Technology Integration

Teaching Students the Cyber Safety Basics

Teachers can share these tips and resources with students in lessons about cyber safety and how to protect their privacy and data online.

February 5, 2024
Michael Dwyer / Alamy

As educators, we must teach students how to stay safe online, especially with the rise of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI. With the capabilities of technology expanding so rapidly, teaching students about cybersecurity and cyber safety is more important than ever—these are topics that need to be discussed and explored at all grade levels. 

Distinguishing between cybersecurity and cyber safety

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting electronic devices, networks, and sensitive information from unauthorized access. It means proactively taking measures to ensure that confidentiality is protected and thoroughly checking out the resources that we use. Our access to devices and endless types of technology has transformed how we learn and work. However, it has also led to an increase in dangers that can impact our safety and well-being. We need to help students understand how to utilize the technology with a careful focus on how to stay safe online and protect personal information. Cyber safety awareness is critical for everyone. 

Cyber safety refers to the practice of responsibly using technology and resources available through the internet. It is especially important to use care when accessing and sharing information online in order to avoid the risks and potential harm that can result, such as cyberbullying, hacking, phishing, identity theft, or exposure to inappropriate content and other online threats. Because of these risks, it’s crucial that we be intentional about helping students understand how to protect their safety and privacy online. 

With the increased use of AI in our schools through personalized learning platforms and data-analysis tools, we need to understand how to protect personal information from the risk of data breaches and other negative effects. 

Tips to Stay Safe

Here are some strategies to keep your students safe online. Taking time to create opportunities for students to become more mindful of their online activities and understand how to best guard their information will provide more protection for them and help them avoid negative and/or potentially long-lasting consequences.

Making time for conversations about cyber safety and the different ways that we can be good digital citizens is something that we should focus on in our classrooms throughout the year. It’s also important for students to know that just because the website exists or the resources are available, there are no guarantees that the information is valid and reliable. 

Keep your machine safe. Students should know that links they might click on different websites or in emails can later lead to malware and viruses on their devices. Use antivirus programs to protect your device, and keep your software and operating systems updated. Avoid clicking suspicious links or downloading files from unknown sources, because they could contain malware or viruses. Log off after using computers, especially in public. Be careful using public Wi-Fi. Don’t share personally identifiable information—for example, logging into banking or credit card accounts, as these contain information that could be compromised. 

Create strong passwords. Create a unique password that includes letters, numbers, and symbols to make it more difficult for the passwords to be discovered. Having a different password for each account is also important. Remind students not to share passwords with friends. Show students some different passwords, and ask them to evaluate whether or not they are secure. Helping them to understand how to create a strong password is important.

Use two-factor authentication (2FA). Two-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security, such as sending a text message or an email to the person trying to access the account. The added security setting will prevent any unauthorized access, even if a password is compromised. However, it is important to then change the password to avoid any further problems.

Check your privacy settings. Always check the privacy settings when using any form of social media, email, digital tools, or any other platforms. It is important to understand what permissions you are granting to the apps and other software and how your information might be used and/or shared. Always check for a FAQ page or standalone page that details what is done with the user’s information, and verify that the site settings are up-to-date. Being in compliance with COPPA and FERPA is essential for any digital tools we use in our classrooms. Remind students to limit the personal information they share, such as name, birth date, location, Social Security numbers, and other sensitive data.

Select some different websites to explore, and ask students to find the privacy information, look for the guidelines such as COPPA and FERPA, and see if they are in compliance, the terms of use, and also the date of the last update of the website. On some websites, this information is typically listed on the “About” page or in a “FAQ” section. It is also sometimes listed on the main landing page. Students can also look at Common Sense to see the ratings and information about the age use and privacy settings of different apps. 

You can also create different scenarios and ask students to come up with a solution to them. For example, what if students get an email telling them they’ve won a prize, or there is an ad for a free game, and all they have to do is send their information? What would/should they do? Another scenario would be asking students what they think about posting their driver’s license on a social media account. What potential problems could arise from this? 

Resources to explore

In my STEAM course, we use Nearpod lessons on cyber safety to cover a variety of important topics related to staying safe online, such as cyberbullying, digital identities, social media, and more. There are also 23 lessons on Internet Safety available from Common Sense. Be Internet Awesome is another resource that helps students develop their skills in how to stay safe online. My students enjoyed the different activities and questions that helped them to better understand how to stay safe online.

Finally, to assess student understanding of cyber safety and cybersecurity, I have used Quizizz to create games or choose from the ready-made lessons and quizzes in their library. Using Quizizz helps us to review and also provides me with data that I can use to adjust my lessons for students. There are ready-made games and lessons available in their library, which makes it easy to get started. After my students complete the game, I review the commonly missed questions, and we discuss the topics to make sure they have a clear understanding of cyber safety and best practices.

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