Five Things Students Should Do to Stay Safe and Secure Online

Five Things Students Should Do to Stay Safe and Secure Online
This article was written and published on ISTE's blog in December 2017

As adults we often engage in activities that keep our computers, bank accounts and families safe. Our list of “to-do’s” continues to grow as our use of digital technologies increases. While these tasks are rote to us as adults we cannot expect that our students will follow our lead. It is our responsibility as educators to make sure our 21st century learners know how to do more than surf the web and consume media. All educators from classroom teachers to technology coaches and administrators should provide time during the school day to lead the discussion on digital literacy. Here are some ways to make sure our students stay safe and secure online:

1. Teach Students to Conduct Data Mines (on themselves) This should be something that students do every 3-6 months. While many will “Google” their name we need to teach them to dig deeper. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Log out of Internet browsers before searching (staying logged in can affect the results) 
  • Search (in quotation marks) full legal names, nicknames and usernames 
  • Search images with names/usernames 
  • Use multiple browsers such as Chrome, Bing, Yahoo, Safari and Firefox 
  • Look beyond the first page of results. Go at least 5 pages deep until the name/username no longer appears. Take note of what kind of results appear (presentations/social media/images/etc.) 
Here’s a resource I use with graduate students for data mining:

2. Check Privacy Settings on Social Media Accounts While many sites may be blocked during school hours allow students to check privacy settings on those that are not. At a minimum show student how to access privacy settings (perhaps through a screencast or screenshot). While on each social media site students should:
  • Check privacy settings to see who can view posts 
  • Go through “friends” lists; are there any that need to be removed? 
  • Search posts to see if there is anything that is questionable if a parent, teacher or college looked at the profile 
  • Look at tags to see what images friends are displaying 

3. Teach Digital Literacies Digital literacy is a term that has many moving parts. Students need guidance on varying types of literacy: media (how to “read” media), social (how to interact in an online environment), and information (the ability to locate, evaluate and properly use information) are three modern literacies that should be addressed. Safety falls into this category as well. Students need to know and understand and apply password algorithms, how to recognize scams and how their data is being tracked and used by companies.

4. Stress the Importance of Digital Maintenance This is the spelling list or cursive practice of the digital world; nothing that is glamorous to teach but still essential for students to know:
  • Teach students how to download Google Drive files to an external drive 
  • Remind them to backup Drive files, important emails, smartphone photos/apps/etc. at least once per month 
  • Make sure parents have access to account passwords in the event of emergencies. This can be done by writing the accounts/passwords on a piece of paper and placing it in an envelope in a safe yet visible place 
  • Reiterate the importance of logging out of accounts, not simply closing the browser window

5. Start Early Teaching digital responsibility is not something just for middle school or computer lab teachers. It’s everyone’s duty, starting in kindergarten. Consider developing a digital media scope and sequence to address what should be taught at each grade. This is something that can be developed by teachers, students and parents alike. If this is out of reach at a minimum make a commitment with grade level colleagues that you’ll help teach our students how to be safe and secure digital citizens. A good place to begin is by reviewing the ISTE standards for students.


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