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winamp_coneIt is one of the most important conversations we can have. When student privacy and safety is at stake, we all have an obligation to do our part.

Keeping in mind that laws and policies vary depending on where you are and what age you work with, there are some common sense tips we should all follow.

The discussion below was inspired by comments left by educators on this Edublogger post over the past few weeks.

This post was co-written by Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters.

Is it fact, fiction, hype or fear?

Let us start by discussing the concerns of students working online and why we need to care before looking at some common sense tips.

As middle school teacher Jabiz Rasidana says:

“What, exactly is it, that everyone is so afraid of?”

Too often media creates hysteria about Internet predators leading school districts to respond to parent and teacher concerns by blocking any kind of social networking while failing to highlight the positive aspects achieved when students collaborate online as part of a global community.

Gail Desler highlights:

While we recognize that online predators pose a threat, about 1% of child abuse and sexual abuse cases, and we certainly do not dismiss the need to teach our students about safety issues, such as “grooming,” we also want all students to learn to use the Internet effectively and ethically.

Our middle school counselors, for instance, report that over 60% of their case load involves handling and defusing cyberbullying and “sexting” issues – mainly from smart phones. Pretty much 100% of the time, the parents are clueless as to how their children are using the Internet.

Digital citizenship should be built into media literacy —media literacy as a must-have skill for the 21st century.

Internet safety is best taught at school and not at home (sorry, parents).

And like Kathleen McGready says:

The biggest thing is … you can’t just do one off lessons on cyber safety. Cyber safety is not a separate subject.

Through being heavily involved in blogging, my grade two class has opportunities almost every day to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting.

When we’re writing blog posts and comments together, a wide range of issues come up incidentally. The discussions are so rich and purposeful and my students now have an excellent understanding of the do’s and don’ts of internet safety.

Most of us agreed that:

  1. Teaching students what can and what shouldn’t be shared online can’t be boiled down to a few lessons.
  2. It is best if the topic is brought up often and in context when working with any web technology.

What do we need to consider?

The reality is that we’ve got to face the questions and concerns raised when students are online head on.


Our world is increasingly connected, and our students need to know how to interact online safely and with some level of privacy. The trouble is that educators, administrators, online web tools, politicians, and parents just aren’t sure what that looks like yet. And for some reason, a consensus decision isn’t likely anytime soon. Either way, we must educate students about the expectations we have of them when they are online and about the digital footprint they leave behind.

We need to educate our students on how to work in a safe online environment.

As Kathleen McGeady commented,

“I don’t think it matters that much what your actual policies are on photos/avatars/no images etc as long as you’re having conversations and doing something!”

Here’s some things to consider and our advice when working online with your students.

Tip #1:  Set clear guidelines

Set GuidelinesIt’s crucial to have clear guidelines so that all parents and students are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate.

The best approach is to get students involved with creating the guidelines.

For example. Pernille Ripp has an excellent activity using the analogy  The Internet is like a Mall.  She tells them that going on the internet is like going to the mall without your parents’ supervision and asks them to share how do they stay safe at the mall?  This takes the students from a topic they already understand and know to applying those same principles online.

Check out these examples:

  1. Pernille Ripp’ s Internet Safety Plan and Blogging Introduction
  2. Kathleen McGeady’s Introduction to Bloggigng HandoutGuide to Getting the Most out of 2KM’s Class blog and Our Blog Guidelines
  3. Edublogs Guide to Using Blogs With Students

Here’s how to set up your blogging rules and guidelines.

Tip #2:  Use of student names

What names to use?This is usually one of the first items to think about before using any online services with students.

Can they use their full name, first name only, last initial, or maybe a made-up username? In general, obtaining parent permission for minors is important when using anything other than a made-up or “code” name.

Most educators use the student’s first name only combined with a combination of letters and/or numbers that might represent their year level, room number, school or class blog such as amberh4 or adrianhan10 for student usernames and blog URLs.

Tip #3:  Use of  photos

Use of ImagesUse of student photos, and especially linking names with specific photos, are also questions that come up when blogging, sharing videos, or using other web services online. Even though 99.9% of visitors to your class blog will be well meaning parents, students, community members, or interested visitors from around the world, the unfortunate reality is that those with bad intentions can also visit public sites. There are also cases where the personal background of a student might mean they need more privacy and anonymity than others.

Decisions on whether to use student photographs or not is often more about protecting educators from having problems with parents or administrators who have concerns about cyber-predators.

A safe compromise is to only use photo taken from behind students.

On the other hand, one of the most engaging and powerful aspects of blogging comes from the sense of pride and ownership that only happens when you put yourself out there for the world to see. For this reason, many teachers do use student images.

As middle school teacher Jabiz Rasidana points out on Intrepid Teacher,

“the most rewarding experiences I have had online, the most authentic and personal relationships have been because I shared more than I should have.”

And the same is true for students. We put our thoughts and ideas out there, and everyone learns from it – especially the blogger.

Kathleen McGready says:

Unlike many classes, I identify students by first name and photo. Of course I gain parent permission for this and 100% of my parents have been supportive. Last year, I did not publish photos of students and I think there were more cons than pros. The parents and the classes we work with around the world are able to connect more with our blog and student work by seeing who the authors are.

Taking it a step further, any student comments or posts may need to be kept private behind a password. This is understandable – imagine if you were the one student in a class that for one reason or another shouldn’t have your photo online especially when it comes to your avatar.  All of your classmates have a photo avatar while you are left with a funny image or drawing. You probably wouldn’t be too happy about this.

An alternative solution is to get your students to create  their own avatar using these online reources without using a photo!

The key is to have the conversations with your administrators and parents about the use of photos online — so you can address the needs of your community.

Tip #4: Public vs Private


Many times, cautious administrators or teachers will opt to keep all blogs private.

However, being locked behind a password greatly limits the global learning aspect that encourages outsiders to visit and comment on student blogs.  Further still, it can really stifle the energy and motivation created when students know they are writing so that their family and friends (and even strangers) can see.

  • If students share a video they created in a class presentation they will probably get excited.
  • If students publish the same video on the web for all to see, they feel accomplished and professional!

From experience we’ve found that when educators allow their students to publish their content in a public space they spend more time educating their students and reinforcing appropriate online behavior than those that use private sites locked behind a password.

And don’t forget, on public blogs you can set up systems like Leigh Newton uses where all comments and posts spark an email to him, the administrator.

Here’s how you moderate all comments and posts on student blogs — if you need/want to take this approach.

Tip # 5: Student work and confidentiality

PrivateHowever, there are occasions when you really do need to consider confidentially.

There was one example we ran across recently where a teacher of special needs students had a class blog. By allowing students to comment on the blog, the students were identified as part of the special education program.  This lead to the important discussion about if this violates confidentiality for those students. In this case, the school administrators erred on the side of caution – and the wishes of the students and parents involved. The conclusion was to change the class blog to private so that only registered and approved visitors could visit it. The parents and students in the class were all given accounts to use.

Teacher feedback, specifically anything that can be interpreted as grades, is another area that educators that are blogging with students should be aware of. It is natural to leave comments on blogs for students, but there are other times when more detailed feedback may be best left for private.

Final Thoughts

As Common Sense Media puts it in one of their 10 beliefs,

“We believe in teaching our kids to be savvy, respectful and responsible media interpreters, creators, and communicators.  We can’t cover their eyes but we can teach them to see.”

agentHere’s some helpful resources

So what next?

Like the continuous discussions we should be having with our students, the dialog should continue among educators, parents, and policy makers to ensure we are maximizing learning freedoms while encouraging safe and smart web habits.

Please leave your thoughts or questions below for our blogging community to continue to learn from each other!

About Ronnie Burt

Manages the Edublogs, CampusPress, and WPMU DEV Hosting services. Former secondary math teacher and wannabe musician. Follow @ronnieburt on twitter!


  1. The following assertion by Gail Desler made me cringe:

    Internet safety is best taught at school and not at home (sorry, parents).

    1) If I wait for my kids’ school to catch up, it will be too late. We need to be teaching kids how to behave online while they are very young, and I see little indication that will happen at school for my kids anytime soon.

    2) I believe this is a shared responsibility. It would be best if the parents and educators were partners, not simply dumping responsibility on one or the other. As it is now, I believe many parents think the school is handling it, and schools think the parents are handling it, and we wind up with a situation like this.

    • I agree! I see myself as a responsible parent and one who is vigilant with my children’s Internet use. I would like to read the research that supports the notion that Cybersafety is best taught at school-is there a link to this?

      • Justine
      • @justine Altho I agree with Gail’s statement in general- Bill’s modifer of “shared responsibility” is really a more accurate picture of what should be happening. I have no research to back my claims, simply anecdotal evidence from teaching these skills to the kids. They come in with all of the myths re predators firmly in place, either from home, or from the media. Many parents at my school assume that the kids know more about tech than they do- but we are talking about responsibility and learning to interact with others- not technology. Parents seem to vary from a hands-off attitude to both extremes- no tech use (therefore no practice, no skills gained) or unsupervised use (with the assumption that the kids know how). I encourage parents to sit with their kids, learn with them. It is not enough to just teach a skill in isolation at school, where many sites are blocked- similar to learning to drive on an enclosed track. Children need to learn in the real world, the world outside of school- and they need all the adults in their lives to help them.

  2. I truly worry less about the safety of my students online than I do about the citizenship (or lack thereof) they display. While I do cover the basics for online safety, I am also a strong advocate of transparency online (obviously since I run a live webcam in my classroom.) My students need to learn how to interact appropriately, creating their own opportunities to “share more than they should have” and develop relationships.

    • wmchamberlain
    • Do you/most teachers have public blogs? I’m a fifth grade teacher in an independent school, and this is my first time trying this. I’m concerned about parental/administrative response to a public blog, but if it isn’t public, how do the parents have access?



      • mrsbrown5th
      • Hi Donna,

        Our experience is that it totally varies – many have public blogs and many have private. Some teachers will send an opt-out letter at the beginning of the year explaining the purpose of the blog.

        There is a single password privacy option as well – so you can provide the one password to your parents. This will mean that anyone with that password can view the blog and keeps the general internet and search engines out.

        Another popular option is to choose to block search engines like Google. This way your blog won’t come up in search at all, so visitors generally need to know the link in order to find it.

        Let us know at support@edublogs.org if you have any further questions we can help with!

        • Ronnie Burt
  3. Very informative and interesting blog. I would surely be a good handler of my students on the problem now after reading this.

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  9. Digital citizenship and internet safety need to be taught as part and parcel of using computers and other digital devices. I agree that it should be taught at school, as I have seen that the vast majority of parents I come in contact with have bought into the media hype of the predator behind every screen. But, that said, parents need to educated and actively involved in the practice of these skills. Most of the incidents I hear about at school do not take place at school, but at home, using their own personal devices.

    I teach/preach about online safety and digital citizenship to all of my classes, and spend a lot of time with the 7th graders, who are of an age to both understand the consequences of mistakes and who are really taking a big jump in their own unsupervised use of digital devices and media. Teaching and modeling digital citizenship must be part of every class- not just as a separate piece or just in the computer lab. It is a continuing question for me, as I try to balance safety and privacy for the kids with opportunities to create and manage a positive digital footprint.

    This is the blog– altho it is really an assignment/discussion site- I use for 7th grade: These are some of their PSAs

    These are some of the blog posts for parents and some of the work from the kids around this topic.

    Blog post for 4th grade parents
    4th grade work
    Blog post for 5th grade parents
    5th grade comic life pages on online safety
    Blog post for 6th grade parents
    6th grade work on online safety

    • As a parent of 2 teenage boys and a preteen girl in addition to being a computer teacher, I am even more aware of the need for students to be educated in digital citizenship and internet safety. Unfortunately, many students are exposed to social media before they are ready or have learned proper digital etiquette. Some of it is the fault of the parents who have chosen to take a hand-off approach. I find many students who have no rules about cell phone use and have computers in their bedrooms. It is important for the parents to know what is going on with their children. I also have a hard time with parents who allow their child to get a facebook account when they are not 13 yet. We are doing a disservice to children if we do not teach them proper digital etiquette and teach them about making a positive digital footprint. Just as we have rules to follow in our society, students need to realize that there are rules for the digital world. Teachers and parents need to work together to educate students to help them to become good digital citizens.

      • jmcapo
  10. I agree that issues of cybersafety and digital citizenship need to be a joint effort between school and parents. I also agree with Kathleen that it can’t be a one-off unit or lesson, but must be part and parcel of our students’ learning with today’s technology.

    In a recent cybersafety session we hosted for parents it was clear that many parents had no idea of how to help their children with keeping safe online when using blogs, facebook etc. Many of them thanked us for the session and said that they felt much better able to work with their children on consolidating what they’d learned at school.

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  12. Hi. Thanks for this thought-provoking and useful commentary on e-safety; I’ve found it very useful.
    I’m a strong believer in supporting students to promote their own work to their peers and the general public but as you say I think the need for moderation is something that is easily overlooked.
    I was recently involved in the release of OpenYourEyes – GlobalEyes which is made by a group of ESOL students at Leeds City College. I was aware of the fact that all the feedback given may not be constructive or even relevant. However, I decided that the project should have a wider audience so I have promoted it through my social networks.
    I think these steps have helped to keep some control of the audiences input.
    I’m sure my students would appreciate a comment, moderated by me, ofcourse!
    Warm Regards,

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  16. As a parent of two teenage sons and a preteen daughter, I am even more aware of the need for students to be educated in digital citizenship and internet safety. Unfortunately, many students are exposed to social media before they are ready or learn about proper digital etiquette. Some of it is the fault of the parents–they choose a hands-off approach maybe because they do not know much about technology themselves or they give in to pressure. I find many students who have no rules about cell phone usage and have computers in their bedrooms. Some of my daughter’s friends have a facebook account even though they are not 13 yet. Parents need to be more aware of what their children are exposed to and teach them proper and safe ways to use technology.

    Unfortunately, we cannot count on parents to educate their children about online safety. Our school offers a five-day rotation for all students about internet safety. I currently use material from Common Sense Media to show students about the importance of their digital footprint and how to become a responsible digital citizen. We are doing a disservice to children if we don’t teach them proper digital etiquette and teach them about making a positive digital footprint. Just as there are rules to follow in our society, students need to be aware of rules online.

    • jmcapo
  17. I also feel that the issue of cybersafety needs to be a joint issue that both parents and schools need to address, but that this needs to go beyond the issue of posting on blogs and creating videos. I feel that it also needs to include the social networking sites as well. Just this week, I overheard some of my 5th grade students talking about their Facebook accounts, so I felt the need to have what I call the ‘Facebook’ talk with all of my 5th grade classes. During this talk, I informed them about such things as why they need to be careful with what they post on their accounts and how it could effect future employment, how to essentially ‘lock down’ their profiles so their personal information isn’t available for the world to see, why they shouldn’t post their cell phone number on their status with comments like “Text me or call me, I’m bored”. We also talked about how Facebook has ownership of anything that you post on their site, the dangers of playing the games and different applications on Facebook and how you are giving those companies or people access to your profile and personal information. We also addressed how things that you post on the internet never really go away even if you delete them and how potential employers can hire people or companies to do online searches to learn more about perspective employees in order to learn more about the type of person they are considering for hire.

    This was an eye-opening discussion for most of my students since, as 10 and 11 year-olds, no one has mentioned the dangers that are out there and the precautions you need to take to protect yourself while becoming active members of the world wide web. In fact, many of my students came to me the next day asking what they needed to do in order to change the privacy settings on their Facebook accounts in order to better protect themselves.

    Keep in mind, I don’t condone students this young creating Facebook accounts, but feel that it is important to educate them as what they should be doing to protect themselves since many of my students already have an account created.

    • Michelle
    • I think it is great that you discuss with your students about Facebook and how to be safe online when using social network sites. However, I do have an issue with 10 and 11 year olds using Facebook when I thought the age limit was 13. They have to lie then about their age and to me this is just creating problems down the road.

      • jmcapo
      • Yes, they do have to lie about their age to sign up for Facebook at that age, and for many of them, I know their parents are aware that they have the accounts too. My feeling on the issue is that since so many of my students are already starting to make accounts at that age, that it’s better for them to at least hear from someone as to the dangers and risks that are out there once they decide to make an online profile like that.

        • Michelle
  18. This post is really helpful, and it relates to a post I made recently and received more good comments on this issue of privacy.

    • mrsdkrebs
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  21. As a new teacher, I agree with what all of you have said, but I also think that parents should be onboard as well. We as teachers can set up all kinds of safety boundaries and rules inside our classrooms, but when the students are at home, they need to know that the same rules apply. I feel that if a meeting was set up with parents or a letter was sent home explaining your classroom/district internet expectations, then students would be less tempted to become a target on the internet unintentionally because they would know the rules also apply outside of school grounds. Bottom line, communication!

    • gilbert85
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  23. online safety programs

    I strongly agreed on Gail Desler thoughts that there’s an increased of numbers young adults that has been abused by sexting through internet thats why online safety programs has been recognized in order to educate not just the students but for everybody on how they are going to protect themselves not being abuse.

  24. It is very important not to give out any personal information. I fyou think that something is not right you need to immediately log off and let your instructor know what happened.

    • Nadine Coralluzzo
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  26. The sentence “We need to educate our students on how to work in a safe online environment” pretty much says it all. The best defense is a good offense. The better prepared the kids are with correct information and resources the safer they will be. Hopefully.

    • mrssampson
  27. I think that parents are rightfully nervous when talking about internet safety and young children. Parents are asked whether or not they will allow their child’s photo to be included in photos shared on the internet. Some are comfortable and others are hesitant to allow this. As a parent, I did not allow my son’s photos to be used in school activities. Hopefully, in the future, more safeguards will be developed to reduce the percentage of 99 to zero.

    • lgarvey
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  34. in my opinion the only way to make student safety while they are online is teach them to differentiate what is good and what is not. and for parents, do not force the students to understand them like not giving them the freedom to go online or browsing the internet. let the students do what they wanna do. but it doesn’t mean that we just let them go doing anything till they got in the wrong path, of course we gotta give them the understanding, and explain slowly till they understand like “if you go to that website, you will get more harm than good.” yeah i think that’s all.

    • Rahmaddina Siregar
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  37. This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand, Thanks for sharing the picture it has great detail in it and i really appreciate your true artistic work!

    • Get GED Online
  38. The Police do monitor social media to protect young people against sexual predators.

    • Martin Tran
  39. I tell all my students they should not publicise any of their private details on any social media sites.

    • Martin Tran

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