Promoting e-safety in the Further Education and Skills sector can be a bit of a tightrope walk – you’re caught between ensuring the wellbeing of your learners and allowing them the freedom of expression and experimentation in online spaces that allow them to learn and develop as individuals.
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The affordances of technology offer so many possibilities both to learners and teachers alike that it can often be difficult to know where to start when addressing a topic like e-safety. It’s perhaps understandable then (although by no means excusable) that the conversation about e-safety in some cases doesn’t even start. “They have had all that at school” and “They already know how to use social media” are just some of the assumptions I’ve heard from teachers over the years.
But how do we know what they know if we don’t ask them?
Introducing a topic like e-safety is not about being a guru on all things tech and social media – we have to dispel that idea straight away. In fact, it’s that very mindset that puts a lot of teachers off and makes them feel that they can’t discuss e-safety with learners, because they perceive the learners to inherently know far more than they do about such things.
Get the basics right and you’re all well and good: It’s about providing an environment where learners can have a full and frank discussion about how they are using online spaces to raise awareness about the benefits and potential drawbacks of navigating those spaces, so learners can make informed choices for themselves.
In my experience, these two sides are equally valid and it’s important for any discussion around e-safety to have that sense of balance. If you stray too far into the potential pitfalls the discussion can become overly negative and an unexpected consequence of this is that learners are scared off from even exploring the technology. Does that help them? Does that make them more savvy users of technology?
One way to ensure that balance in the discussion is maintained is to facilitate activities that introduce both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of navigating online spaces. One activity that I have employed to help with this is to split the learners up into small groups and to give them the following matching exercise. The idea is for the learners to match the appropriate statistic to the right statement. Of course, the statistics themselves have been chosen in advance to try and cover a variety of e-safety issues, but they have also been chosen on the basis that they introduce some of the positive reasons why learners might want to develop online identities, as well as the potential pitfalls.
It’s important to note that the statistics and statements in the activity are intended as a starting point to any discussions that follow. By simply having the learners work in small groups during the activity that will inevitably lead to much discussion between learners on many of the issues included and I’ve also added some further discussion points that the teacher could flag as well to encourage learners to think more deeply about how they naviagate online spaces safely and responsibly.
Of course, this is just one possible activity, but for me the strength of any activity is one that helps learners to share and surface their own concerns. It’s only by doing that that we can ensure any activities to promote e-safety are relevant and tailored to the needs of the learners.