Learning about cyber safety and ethics.

Earlier this week we looked at proposed legislation in California that would change how social networking websites handle privacy and security — not just for minors online but for all Internet users. Several commenters responded that, when it comes to children online, it should be up to parents, not legislators, to handle these sorts of matters.

But arguably, teachers can also help children learn responsible behavior online. A recent survey undertaken by the National Cyber Security Alliance, Microsoft, and Zogby/463, showed that 91% of teachers, 92% of tech coordinators, and 99% of administrators believed this should be taught. The survey examined administrators, teachers, and technology coordinators at the K-12 level about their thoughts on the cybersafety practices and curriculum in schools. (Full survey results here).

This is the third year that the National Cyber Security Alliance has tested these attitudes, this year asking over 1000 teachers, 200 tech coordinators and 400 administrators a set of questions about online safety.

Despite that agreement, the survey found a huge gulf between perceptions of how well and how often cyber-safety is taught. While 81% of tech coordinators and administrators felt that their schools and districts adequately taught the subject, only 51% of teachers agreed with the statement, “My school/school district does an adequate job of preparing students regarding cyberethics, online safety, and computer security issues.”

Moreover, while approximately 60-70% of administrators and tech coordinators said that teaching cyberethics, cybersecurity, and cybersafety were required, only about 30% of teachers agreed that was the case. Of those three subcategories — cyberethics, cybersecurity, and cybersafety — it’s the latter, cybersafety, that the largest percentage of teachers said was required. But only by 33% of teachers responding to the survey.

The survey also found quite a disparate response among teachers, tech coordinators and administrators when it came to school policies. While 95% of tech coordinators said that their schools or districts required students to sign “acceptable use” policies, only 86% of administrators and 75% of teachers agreed.

A little over half of teachers or administrators said they felt equipped to talk to students about protecting their safety and privacy online and about cyberbullying. Interestingly, a higher percentage said they felt prepared to teach students the basics of cybersecurity, such as the need for back-ups, anti-virus software, and password protection. But when it comes to what was actually taught in the classroom about online ethics and safety, the common response by most teachers was “nothing.” One notable exception: about half of teachers said they’d talked with students about the Internet and plagiarism.

The educators in the survey all expressed interest in more information on these issues and agreed that being able to address cybersafety and cyberethics in the classroom was a high priority for their professional development.

Educators, do you teach cyber-safety or cyber-ethics in your class? Do you believe teachers have a role to play in this kind of education?

  • Dave Mahon

    I teach at the elementary school level and although, I don’t teach cyber-safety (the school system blocks all remotely-possible dangerous sites at school). But I do teach about false advertising, mentioning how it is on the web sites, on TV, etc., etc. Kids at 8 years old (3rd grade) are starting to know the difference between fiction and reality on TV. But the slide of TV into “reality” shows, which are often clearly manipulated in some ways, makes it harder to separate truth from made-up.
    It’s a really important concept to teach. I remember, years ago, hearing this teacher from some big city in Canada (Ottowa, I think) who spoke about tecahing a course to his middle school students about just this thing. It reverberated with me a lot which is why I have tried to insert these ideas into our already over-crowded cirriculum whenever it seems an appropriate moment.

  •  As an administrator at a large public high school, my response is that yes, we do quite a bit of online safety and responsible use instruction. My question is: where are the parents in this conversation? Why aren’t parents effectively monitoring the online behaviors and web use of their minor children? I felt it was my responsibility to teach my son how properly to utilize web resources and how to avoid pitfalls and to behave responsibly online. 

  • Joe

    I’m somewhat amazed at this article.  If the writer has done any research what so ever on the topic, the answer is obvious that many states are indeed teaching and mentoring youth on digital ethics and net safety. States like Virginia where I’m located have mandated by law that internet safety be taught in Virginia’s schools K-12.  There are other states that have done the same.  We have collaborations with many national organizations such as WebWiseKids.or, NetSmartz and Enough.org. 
    I was on the committee that wrote Virginia’s “Guide to internet Safety”.  Our (then) Attorney General Bob McDonnel conducted a task force on Internet Safety for Children.
    All that said, we still need to be vigilant in the classroom and education in general (includiing PTO organizations) to continue to cover the fast moving target of digital ethics.  And that means not just “internet safety”.  It’s a much broader topic.

  • Nick Siewert

    This is, of course, absolutely essential. Not an add on skill but at the core of teaching students how to navigate information in the digital age. Common Sense Media has a very good MS Digital Citizenship program (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators) created in partnership with the Good Work Project at Harvard. And yes, it has a strong parent component. We are using it to good effect in NYC high needs middle schools.

  • Davidblink

    yeah, so where’s the “print this article” link? Did I miss it? 

  •  I think there are 3 components to teaching
    computers.  The first is for communication.  That would include cyber
    safety, cyber security, the difference between a personal computer and a public
    computer, social networking and etiquette, acceptable use. To me, this always came first, even if I was instructed to do mandated software. Teaching cyber safety should begin in second grade. The second is
    for teaching the how’s of using a computer, various programs, how things work,
    how to trouble shoot.  The third is teaching with mobile technology,
    webquests, educational games to improve skills, research and make projects and
    copyright laws..


    The problem with two and three is that schools
    and school districts treat them the same.  To me, they are very different.
     Teachers that are not familiar with how computers work, will tell you
    that the students know more than the adults when it comes to computers and
    mobile technology. This is simply not true.  I remember when I was a
    computer teacher, that a child might say “safari isn’t working or the
    internet is not working” and I would see that their ethernet cord was
    connected, and tell them, “yes it is”.  When you try to teach
    the mechanics of computers, those same teachers will turn around and say that
    their students are “bored” at the lab because learning those basics are not
    fun. We were not playing games. Plus the fact was that 2/3 of the teachers at
    my school were computer illiterate. 
    So they had no idea of what they were talking about, a tough mindset to
    break.  Trust me when I say that
    some of them were proud they didn’t know a thing about computers. The
    principal at my school, who was also computer illiterate thought that all you
    had to do was sit a student at a computer and voila, it was fun and the teacher
    had an easy job.


    She didn’t think technology was important. When
    a computer needed to be fixed, I was able to do easy trouble shooting, but
    beyond the basics of knowing how the computer worked and minor trouble
    shooting, I was stuck because I was not an IT person. She made me feeI inadequate
    because I could not help her. (She basically used her computer as a
    typewriter.  I do not know how to
    set up a system, like a network, but once set up and shown how it works, my
    expertise as a teacher starts.


    The problem with three is that while there
    are so many sites to go to, the district would mandate certain programs that
    they wanted students to go to because they had bought and licensed the
    software.  We did Fast Forward and
    First in Math, and Story Island. 
    All well and good, but after a while the kids would get bored.  The format is the same, the colors are
    the same, and if a kid couldn’t use a computer, discipline problems arose.  In my lab 1/3 of the computers needed
    more trouble shooting, at anyone time, than I could provide, and I had back to
    back classes with no time to set up for the next class.  An example was I would have 1st
    graders who messed up things because they couldn’t read, and then have 5th
    graders who didn’t know anything about troubleshooting.  I takes juggling to get them started
    and fixe their machines.  I would
    have 33 in a class and some of the kids were lumped in with the regular ed


    When del.ici.ous it came out, I started making
    and  tagging websites for the
    different grades I taught. I would pick something out that would enhance their
    skills that they would enjoy. Even some of the k-3 students could work a
    delicious page, and then they became helpers for other students to get on line.
    Differentiating learning became easier. 
    I would sometimes get caught not having the class on Story Island and be
    reprimanded, but I didn’t care. I dislike boring.


    Since the district had data base system that was
    incredibly easy to use, I could easily analyze the students weaknesses, find
    things for them on the internet and voila!  So while I couldn’t fix computers, I could and did teach
    with computers and loved every second of it and so did the students I taught.



  • Mr. Hight

    Teaching cyber-safety and cyber-ethics is imperative and  yes, teacher have a role to play in this kind of education.  ikeepsafe.org is a good website for younger students.  My curriculum has such lessons as understanding copyright infringement (plagiarism); protecting your personal information online; and responsible use of the Internet, to name a few.  Not only do we identify computer parts and teach home row key typing but the students need to learn at an early age how to use the computer as a useful resource and tool – and how to minimize risks in order to avoid destructive or inappropriate content.  Cyber-bullying or harassing online is something that is more and more common now that social network sites like Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter are popular sites.  In fact, I want to write a book and do a study explaining how students are becoming less engaged and focused due to technology.  Students are not able to be in the present… they are becoming more and more disconnected in dialogue conversation and more engaged with the instant chat on their phone.  But I digress…

  • Richbishop

    As a new teacher who is on the boarder between being a digital immigrant and native (age wise at least) I strongly believe cyber-education has a place in the classroom. My students spend so much time on the Internet but often have no real concept of the dangers and possible problems that exist in such an environment.
    In an effort to increase understanding and personal security I’ve created lessons based on popular social websites such as Facebook and Twitter. I find students had a genuine interest in learning about safety and ethics in this context from me.
    I think as teachers becoming tech savvy in at least one form of technology garners the respect of our students – which allows us to connect better with them. We need to use that positive influence to establish good habits as soon as students are consistently accessing the Web.

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