes, like the Creative Commons Safe Image Filter, to find the most credible and appropriate results.


Check out these sites to get the best images for research assignments:

Pics4Learning is a safe, free image library and the largest education image database on the web.  They supply school-friendly friendly photos which cover everything from geography to art, olympics to astronomy, and much more.  Searches for historical content are often times redirected to accredited archives; for example, a search for “Civil War” photos redirects to the Library of Congress Civil War Collection.  They also have lesson plans for teachers, equipped with matching images.


US Geological Survey (USGS)

This Federal agency includes a branch devoted to education which provides images, videos, labs, and online lectures on their website to educate youth about natural phenomena.  Resources are separated into three categories: “Grades K-6”, “Grades 7-12”, and “Undergraduate”.  Biology?  Geography?  Geology?  This is an extensive source for all things science. 


Big Picture Education

Big Picture is a biannual publication known for its coverage of biology.  However, you can use this site to find photographs, flowcharts, and diagrams in a wide range of topics for all ages.  When searching for “drugs”, Big Picture Education provides images for the willow bark, the origin of aspirin.  Like the previous two websites, also offers more than helpful image search results.  Their interface is user-friendly and useful for narrowing down results.

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Photos for Class

Photos for Class guarantees age appropriate images, automatic citation, and Creative Commons (photos licensed for legal, public use).  Creative Commons kills two birds with one stone by ensuring legality, which in turn eliminates impropriety.  And they have a sense of humor: a search for “sex” results in a redirect to photos for “adorable dogs”.  Photos for Class sources from Flickr for stunning, high quality and well composed photos that are often editorial worthy!

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6 Pillars to Successfully Integrate Technology In Your 1:1 Classroom

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Inspired By Gary Spracklen of Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy (IPACA), United Kingdom

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a study on the correlation between test performance and technology usage in the classroom.  In the last quarter of 2015, they released their findings in “Students Computers and Learning: Making the Connection”.  In summary, their results suggested “no noticeable improvement” in standardized test scores (PISA) for reading, mathematics, or science in countries that heavily invested in classroom technology; thus, they do not believe expanding access to high-tech devices (1:1 Chromebook programs) will abate falling test scores.  

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at OECD, warns that this analysis “should not be used as an ‘excuse’ not to use technology, but as a spur to finding a more effective approach”.  Gary Spracklen and his colleagues at IPACA stand by the effectivity of technology in learning and in response have created the Educational Digital Maturity Index (EDMI) –a 6-prong guide to achieve a great technologically-integrated learning environment.


Here are the six domains for success, each accompanied by a tip to aid you in applying each to your own classroom:

1. Digitally Mature Leaders  

Ask questions that assess how a leader integrates and dictates technology into his/her projects and to those he/she leads.

According to Forbes, many business leaders are “getting more involved in technology decisions than ever before”.  Business and technology have become truly complementary: Forbes gives the example of engine manufacturers relying on software to push forward production.  The same relationship can be envisioned for tech in the classroom, as an enhancement to traditional teaching methods – an interactive resource that broadens the mind, an unlimited wealth of information.

2. Digitally Mature Teachers

Address the ability of the teacher to instruct his/her students using technology.

The rise of technology was rapid, but teachers can gradually incorporate technology into lesson plans by using online news articles as a topic of discussion or showing videos to better illustrate a concept just learned in class.  For a more exhaustive list of ideas, check out “Integrating Technology in the Classroom: It Takes More Than Just Having Computers” by Education World or Scholastic’s “Teach With Technology” page.  There are a wide variety of resources available including Youtube for Schools and Google for Education.

3. Digitally Mature Students

Observe how your students interact with technology and make sure they know how to properly use their devices.

Resist the generalization that children are masters of technology.  Instead, provide a foundation for your students by teaching them the best technology practices and online safety measures.  This includes providing guidelines for how to advantageously conduct research on the web; students have to evaluate search results and sort for reliability, validity, and relevance.  Condition students to be their own best filter!  This in time can be more effective than school internet filters or even safe search.

Also remind students of what it means to be a good digital citizen and clarify proper online behavioral conduct.  Being a good digital citizen not only improves the user’s experience but also foils the growing trend of cyberbullying.

4. Digitally Relevant Curriculum

Examine lesson plans to ensure appropriate and effective technology use.

Technology is helpful, but not necessary in every facet of education – make it sure it enhances your lesson plan, and does not merely serve as a distraction or time filler.  Many established organizations such as Scholastic, BrainPop, PBS Kids, National Geographic Kids publish educational material online for classroom use.  OER Commons provides a database of free learning materials commonly used by teachers nationwide.  In addition, taking polls or mini quizzes using mobile devices before or after a lesson is a good way to assess student knowledge and retention rates.  

5. Robust and Well Designed Infrastructure

Appraise your school’s capabilities, questioning whether the framework will be enough to support the tech innovations.

Not all schools are built equally, but the coming years will see the rise of “digital classrooms” according to EdTech.  Classroom make up hasn’t changed drastically in the last 50 years, but rapid growth is afoot.  In order to be equipped for the revolution, digitally mature leaders are already planning and making technical adjustments to ease the transition.  Schools can upgrade their Wi-Fi, double device connections per student; automate network access; and reinforce their online security systems.  

6. An Understanding of How Classrooms, Buildings, and Campuses Support the Use of Technology

Notice the existing classroom culture, consider how the introduction of technology will interact with already established device policies.

This parallels robust and well designed infrastructure – make sure learning spaces are able to handle the introduction of mobile devices.  On a non-technical note, be sure to establish rules for device usage just like you have classroom policies that are age-appropriate.  Many school systems – especially those who allow students to bring their own device (BYOD) – create a contract and have consequences based on a 3-offense system that covers device loss, Appropriate Use Policy (AUP), cyberbullying, etc.  Check out this BYOD guide that a Washington Public School system provides its teachers for device management in the classroom.  


See Mr. Spracklen’s original post for a list of questions that will help you to evaluate your classroom in relation to the six domains.  


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