How Well Are Schools Teaching Cyber Safety and Ethics?

Learning about cyber safety and ethics.

Earlier this week we looked at proposed legislation in California that would change how social networking websites handle privacy and security -- not just for minors online but for all Internet users. Several commenters responded that, when it comes to children online, it should be up to parents, not legislators, to handle these sorts of matters.

But arguably, teachers can also help children learn responsible behavior online. A recent survey undertaken by the National Cyber Security Alliance, Microsoft, and Zogby/463, showed that 91% of teachers, 92% of tech coordinators, and 99% of administrators believed this should be taught. The survey examined administrators, teachers, and technology coordinators at the K-12 level about their thoughts on the cybersafety practices and curriculum in schools. (Full survey results here).

This is the third year that the National Cyber Security Alliance has tested these attitudes, this year asking over 1000 teachers, 200 tech coordinators and 400 administrators a set of questions about online safety.

Despite that agreement, the survey found a huge gulf between perceptions of how well and how often cyber-safety is taught. While 81% of tech coordinators and administrators felt that their schools and districts adequately taught the subject, only 51% of teachers agreed with the statement, "My school/school district does an adequate job of preparing students regarding cyberethics, online safety, and computer security issues."

Moreover, while approximately 60-70% of administrators and tech coordinators said that teaching cyberethics, cybersecurity, and cybersafety were required, only about 30% of teachers agreed that was the case. Of those three subcategories -- cyberethics, cybersecurity, and cybersafety -- it's the latter, cybersafety, that the largest percentage of teachers said was required. But only by 33% of teachers responding to the survey.

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The survey also found quite a disparate response among teachers, tech coordinators and administrators when it came to school policies. While 95% of tech coordinators said that their schools or districts required students to sign "acceptable use" policies, only 86% of administrators and 75% of teachers agreed.

A little over half of teachers or administrators said they felt equipped to talk to students about protecting their safety and privacy online and about cyberbullying. Interestingly, a higher percentage said they felt prepared to teach students the basics of cybersecurity, such as the need for back-ups, anti-virus software, and password protection. But when it comes to what was actually taught in the classroom about online ethics and safety, the common response by most teachers was "nothing." One notable exception: about half of teachers said they'd talked with students about the Internet and plagiarism.

The educators in the survey all expressed interest in more information on these issues and agreed that being able to address cybersafety and cyberethics in the classroom was a high priority for their professional development.

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Educators, do you teach cyber-safety or cyber-ethics in your class? Do you believe teachers have a role to play in this kind of education?

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