This is an extract from the presentation I gave at The Bett Exhibition on the 22nd January 2016.
It is our job to remove barriers to learning, in online safety it is often the curriculum that forms a barrier to meaningful learning. The fact that online safety sits within the computing curriculum is a huge issue. It puts the emphasis for the complex emotions interacting online creates in a technical light. With rules for appropriate use rather than meaningful contextual learning around issues that are intrinsically linked. For some of our students those rules will be so important, concrete examples of what not to do, and for many a great guide to how to respond and what to do. They may help reduce some of the anxieties of exploring technology. Who here uses SMART rules or similar with your students? We do too, just consider if you have a policy stating you use one set of rules whether they are accessible and understood by all students.
I wanted a curriculum that was more cohesive and flexible enough to deliver meaningful contexts to accompany the rules. That would allow the needs of the students to be met whatever their level of engagement with technology whilst tackling problems that anyone growing up goes through. There is no one size fits all curriculum especially with SEN and the highly individualised programmes we deliver. For example if you need to focus on sex and relationships do so. If the biggest issue is sharing too much skew your lessons towards that. Neither of these examples will be exclusive to a particular setting. If you need to focus on using money and independence skills you may need to think about keeping data safe, who will have access to your students accounts? Who will advocate for them?
So what is the wellbeing Curriculum? In practical terms it is an attempt to bring together PHSE which I believe should be a statutory requirement when working with vulnerable students, SRE which is vital to our students future wellbeing and citizenship. bringing these topics together allows us to explore the issues our students face growing up in a connected society. It is delivered in a three hour block with the lunch break in the middle. Lunch is followed by the enrichment time which is a time students get to interact with their peers in youth club, play sports or use the internet. Having this time is invaluable because it allows us to observe how the students are interacting with each other, what they are choosing to do online, we can immediately assess the issues we need to address that afternoon if required. So an integrated learn, explore, assess, learn system is in place. One of the key things to admit is that we cannot predict at the start of the year what issues will arise during the terms. You need to be able to make the curriculum work for the children you support.
The Primary objective though is to break down the barrier between online behaviour and behaviour. There is no difference in expected behaviour wherever that may occur. The fact that people still mention “In the real world” when discussing issues of online safety is another barrier and one that is becoming increasingly outdated. If we use this phrase we run the risk making a lot of the factors our students use to build their identity meaningless. We suggest that what they do online has no real consequences. That their identity has no significance. Online identities are the real world. they represent real human connections often at a deep emotional level. the thoughts and feelings that are in your head, negative, positive and everything in between are real to you, we cannot discount this. Think of the impact this would have on the self esteem of a student who has built a community of people they enjoy interacting with to be told that it has no purpose.
It is difficult to create meaningful and realistic learning experiences that are relevant and mirror those interactions they will experience in the future.
Now it would not be responsible for us to expose our students to material, comments and potentially predatory behaviour. but we should not be afraid to let them publish ideas , blogs or videos and share them I feel more comfortable maintaining control of the accounts at this stage to moderate any comments. The aim is to build self-esteem and resilience at this point not frighten them. Although it is vitally important to very carefully consider supporting our students in dealing with negative interactions and how to manage their feelings if they see something they don’t like. As professionals we need to think about how we contextualise this is our classrooms. It may well be the case that we do not do it alone, we formulate a strategy that involves a preferred member of staff who they feel comfortable talking to. They may require a social story or consistent visuals. As with teaching any skill in SEN we should expect to repeat it, adapt it and deliver it in a range of situations. Maybe over the course of a few years.