The benefits and risks of using the internet as a learning and teaching tool
More and more teachers are using technology in the classroom – from computers, interactive whiteboards and tablets, to mobile phones and game consoles. These devices are often most effective when connected to the internet, which offers a vast amount of resources that cannot be found in traditional resource books. Up-to-the-minute videos, songs, and educational games provide authentic language models and make classes more varied, relevant and attractive to younger learners. The internet also offers learners the opportunity to practise their language skills on their own devices, encouraging learner autonomy.
But while the internet is a wonderful teaching and learning tool, it can pose great risks if not used safely. These can be related to: content (young people viewing age-inappropriate websites); conduct (children posing as older than their real age; 'sexting' – an exchange of sexual messages or images, or placing images of other children online); and contact (including targeting children through chat rooms or social networking sites). If not educated about these risks, young people may put themselves in difficult, even dangerous, situations.
Talking to young learners about e-safety
The internet is extremely important in young people's lives. It’s a big part of how they spend their free time: listening to music, watching movies, and spending hours on end chatting with friends via Facebook or other social networking websites. As such, teachers (and, of course, parents) can't afford to ignore some of the risks. Instead, they should talk about e-safety with children, and listen to their concerns and opinions as well as give advice and set rules.
Although teenagers are the age group that uses the internet most, nowadays, even small children use computers, tablets and mobile phones regularly. By raising the issue of e-safety with young children, there is a chance they will avoid making mistakes and learn how to use the internet effectively but safely as they get older. Even if you don’t cover the topic thoroughly, some things may stay with your students and they might want to explore the topics further.
What to do if you think a student is at risk or being bullied online
It's important that teachers know what to do in this situation. It’s definitely worth checking with the school authorities what the e-safety policy is, what procedures are in place, and who to contact in case of an emergency. If there’s no such policy, it’s worth looking up local child protection organisations that can help in such situations. It’s also worth talking to parents about internet safety, since quite often they are not aware of the risks at all.
A few tips on promoting e-safety in the classroom
If you're planning to use the internet in the classroom, always check the websites carefully in advance, including pages the website links to. A thorough check is essential because even the most ‘innocent’ websites may include content not suitable for young people.
The next important thing is making sure that learners, when using computers, tablets or mobile phones in class, know what websites they should be looking at and keep to them. Careful monitoring of students as they do their work is essential. This might mean re-organising the room in a way that allows you to stand behind students as they work. In other words, you need to be able to see what they can see.
Some schools have acceptable use policies for using the internet, and it’s worth familiarising yourself with these. Check what filters are installed on the computers, and if you encounter a dangerous website, report it to the school authorities.
Finally, talk to your students about internet safety regularly, and if assigning homework that requires using the internet, prepare a list of websites that are safe to use and make these available to parents.
Useful resources for promoting e-safety in the classroom
Take a look at the British Council's LearnEnglish Teens website for some reading tasks on internet safety. If you would like to talk about internet safety with your youngest learners, it’s worth checking out our LearnEnglish Kids website.
Finally, there are lots of interesting materials on CEOP’s website for teachers, including useful YouTube videos that can be used in class. The videos are divided into age groups and some of them have subtitles in foreign languages.
Happy (and safe) web surfing!
Written by: Monika Bayer-Berry