Searching Safely

Occasionally we can be lulled by the false security of an internet filter. As teachers we need to realize, especially with our young primary and junior students, that the internet is a wild and un-moderated space on which the most base of our society post all nature of inappropriateness: some of which — despite our best computational efforts to block them — leaks through. At the end of the day, we need to recognize (both parents and teachers alike) that the caring adult in the room is the only 100% accurate internet filter we have.

Here are a few settings you can check, and some strategies to ensure the safety of our students:

Don’t “Just Google it”

Google is an incredibly powerful tool, but to the untrained “searcher“, being unfurled into Google can be like drinking from the fire-hose: you are almost guaranteed to find an inappropriate post amidst the results. Search before the lesson, and then locate a number of different resources that you think might be helpful and cluster those options together as a blog post on your classroom blog. Social bookmarking tools like Delicious or Diigo can allow you to create a collection of links like this tagged selection on Space: There are enough links there to provide students with choice, but I’ve explored the links first to ensure they are safe for my students to peruse.

Use Other Database Resources

I won’t list them all here, but the HWDSB Virtual Library has a host of different research databases purpose-built for student use. The recently licensed Encyclopedia Britannica is a rich resource for student inquiry. Learn 360 provides access to a large catalogue of video resources. ExpertSpace is a great Science and Social Studies repository. There are a number of others I will let you explore on your own. Utilizing these research spaces is not only safer, but also guarantees better, more academic results, provided at different reading comprehension levels.

Turn on Safe Search

Google has Safe Search options, but they need to be turned on (Bing seems to have them turned on by default). There are a couple of different websites that turn this on without needing to jump through the configuration hoops. This is one:

Create a Walled Garden

We don’t allow students free reign in the video rental section, nor do we let them watch whatever they want on television: why would we allow them unfettered access to the internet? Set out boundaries and guidelines on the sites you allow the students to use in your classroom, just like the list of television shows we allow as parents. This can be a rich and varied list. Check out Graphite for a vast library of vetted, teacher-approved websites to use in your classroom, and decide ahead of time where the students are allowed to go. Hold the students accountable to this list.

Teach Students to Search Smarter

You don’t need to ask Google full questions (eg: What time is it in Moscow right now?) when a few key words will do (Moscow Current Time), but you also don’t want to be too vague. Creating a better search combination will bring back more accurate results, and will help to eliminate unwelcome surprises on the search results page.

Search Privately First

One of the great advantages of having access to the internet in the classroom is the ability to attend to student curiosity, even on subjects where you may lack expertise. Searching on your laptop or iPad first, disconnected from the projector, will help to ensure you aren’t broadcasting any surprise imagery. Despite the temptation to play that YouTube video that seems to infer that it will answer the question, if it isn’t from a reputable source (TVO, PBS, Discovery, etc.) you may want to vet the video first, and show it during your next meeting with the students.

This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it should provide some strategies as we teach our students to navigate resources in this digital age. We need to teach students to look both ways, before we send them careening out on the information highway.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

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