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Friend or foe? The role of technology in education

There has been a lot of conversations around the Online Safety Bill, however, what does it mean for student safety and what else needs to be done?

The debate around the proposed Online Safety Bill continues to heat up, with just one in ten teachers staying they think it will protect students online.

The bill has also raised further questions about the role of technology in the education sector, both online and in the classroom. While the internet and other technology can do tremendous good for the education and development of young people, how do educators deal with the potential risks?  

We ask Mat Pullen, senior education expert at Jamf, about the risks and rewards of education technology today. 

What are some of the main security concerns for children when online?  

The current generation of young people entering further education are in an interesting position, as they have grown up using the internet and interacting with technology. For most of them, smart devices and high-speed internet are a natural part of their environment. This means they are instantly more curious and trusting of technology and the internet and supremely confident in their abilities compared to previous generations.

The flip side of this is that they can also be slightly naive about the dangers of being online. Without strong safeguards, it’s incredibly easy for them to find harmful material, especially sexual or violent content, that can harm their well-being and development.

There are also concerns about grooming and other inappropriate contact, as well as cybersecurity risks such as malware and phishing.

Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming Online Safety Bill?  

Personally, I think it’s a valuable step in the right direction and should help with the current risks surrounding online content. Creating a legal responsibility for dealing with harmful content will ensure that online platforms take the risks seriously. It also provides a path for parents, lecturers, and teachers to flag issues and have them addressed.

However, my concern is that the bill alone is not a comprehensive solution. Simply having a law in place does not guarantee that young people will suddenly become safe online.

This is similar to the EU GDPR laws around data privacy. While businesses have a legal obligation to respect and protect personal information, it doesn’t automatically guarantee that they will do so.

If it’s not perfect, what else needs to be done?  

While the Online Safety Bill is a step in the right direction, it only addresses part of the issue. I believe we also need to provide more support for teachers and parents to help keep young people safe online, through both technology and guidance.

Technology can play a significant role in providing a safe online experience, especially in education. Students in further education should have the freedom to explore and grow, and tools for content filtering can facilitate this safely.

However, we also need to maintain a human connection and help students learn about online risks and why they matter. The government can assist in this by providing more resources for teachers, lecturers, and parents. For colleges and universities, this could mean increased budget to allow teachers to engage with their students on the issue effectively.

What steps can schools take to deliver an active learning environment that enables safe and focused learning?  

Filtering technology is one of the most effective tools for creating a safe learning environment. One approach is to preload a device with a set number of websites but allow freedom within those domains. Students can then explore, for example, half a dozen sites that relate to the lesson plan or term theme, without accessing the wider internet on the device.

This provides a safety net to protect students from harmful content while still allowing them to explore and figure things out for themselves. Additionally, this approach helps to keep students focused on the lesson and prevents them from getting distracted and going off on a tangent.

You could think of it as taking a student to London and letting them explore a given area, without getting lost in the whole big city.

However, filtering technology alone is not enough to create an active learning environment. Teachers and school administrators must also prioritise engaging and interactive lessons that encourage participation and collaboration. Incorporating technology such as interactive whiteboards and educational apps can also enhance the learning experience while keeping students engaged and focused.

What support should be provided to teachers and parents when it comes to internet safety for children?  

I believe that more resources are needed to help teachers, lecturers, and parents keep up with new technology and understand it. When disruptive technology emerges, we have the option to either embrace it and make use of it, or try to shut it down. However, historically, it never goes well if we try to entirely ban something and pretend it doesn’t exist.

For example, in the early days of YouTube, it was met with a very negative reaction from the education sector, seen as uncontrollable and potentially dangerous. Now, it is widely embraced as a valuable teaching tool, albeit one that needs to be managed wisely.

Similarly, Wikipedia gets criticised in many schools as inspiring laziness, but it can be an extremely valuable educational resource as a starting point for a topic. The key is to teach students how to use it the right way and not to rely on it as a single source of truth.

In the future, we will have the same thing with new technology like ChatGPT and other AI and chatbots. If these things are ignored, teachers and lecturers won’t be able to make a judgment call on how students are using them.

Therefore, in addition to resources for filtering technology, I believe that there should be resources and training provided to teachers and parents on how to use new technology safely and effectively in education. This will help to ensure that students are prepared for the technology-driven world they will be living in and can use these tools in a responsible and productive way.

What should schools consider when implementing an effective ed tech strategy to transform the learning experience for children?   

When it comes to implementing an effective ed tech strategy, schools should consider a few key factors. Firstly, they should prioritise embracing the freedom and flexibility that technology can bring to the learning process. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how technology can be used to facilitate learning at home, and students can pursue their education independently to a much greater degree. This can lead to more engaged and motivated learners who are more likely to succeed.

Personalisation is another important factor to consider. Technology allows students to learn in a way that suits them, and can transform their learning from passive to active. By enabling students to engage in a way that suits their personal preference, a more tailored learning experience can be created. This personalised approach can be extremely valuable in combination with more structured learning.

In addition, it is important to ensure that the technology experience is consistent throughout a student’s educational journey. Students should not have to constantly adapt to new technologies as they move from one stage of their education to the next. By creating a cohesive experience that grows with the student, schools can provide a seamless and efficient learning environment.

Finally, teachers need to be empowered to use technology as a tool to support learning. Technology is not a replacement for teachers, but rather a learning aid that can make lessons more inspiring and engaging. Teachers should still be responsible for planning lessons and guiding student learning, but they should be encouraged to use technology to enhance the learning experience.

In conclusion, an effective ed tech strategy should prioritise flexibility, personalisation, consistency, and teacher empowerment. By taking these factors into consideration, schools can transform the learning experience for children and help them reach their full potential.

By Mat Pullen, Senior Education Expert at Jamf 

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