Teachers’ guide to internet security

The internet is a great resource for teachers and pupils alike. Unfortunately, it also brings a new set of problems that teachers need to take steps to avoid.

Obviously you’ll want to make sure your pupils surf safely and don’t share personal information with strangers, and you’ll also want to protect the school’s ICT equipment from viruses, spam and abuse.

While the internet has brought new ways to teach and work on projects, it’s also been used by bullies and special interest groups seeking to influence young minds. It’s therefore important that children are encouraged to question the source of information they find. Developing critical evaluation skills will enable them to better judge the websites they use, and is an important part of curriculum requirements for older children.

Web filtering

Web filters block pupils’ access to unsuitable material. When the filtering system is turned on, users cannot open or link to sites that the filtering system recognises as unsuitable. You can specify individual websites you wish to ban, and you can also use general filters that block sites using offensive words or images. You can also use filters that prevent access to the web except during specified hours. Before you implement a filtering system, you might like to consider the following:

  • Identify requirements for a filtering system accurately and comprehensively.
  • Review current network infrastructure to ensure that any solution will work with your existing service.
  • Decide where you want the filter to operate. Filters can run at the individual computer lever, at LAN level or ISP level using remote servers. When filters are operated at ISP level it’s much harder for pupils to manually override commands.
  • Consider when to filter. Do you only want pupils to have online access when they are supervised? You can set different controls for different age groups.
  • Keep in mind that filtering systems are not perfect. For instance if you were to specify that pupils couldnt access sites that use the word Nazi this will prevent all sites that use that word being displayed. This will mean some online resources relating to WWII won’t be shown to them.

Filtering is an effective tool, but it is important to remember that no filtering software is foolproof so it should always be combined with good management and proper supervision. Schools need to consider the other ways of ensuring pupils do not have access to inappropriate material, such as operating an Acceptable Use Policy and monitoring pupil activity. Pupils should be taught safe and responsible online, and should develop the skills to evaluate the material they find and become discriminating users of internet resources. 

Email filtering

As well as filtering out spam and incoming emails (see Spam and viruses page) some filtering software can also scan the content of emails. This allows you to monitor if your pupils are using inappropriate language in their correspondence. If you are going to make use of this monitoring technology, you must tell your students that you will be monitoring their emails and this should be itemised in your AUP. You should also make sure that they know the penalties for breaking your rules. You shouldn’t just rely on technology, however. Make sure that pupils are supervised when using email and carry out spot checks to make sure they are using email appropriately.

Using chatrooms in schools

Unfortunately there are people out there who use chatrooms to contact children in an inappropriate way. It’s therefore important that you establish guidelines for using chatrooms.

  • You should warn young people of the dangers involved and discuss related issues with them.
  • Establish a reporting system so that students know what to do if they find something upsetting.
  • Schoolchildren should only be given access to educational chatrooms. Pupils should be taught to understand the importance of safety within any chat room.
  • Teachers should be familiar with the chatrooms their pupils are using to make sure the content is relevant and that there is no unsuitable advertising or language.
  • Children should only use moderated chatrooms that are moderated by a qualified adult. The moderator checks what users are saying to ensure that chat rules (no bad language, propositions, or other inappropriate behaviour) are observed. If those users who break the rules of the room are not thrown out, or warned publicly, the moderator is not online or is ineffective.
  • A good chat room should have a very clear Terms and Conditions and Privacy Statement which should be upheld and enforced. It should remind users of the dangers and display prominent safety tips.
  • Remember, chatrooms are most effective when students have genuine opportunities to express their views, to learn from one another and to initiate new chat sessions.
  • Find out if anyone can join the chat room. Is there is clear differentiation of age groups? How does the chat room verify passwords and users?
  • Children should be taught to never give out their name or any other personal details or information. They should also be aware that anything they say in an email can reflect on the school. Schools should include disclaimers at the end of every email. They must understand that other chatroom users might not be who they claim to be.
  • Children should be taught that they should never arrange to meet someone they have met in a chatroom.
  • Teachers should stress to parents the importance of following the above guidelines in the home, as well as in the school.
  • Teach your pupils that CHAT stands for:
  • C areful. People online might not be who they claim to be
  • H ide personal information. Never give out your name, phone number, email or address.
  • A rranging to meet is dangerous. Never arrange to meet a chat friend offline unless accompanied by an adult in a public place.
  • T ell someone if you find something that upsets you.

Avoiding Spam and Viruses

Getting a computer virus at home is always annoying and sometimes costly. At school an entire network can be brought down and lessons are interrupted. It’s therefore essential that teachers take precautions to minimize exposure to these threats. There are plenty of filtering and security programs you can install on your school’s system. If you want details of individual programs, take a look at the BECTA website E-Safety. If you just need a basic overview of the issues, please see below.

  • Most spam involves either advertising for things you might not to discuss in the classroom (like Viagra, for example), or it’s a scam designed to get recipients to spend money on non-existent products. They can clog up your inbox and occasionally contain viruses that could damage your entire computer system.
  • The best way to stop spam is not to give out personal email addresses. Arrange for your pupils to use a class email address (ideally one that cannot be guessed by a potential spammer, eg class4ITgroup[email protected], rather than [email protected]) for joining newsletters and the like. Make sure they check out a site’s Privacy Policy before signing up and that they check the box that says you don’t want your details passed on to a third party. If they’re in any doubt, tell them not to sign up.
  • Your school’s ISP may be able to help. Most offer ‘spam filters’ that can elimate most unsolicited correspondence. They might also offer scanning software that will destroy emails containing viruses. However, these aren’t perfect, so if you’re really concerned, log on with your pupils and check emails before leaving them alone.
  • Although it might be tempting, never reply to a spam, even to unsubscribe, as this can be a ruse to get you to confirm your details. Likewise, if spam comes with an attachment – no matter how innocent, tempting or funny it might seem – make sure they never open it as this is way most viruses infect computers.

Checklist

  • Ask your ISP to include spam filtering and virus scanning software on your pupils’ email accounts. ISPs can also usually block senders by limiting incoming messages to only those on from a defined list.
  • Use an email addresses that don’t reveal children’s sex, home town, age, or any other personal information.
    Make sure your pupils know never to pass on personal information, including email addresses without your permission – and never passwords.
  • Never open attachments from an unknown sender. Never respond to spam, even to unsubscribe- this will only confirm that an address is live.

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