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Creating a safe environment for online learning

Teachers in all fields saw their lives turned upside down with the arrival of COVID-19, with most having to resort to remote learning. While the virus is becoming contained, many institutions continue to use online learning for students who attend schools that are still closed and those in rural communities that live far away from a physical location. Since our country is a melting pot of cultures, it is more important than ever that English teachers continue their work so we can all communicate freely.

While remote learning technologies are great, there are dangers associated with online learning, including cases of cyberbullying and criminals that use the information they find online to commit identity theft. As an educator, it is important to do what you can to keep students safe at school and educate parents about precautions at home. Here are some common threats and tips.

Set requirements

Teachers need to be aware of what they and their students are posting online. From an email address to a social security number, just about any piece of personal information can be used by cybercriminals for malicious means. Even seemingly innocent social media posts can contain clues that hackers can use to guess passwords for other online portals that the students or their parents may use at home.

When setting up passwords for online access, students must use a complicated password that includes letters, numbers, and special characters. These passwords should be updated every few months.

English teachers must set restrictions for when or if a student can be on social media along with what they are allowed or not allowed to post. At most, posting should probably be reduced to sharing class photos and memories without any personal information.

That advice goes both ways. Teachers should be cautious about what they share on social media as well. If you must share student information, meeting IDs, video conferencing links, or other sensitive information, it should only be on a secure server and not available to the general public. And if you have to share personal information, consider its impact on your professional reputation as well as your personal one.

On the subject of communications, it is also a good idea to put guidelines in place for the types of emails that your students should and shouldn't open. Hackers often send phishing emails that include a link or attachment that, when clicked, can unleash malware onto the system and allow them to steal data. Inform students to never open emails at school unless they are class-related and never click on a link or attachment unless you inform them to expect an email from you.

Read more: Overcoming security and privacy concerns with e-learning

Limit cyberbullying

One of the most significant risks associated with online learning is the potential for cyberbullying. This is a prevalent issue, with over 35% of students saying that they have been victims of online bullying at some point during their schooling. This problem has been exacerbated as of late, as many students are becoming especially stressed over the existence of COVID-19 and the inability to return to school, so many may lash out in unexpected ways.

As a teacher, you want to sit down with your students and tell them that you, your fellow teachers, and the school administration have an open door policy if they feel extra stressed during these changing times. Any student affected by bullying should report the instance immediately, and the bully's parents should be brought in to explain the situation. Again, this comes back to guidelines for sharing information. Inform kids not to share any hurtful comments that they wouldn’t want to read about themselves.

One of the reasons students may lash out is that they feel isolated and lack a connection to their class and friends. Teachers can do their part by having video conferences whenever possible so everyone can see one another while they learn. At the end of a school week, use online birthday party planning tips for organizing a virtual class party where all the students can talk about their weekends, play games, or even share a meal. Be sure to schedule it when everyone is available so no one is left out.

Read more: How to address cyberbullying and online safety in schools

Speak to parents and school administration

Since online security is not a one-person job, reach out to parents and school management about additional protections that can be implemented. Talk to the administration and the IT team about blocking dangerous websites so kids can’t even stumble on them accidentally. Also, ensure that antivirus and firewall software programs are installed on all computers so the hackers can be stopped before data is stolen.

Since teachers can’t monitor what is going on at home, send home mailers to parents to remind them about safe computer use on their end as well. This information should include internet safety tips ranging from how to secure their mobile devices to the dangers of cyberbullying. Tell them about the protections you enact at school and recommend they do the same.

These messages should also mention setting boundaries on screen time. Kids shouldn’t be on the computer all day and should take some time to enjoy the outdoors or do other things away from a screen. As an English teacher, you can help by mixing up your way of teaching and providing balance with assigned reading from physical books and having lessons outside if the weather permits.

Read more: Ensuring online safety in schools is everyone’s business

All in all

Yes, the digital world has gotten a bit scarier over the years, but you don’t have to let it affect your class. Take the proper precautions now so you can focus on offering great English lessons and molding young minds.