Meet the on-duty teacher in the cyber playground

Meet the on-duty teacher in the cyber playground

While many schools do a great job of ensuring that their staff and students are safe from threats, they can’t be everywhere at once.  Peter Geale, chief marketing officer of Netbox Blue, told The Educator how his product can help change that.

Inside schools as well as outside, cyber threats can come in physical as well as digital form. Many of them have the potential to cause immense damage not just to schools’ ICT infrastructure but the lives of students and staff.

It is for this reason that Netbox Blue was approached by the Queensland Education Department a few years ago, choosing the service specifically because of the cybersafety revolution it was creating in schools.

“We’re like the on-duty teacher in the cyber playground,” Geale told The Educator.

“In the physical playground teachers might see a couple of students shaping up to have a blue with each other. The teacher can break it up and send the students to the principal’s office, but when that’s happening in a cyberbullying or language context online, the school can’t respond like that.”

Geale said finding the cyberbullies is relatively easy. The real challenge, he said is finding the victims. Fortunately, an in-built feature of the software called ‘safe chat’ allows teachers to identify silent sufferers who might otherwise go unnoticed.

An alert system, which detects keywords and alerts the appropriate staff member at the school to potential risks or threats, has proven effective, said Geale.

“We had one example where a teacher got a heads-up from one of our alerts. The deputy principal mentioned it to a couple of teachers who agreed that something wasn’t quite right with the student and chose to approach him,” Geale said.

“Using the information gathered by the safe chat function, the deputy principal was able to connect with the student who then chose to open up and let the deputy principal help him.

“We’re helping schools to intervene early in scenarios that might otherwise end badly.”

As for cyber threats such as viruses and malware, Geale said that most schools are fortunately well-equipped to safeguard their staff and students, however he sees greater risks inherent in social media, a technology platform ‘digital natives’ take for granted as safe and often use without recognising certain dangers.

“I think the new things that are catching people unaware of are around social media. Digital natives don’t think of this as a cybersecurity concern. It’s just a normal way of communicating with their peers,” said Geale.

“There are ways that insidious characters on the Internet use grooming to get enough information from young people to steal their identity. One of the most common risks involves people clicking things such as short URL’s or hyperlinks in social media like Facebook, Twitter or even in SMS.

“Some people are being very clever about the ways they are doing this.”

The answer, says Geale, is parental involvement. While schools do their best to make students aware, parents also have a role to play in ensuring the devices students use are safe. In turn, well-informed students will feel safer and engage with their learning in a more productive way, said Geale.

“The bottom line is that a student who feels they’re in a safe environment will learn better and engage with their peers better. However, the opposite is also the case. If students don’t feel safe their learning will suffer,” Geale said.