Teachers detail digital security issues, strategies in elementary schools – ScienceDaily

A new study by a North Carolina State University researcher reveals the need for consistent digital security education for elementary school students, school staff and parents. The work addresses the concerns raised by teachers about cyberbullying, students accessing inappropriate content online, and other issues.

The study, published in the journal Technological trends, was based on interviews with 10 primary school teachers. Drawing on concerns raised in the study, the researchers developed a digital security summer camp for students and a lesson plan on the subject.

“All kids have gadgets these days, from phones to laptops to desktop computers, and there are many ways to get online,” said study first author Florence Martin, a professor of learning, design and technology at NC State. “Digital security education really makes a difference, but it needs to be continuous and it needs to be strengthened, not just for children, but also for teachers and parents.”

Researchers identified five general areas of digital security concern from teacher interviews: concerns based on teachers’ observations in the classroom, as well as virtually when courses were moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns were related to the content students access online; their conduct online; contact with others online; issues relating to the “contract” with privacy; and problems with home use.

In terms of concerns about the type of content students access online, teachers reported that elementary school students were attempting to access or search for inappropriate content such as pornography or gambling websites.

“I was very surprised – you might think this problem would arise later as these are teachers of elementary school children,” said Martin.

In terms of contact, teachers feared that students would contact strangers and give out personal information without understanding the risks.

Concerns about student conduct or online behavior included cyberbullying and sharing inappropriate information. Examples included students using private messaging or social media features to pick on each other or finding ways to send swear words to other students without the teacher seeing. They also saw that the students did not understand that their online behavior was traceable.

“They think they can say or do anything online, and it will be forgotten,” said Martin. “Online, you leave a footprint. They don’t understand it.”

They also encountered what they called “contract-related” concerns, with students not understanding basic online security, such as the importance of not sharing passwords. Finally, teachers had home-related concerns about students’ online activity, including concerns about lack of routine or monitoring online activity at home and bloody home behavior during the school day.

The researchers also mapped the digital security practices of schools and districts. Examples of response strategies included using firewalls and filters to block certain websites and social media sites and, in some cases, requiring teachers to obtain permission to use those sites in class.

“Even though there are filters and firewalls in place, there are so many new resources popping up every day,” said Martin. “That’s where kids try to access inappropriate content. Firewalls and filters are useful, but it’s hard to block all available websites.”

They also found that some teachers are monitoring chats on network platforms during their classes and are using monitoring programs to see how children interact or if they are distracted. The researchers are planning a follow-up study on monitoring issues.

“A certain level of monitoring is useful – in the case of cyberbullying, you should try to fix it soon,” said Martin. “But ongoing surveillance can be a challenge. If everything a child is doing is tracked, it means there is no privacy. Is there a balance there? This is what we need to seek so that we can support schools in the keep children safe, but not to the extent that we are taking their privacy away. “

And while teachers said schools are providing digital security education, deliberate and routine digital security education is needed for teachers, students and parents, Martin said.

“Although teachers are responsible for children when they are in school, we are seeing behaviors from home entering schools,” said Martin. “Digital safety education is not a one-time thing; it has to be continuous. We need more work on digital safety education for parents.”

The study also found that guidance counselors play an important role in digital security. They are tasked with managing online bullying and are often tasked with providing digital safety education in schools. Martin said he hopes future research can help guide effective solutions to help staff charged with protecting children and schools.

“Usually, guidance counselors are the ones who give these classes on digital citizenship and security, and if there are security issues like cyberbullying, the kids go to the counselor,” said Martin. “But often there are not enough counselors in schools. He is a counselor for so many hundreds of children. It is important that counselors are aware of these problems and strategies to respond to, so that they can protect the children.”

The study, “Teacher and School Concerns and Actions on Elementary School Children Digital Safety,” was published online in Technological trends. Co-authors included Julie Bacak, Drew Polly, Weichao Wang, and Lynn Ahlgrim-Delzell. The project was supported by the National Science Foundation grant no. 2015554.

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