Keeping Students Safe and Focused During Distance Learning
With students learning from home due to COVID-19, teaching digital citizenship and choosing secure online tools are more important now than ever.
High School has always been focused on online safety and privacy. On
the first day of each academic year, we set aside time for teachers
to go through a Digital Citizenship Agreement between the school and
the student. Keeping our students away from inappropriate sites and
cyberbullying is essential. Students need to know that if suspicious
activity occurs on their accounts, school management will
investigate. Students should also understand that, as the Digital
Citizenship Agreement stipulates, they are responsible for what
happens on their device.
agreement highlights the risks of sharing personal information and
email passwords, as well as the prohibition on taking and/or posting
photos or videos of students or staff members without their
permission. Being a Google school also allows us to manage the
students’ privacy. All emails are filtered and suspicious activity
brought to our attention. Since schools closed for the COVID-19
pandemic, we’ve taken some additional steps to make sure our
students are learning in a safe and private online environment.
Teachers and Students Safely
our schools building closed, all our students and staff members are
collaborating in the brackenhighschool
domain, which allows teachers to connect with their students via
Gmail and Google classroom. Some teachers have also created WhatsApp
groups to communicate with students.
have used Zoom to host a few meetings and haven’t experienced any
problems. However, we’ve decided to switch our online meetings to
using Google Meet starting this week, as we wanted to keep our
communication within the Google Platform, as well as safety concerns
over “Zoombombing,” and that the free version of Zoom only allows
40 minutes for a meeting.
Students Focused on Appropriate Content
safety is our priority, another major challenge of online learning is
keeping students engaged. Videos are a big help. Many people are
familiar with YouTube as a source for videos, but the problem is
that, while a YouTube link takes you to the specific video, many
other videos come up below and next to it. These may be connected
somehow to the linked video, but there are no guarantees what will
YouTube has filters, my experience is that very few people actually
know about these, and fewer use them. When I have provided optional
in-service training to teachers on YouTube, the attendance was poor
because teachers assume that they know how to simply insert topics
into the search bar. This is frustrating, and ultimately I’ve found
that a curated platform like Boclips
is our most reliable source for safe, secure, and age-appropriate
the Life Sciences classes I teach, I use short, explanatory videos
from Boclips to introduce new ideas in a visual way that captures
students’ attention. There are no distractions like advertising on
the side, and all the content is educational so the risk of students
stumbling on inappropriate videos is reduced. (In response to the
COVID-19 crisis, Boclips has made its video library free
and parents until the end of June.)
I provide students with links to the video I would like them to
watch, and they’re required to enter a code to access the video.
This way, I know the students are only watching the video I’ve
for More Online Learning in the Fall
our experiences going online during lockdown, our management decided
to move more classes online. Once we are back at school we will hold
a brainstorming meeting where we will evaluate the triumphs and
challenges of our online learning experience. Concerns
around student privacy may require changes to the Digital Citizenship
Agreement. The updated Digital Citizenship Agreement will be
taken to the parents on our School Governing Body for approval.
Students will be made aware of the changes and challenges.
the beginning of the academic year, we have and will continue to
allocate time to training staff on various online issues, including
safety and security. Since our government is planning a phased-in
return to school, we will use some of this time to do the training.
If the staff are able to use the various platforms and apps more
proficiently, they will be able to better help their students, as
we eagerly move to more online learning, it’s important to keep
things clear and simple. It’s also important that the team driving
online learning at the school is enthusiastic, supportive, and
up-to-date. Nothing is more inspiring than enthusiasm.
Woolway is the deputy principal at Bracken High School in Alberton,
South Africa. She also teaches grade 11 and 12 Life Sciences. She can
be reached at [email protected]