Developing personal knowledge of digital technology

Young people are accustomed to interacting in the online world on a daily basis. There is a growing culture of people, generally those born after 1990, who have never experienced a world without smartphones, social media and the internet. But while children of this generation have grown up surrounded by technology, we cannot assume that they understand how to use it appropriately. Just as we try to teach our children about their rights and responsibilities as members of our physical community, it is our responsibility to help children learn how to become good digital citizens.

Whether you are an avid user of digital technologies or have never engaged with the online world before, it is important to understand digital citizenship and the issues surrounding technology use. To better guide young people in the safe use of technology, those of us from earlier generations need to be aware of our own technological capabilities and strive to develop our knowledge of the modern digital environment. This will assist us to bridge the digital divide that may exist between generations and better engage with young people in the classroom or in our homes. Knowing how and when to use digital technology will provide you with the skills to model for students what it means to be a good digital citizen.

The best way of understanding what students are doing on the internet is by simply talking to them about their use of digital technologies. For instance, surveying students is a valuable way of gaining an understanding of what the young people at your school are using and doing with technology. Another way to learn what students are up to online to is to check out the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) report entitled ‘Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media’, which draws on surveys conducted with young people across Australia to provide a general overview of technology use among kids and teenagers. Finally, you might wish to seek out or request professional development opportunities that will guide you in interacting with popular digital technologies.

Back to top

Using technology to aid teaching and learning

It is a common belief that young people who have grown up with the internet have an almost intuitive knowledge of technology, and that their familiarity with technology corresponds with their effective and efficient use of technology. However, while this generation may have more confidence in using technology and use this technology on a daily basis, they are not necessarily skilled in using social media in safe and positive ways; especially given young people will require multiple skills to adapt to this ever-evolving online environment. It is important to remember that while young people have grown up immersed in technology they do need to actively learn ways to use technology positively as well as how to deal effectively with harmful online behaviours.

Research suggests that promoting students’ responsible use of technology rather than merely restricting their access may help to reduce their experiences of online harms, such as cyberbullying. Furthermore, the fundamental role of social media in young people’s lives (both the role it currently has and the role it is likely to play in the future), clearly demonstrates the importance of educating students about its uses, so that these benefits can be fully realised, and the harms associated with misuse of technology can be minimised.

There are many useful websites Australian teachers can use to guide their students in the appropriate use of digital technologies and social media. Friendly Schools particularly recommends the following:

  • Cybersmart is an Australian government website that provides a range of resources on cybersafe practices. Teachers can find professional development advice and lesson plans by selecting the Schools tab, or they might choose to direct their students to one of the age-specific sections aimed directly at young people.

  • Budd:e is an interactive website that forms part of a broader Australian Government cybersecurity initiative. It teaches students about the risks and consequences of being online through teacher-guided, activity-based learning modules. This site is recommended for children in Years 3–8.

  • Thinkuknow is an Australian internet safety program that facilitates interactive learning about the online environment for both teachers and young people. The site offers a range of free resources, including fact sheets, videos and e-newsletters. The website requires that you log in to access the resources, but registration is free and simple to complete.

  • KidSMART provides short tutorial films and interactive activities aimed at helping students to improve their online skills. The site includes modules specifically related to social networking, digital footprints, mobiles and chatting. Teacher resources are divided into two age groups: 3–7 and 8–11.

  • ikeepsafe is a website that can be used by both teachers and students to learn about the online safety. The teacher resources include lesson plans, videos, and handouts. The student resources incorporate games and videos to educate children about topics like dangerous downloading and how to handle cyberbullying.

  • Netsmartz is an interactive and educational online workshop for educators and their students that teaches young people how to be safe online. The age-appropriate resources include games, videos, activities, and presentations.

  • Digizen provides internet safety and proficiency information for young people and their parents, carers and teachers. It has a wealth of useful resources for use in the classroom. One great activity for older students is the Social Networking Detective, designed to stimulate conversation regarding the safety practices and features of social media sites.

Back to top

Maintaining professional conduct online

Social media has significantly influenced how people communicate and interact socially, especially young people. Moreover, the increasing popularity of social media in society is seeping into all aspects of modern life, including the classroom. Given this trend, teachers and school staff must carefully consider their use of social media in both professional and personal capacities.

In working with children, teachers face particular professional, privacy and security challenges as they interact with social media. Social media can undoubtedly blur teacher-student and other professional boundaries. Serious repercussions, including suspension of professional registration or dismissal, can result from inadvertent violations of codes of conduct and professional standards while using social media.

Your online digital profile and professional implications

It is very important to be aware of your online digital reputation. Workplaces are increasingly searching potential and existing employees’ online digital profiles to determine their suitability for employment and to monitor for inappropriate content that may negatively affect the reputation of a workplace. The scanning of electronic communication, including social media, is increasingly being viewed as part of the process for ‘due diligence’ when considering potential employees.

Teachers and other school staff therefore need to be mindful of the long-term implications of any pictures, videos, status updates, links or memes that they post online. Teachers must always give careful consideration to the potential damage information may inflict upon their professional reputation before sharing or commenting on information in the public domain. Remember, content that appears harmless and funny at first may be misconstrued by others who do not understand the context in which the information has been posted or shared.

What’s more, impulsively posting something online can have unexpected consequences. All content placed on the internet leaves a digital footprint, which makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to contain. Deleting information does not mean the content is no longer available online. More often than not, a copy will have been stored or cached somewhere, making it accessible in perpetuity. While many social media sites have privacy settings that allow you to restrict access to other users, the site may still be able to share certain information with companies and search engines. If there is something that you do not want in the public domain, then it should not be shared online. If someone uploads personal content without your permission, ask them to remove it. If they refuse to do so, some types of inappropriate content can be reported directly to site administrators.

Teachers and school staff have the right to participate in the online community like anyone else, but they must remember that the traditional expectations of professional conduct still apply in the online environment. It is imperative, then, that teachers who use social media carefully consider the following questions before posting or sharing material:

  • Who will see this content?
  • How will it be interpreted?
  • Are there any potential unintended consequences of placing something online?
  • What are the long-term implications of this?

Professional reciprocity

Social friendships between work colleagues often develop through day-to-day interactions. These friendships sometimes move beyond the school and into non-school hours, including friendships via social media. Most people are concerned with what information they allow others to view on their social media pages, but as a good digital citizen, it is also important to look out for the wellbeing and safety of other social media users.

Being a good digital citizen includes looking out for the best interests of those you interact with online. This may be particularly relevant for citizens who belong to well-respected professions, such as teaching, where the public expect high professional standards. Where this is the case, a respectful collegiate relationship in which workmates alert each other to potentially risky online content can assist everyone to enjoy the benefits of social media while feeling safe that others are looking out for your best interests.

Right to privacy and freedom of speech

The Privacy Act 1988 does cover social media in Australia, but it does not extend to an individual’s personal activities. In addition, the Privacy Act only covers organisations based in Australia, which excludes those popular social media sites – such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – based in the United States. This difficulty highlights the legal complexities associated with the borderless nature of social media. The outcome is that as long as the information is freely available for public viewing, there are no impediments to stop an employer from viewing employees’ personal profiles on social media sites and making decisions based on this information, including disciplinary actions arising from improper content.

Comprehensive evidence-based information about the disciplinary and legal consequences of inappropriate social media use for teachers is provided in Russo, Squelch and Varnham’s 2010 research paper entitled ‘Teachers and social networking sites: Think before you post’, which is free to read at the link.

Back to top

Troubleshooting scenarios for teachers using social media

The following scenarios model some of the problems that teachers may experience in relation to social media use. The scenarios are intended as examples only, and teachers should consider any troubleshooting suggestions in the context of their particular circumstances.

Scenario 1
Teacher/student boundaries

When logging in to your personal social media account, you find a friend request from someone whose name sounds very familiar, but their profile picture is an artistic picture of a butterfly. After accepting the request, you realise it is actually from a student who you haven’t taught before but who attends your school. The student sends you a message saying they think you are a fantastic teacher.They also like a number of photographs you have posted of a recent holiday with friends, including one of you lying on the beach in your swimsuit.

A power imbalance exists between teachers and students, and it is crucial to maintain clear professional boundaries to protect students from exploitation. Teachers who allow students to access their entire profile on social media sites expose details about their personal lives that would not normally be divulged as part of the usual teacher-student relationship. This may be construed in some circumstances as a breach of professional boundaries, which can result in disciplinary action against a teacher.

If a friend request is received from a current student, the best course of action is to simply inform them that your policy is not to establish online friendships with students. In all communications with students, a professional tone should be maintained. This does not mean a teacher cannot be friendly or humorous, but it does mean that that the tone of communication must remain that of a teacher speaking to a student rather than that of a peer-to-peer relationship.

In some cases, teachers may develop a coaching or mentoring relationship with a former student where they keep in contact and correspond. While this can have a beneficial outcome for both parties involved, school staff must ensure that they maintain their professional integrity in all interactions. Exchanges over social media can be misconstrued, and information can potentially be shared with other users beyond those intended. School staff should be aware of their privacy settings and limit any personal information they share to ‘friends only’, not ‘friends of friends’.

Another option may be to join a professional networking site, such as LinkedIn, or create an online profile that is maintained as a professional page only. Students can then become followers or friends of this professional page. It is important that all social media interactions conform to the professional boundaries of a teacher/student relationship and that these interactions are educationally valid.

Scenario 2
Teacher/parent boundaries

During parent-teacher night, you have a cordial but professional conversation with a parent of one of your students. A day later, you receive a new friend request from her on a social media site. After you accept the friend request, the parent sends you a message saying her son will not be at school next week due to a medical appointment. She also makes a flippant comment about photos of you at a recent fancy-dress party. The next day, the student makes a comment to you in class regarding a photograph of you dancing at a friend’s wedding reception that is posted on your Facebook page.

Teachers are respected members of the school community. To maintain this trusted position, they must ensure they maintain a professional profile that does not jeopardise appropriate teacher-student boundaries. This boundary may be blurred through informal interactions with the school community outside of school hours.

It is important that staff maintain a level of professionalism in their interactions with all members of the school community. Any information shared with members of the school community should foster the right professional image, even outside of school hours, if it impacts on classroom interactions with students.

Scenario 3
Other professional boundaries

After a really bad week at work, you vent online about an altercation you had with the deputy principal, including a few expletives and derogatory comments about both the deputy and the school more generally (although not by name). Another colleague, who is your friend on the site, makes a comment, which opens the post up to others at your school. The posting then comes to the attention of senior school staff, who call you in on Monday to discuss the matter.

Users of social media are advised to carefully consider whom they allow to access their personal information. As this scenario demonstrates, combining private and professional relationships can become problematic. Comments made in the heat of the moment can sometimes inflame otherwise cordial friendships, and failure to monitor privacy settings means that information can be shared with other users beyond those intended.

If you do have a broad group of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ on your social media account, then it is worthwhile grouping them so you can more easily direct your content to the appropriate audience. This may include restricting certain aspects of your page to colleagues and other professional acquaintances.

Back to top

Implementing effective response strategies to cyberbullying behaviour

Within the school environment, teachers may be exposed to incidents resulting from social media activity that impacts upon an individual student’s ability to be focused in the classroom or disrupts the overall classroom learning environment. The strategies outlined below can be used by teachers and school staff to explore and address some of these incidents. Often used to address bullying incidents, these response strategies can be a useful tool for discussing incidents with students around social networking conflict online.

More detailed information on responding to online incidents and cyberbullying behaviour can be found under Component 3 in the Friendly Schools Evidence for Practice resource.

Co-LATE model

Friendly Schools research suggests that schools find the Co-LATE model helpful when talking to students about personal issues, including relationship difficulties and bullying behaviour. The model is simple and can be used by all school staff, regardless of their role in the school. The Co-LATE model is based on the work of Michael Tunnecliffe and comprises of five steps:



Acknowledge concerns

Talk about the options

End with encouragement

The following video clip demonstrates the use of the Co-Late Model when talking to students about bullying behaviour. While this clip refers to behaviour occurring on the school grounds, the model may also be used to discuss online incidents with students.


Method of Shared Concern

The Method of Shared Concern employs a non-punitive, non-blaming and non-aggressive approach to individual and group discussion of the incident. Each student involved in the bullying incident participates in a series of individual discussions with a staff member, during which clearly defined steps are used to reach a point where the students bullying agree that the student being bullied is having a difficult time. The students who are bullying are then encouraged to suggest and try out ways to help to improve the situation for the student being bullied. The student being bullied is also provided with opportunities to discuss the incident and encouraged to consider and try ways they can improve their own situation.

Consultation with the school community and formalisation of such a procedure in the whole-school bullying policy helps to enhance ownership by the school community and enables a consistent staff approach to the management of bullying incidents. While the Method of Shared Concern is useful as an immediate action, to be successful in the longer term it is important that it be embedded within a whole-school approach to bullying prevention.

Critical thinking line

The critical thinking line is based on a number line, upon which students can rate their feelings from 1 (low) to 10 (high). It is best used in conjunction with the Method of Shared Concern as a means to establish, for example, some feelings of empathy for the student being bullied. This method of getting the student to think critically about the person they are bullying helps to develop an awareness of how the bullying situation developed and may provide ideas as to how this problem could be addressed.

This video illustrates the effective use of the critical thinking line to talk to students about their bullying behaviour. While the clip refers to behaviour occurring on school grounds, the critical thinking line technique may also be used to discuss online incidents and to help students consider the feelings of others.


Back to top

Guiding online behaviour by partnering with Student Cyber Leaders

During Friendly Schools research, students over 14 years were found to be less responsive than younger students to cyber-safety lessons in the classroom. However, they expressed a genuine concern about cyber issues and showed an interest in being involved as leaders in school initiatives to address these matters. The role of these older students as student leaders, encouraging and enabling other young people to use technology in positive ways, was found to have positive outcomes for both the student leaders and their peers.

Two Friendly Schools resources provide the tools and strategies necessary for implementation of the Student Cyber Leaders program. The Cyber Leaders’Student Handbook builds the self-efficacy of students to show leadership in their school and with their peers by encouraging and enabling other young people to use technology in positive ways. Meanwhile, the School Staff Handbook for Cyber Leaders guides school staff in supporting student leaders to establish a whole-school ethos and environment where all students feel empowered to use technology in positive ways. These resources provide the starting point for an initiative that helps teachers and other school staff to bridge the gap between generations and encourage responsible technology use without depriving students of the power to become self-directed digital citizens.

Back to top

Friendly Schools acknowledges the Public Education Endowment Trust (PEET), who provided funding for the Cyber Strong Schools research project on which the Cyberbullying Support section of this website is based.