Cybersafety For Schools

Do you remember the opening moments of Hill Street Blues when the staff sergeant would give his briefing and then stop the assembled policemen and women, just as they were about to move off and fight crime. There’d be a dramatic pause and then he’d say:


Given the size and speed of the internet, the law of probability says that there’s no getting around the fact that some form of cyber hacking, phishing, bullying or fraud will affect you and your students. Luckily, cyber safety never disrupted my classes and projects in the five years I ran animation and drama projects at the Biscuit Factory Arts Centre in WA, in which students worked with wifi-enabled Macbooks. Similarly, I had no issues of abuse arise. I like to think that this was for two reasons: firstly, the students were too busy producing their animations and performances and, secondly, the collaborative nature of the projects meant that everyone could see everyone else’s work leading up to its presentation in a prestigious arts festival.

This is not to say that we didn’t have our challenges. Many of the students who attended BFAC were referred to us because they had behavioural problems in traditional classrooms and were developing extremely negative attitudes towards learning, especially in collaboration with others. On the other hand, we also attracted many ‘gifted’ students. Despite the reason for their participation in our drama and animation projects, parents of hyperactive children frequently reported  that, unlike on other days, coming home after the weekly workshop generally meant there was little trouble convincing them of going to sleep!

When is learning not about risk, resilience, surviving and flourishing?

The 2014 Telstra report ADDRESSING THE CYBER SAFETY CHALLENGE: FROM RISK TO RESILIENCE, discussed on the Digital Learning News website, presents a comprehensive account of the collective effort all sectors of society need to work, in order that we may have a level of digital literacy which informs children and young people in their use of mobile devices and the internet in general.  The author, Amanda Third, explains it like this:

Digital literacy guides our decisions – how we connect and how we make sense of the vast volume of information available online. In short, digital literacy enables us to maximize the benefits of being online, while being alert, and responsive, to the inevitable risks of the online world. Because of this, we need to be attentive to the ways that we foster digital literacy across the population, particularly with two key groups: parents and seniors. While cyber safety education in Australia is helping to keep children safe online, evidence shows that, to promote the safety of our kids further, it’s now time to put the focus on the adults in their lives. This is because many adults are not confident enough about their skills to feel like they can help their kids make the best use of technology. By promoting parents’ digital literacy – helping them to understand how and why their children use technology – we can better support parents to guide their children’s online interactions.

An Odd & Strange Adventure

My creation of projects at BFAC represented five years on intensive research and writing on creative projects that fostered high order thinking. At the same time that I was producing work there, I was working with Dr Felicity Haynes at the Graduate School Of Education at UWA on investigating the AWESOME Children’s Festival ‘Creative Challenge’ through an Australian Research Council Industry Linkage Grant. Then after finishing up and closing the BFAC in 2008, I went to London for seven years to further investigate the issues and themes which the ARC research opened up for me regarding creative learning and learning online. So, I’m being upfront with the fact that I have experienced very little of the day to day challenges that cybersafety presents to classroom teaching.

Nonetheless, my ‘out there’ approach may offer some related insights, even if they were formed just through the fact that I was working on creative projects which ‘blended’ performance and new digital tools for creating animations by and with young people.

Learning Resilience and Dealing With Risk…

The tensions and anxieties which the table summarising the risks and benefits as a creative producer of content in education through new digital technologies are very real.  I was shocked recently when I visited the website of a well-known not-for-profit organisation to confirm information on its 2016 youth festival and in one click I was taken to some absolutely foul images of young girls on a soliciting website. At that moment, I didn’t even know what to do… it was an international organisation…. should I call the local police or the Australian Federal Police? All I could think of was the welfare of the organisation which I have supported over many years and the harm to their reputation. I found an after-hours number on their site and an email address for the media department and explained in forensic terms what had just occurred. Luckily, the media email for the company responded immediately and I was satisfied that I had given them all the information I had so that they could deal with the matter, including contacting the police in their own jurisdiction. I had a sick feeling for the rest of the day.  I felt a mixture of outrage and, as a parent, I was shaken that such young girls were subject to such abuse.

This is even more alarming to me as I watch the proficiency of my three-year-old granddaughter search for her favourite show on my iPad.  Her mother, my daughter,  has asked me to take YouTube off as an App.  She has also decided to do more outdoor play with friends who are invited to visit on a regular basis.  We see ourselves as media savvy but, didn’t imagine ourselves having to step up our vigilance of how a a three-year-old used a device which can move her from the  BBC’s animated short film of Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo’s Child to marketing channels that sell movie paraphernalia and sparkling play-doh!

Here’s for doing as much as we can to creatively conquer the effect of the producers of malware, phishing and other practices that seek to intentionally or mindlessly exploit our children and students.