How ISB keeps its students safe online
Media Mentor Month - students in library

By Jessica Thompson, Newswire

April’s Media Mentor Month at the International School of Beijing (ISB) starts the conversation around technology and media literacy to teach students to be safe and act responsibly online, and help support parents to teach those same values to their children at home.

And in just its second year running, it’s a much anticipated month.

“There are always examples of students asking critical questions to the adults in their lives (teachers or parents) after we have these important digital citizen discussions,” says Clint Hamada, Educational Technology Coordinator at ISB.

“Whether it’s questioning the amount of screen time for their parents, or asking teachers information about copyright and attribution for materials they are using in their classroom, it’s always great to see students of all ages internalizing this information and applying it to the world around them.”

April began with ISB distributing a calendar with 30 suggested activities parents could do with their children – in English,  Korean, and Mandarin – to help encourage family discussions about values and beliefs around technology and media. The school also invited parents to a workshop to introduce the calendar and discuss the concept of media mentoring.

“There is a misconception that children are inherently able to navigate and participate meaningfully in a digital world,” says Hamada. “While they may be more adept at swiping and clicking, and may have fewer fears about trying out a new device or app, I think it’s more important than ever that adults are there to provide guidance and role-modeling.”

Media Mentor Month - students through window

Digital citizenship lessons year-round

At ISB, even with a themed-month where Internet safety is discussed extensively, the school makes sure to keep the conversation going year-round. In addition to standalone digital citizenship lessons that occur throughout the year in Middle and High School mentoring classes, the school embeds opportunities in the curriculum for students to practice and exhibit the skills required to be responsible citizens in our digital world.

“Whether it’s thinking about the information they are sharing online about themselves, or thinking about copyright, ownership and fair use of the work of others along with how to properly attribute that work, there are tons of opportunities to get students thinking about safety and responsibility online,” says Hamada.

In addition to keeping the discussion going with students, ISB supports parents to teach those same values at home.

Hamada gives the example of requiring grade 6 students to bring back a copy of family agreements before allowing them to take their Apple devices home as a way of facilitating these conversations between parents and children. The school gives all its students an Apple device – an iPad from Kindergarten to grade 4 and a MacBook Air from grades 5 to 12.

“With family agreements, we expect our students to lead a discussion with their parents and reach agreements around where, when, and for how long they can use their school device,” he says.

The intention with family agreements is that they are based on a dialogue rather than rules handed down by the parents; they hopefully apply to all members of the family, not just children, and families determine what works best for them as a whole.

“While we mandate this for grade 6 students, we also offer a session for all parents to help them facilitate this conversation at home for any age of student,” Hamada explains.

The school also runs coffee mornings and other discussion groups for parents around the importance of understanding the digital environment their children are growing up in today.  

“Almost every discussion with parents around technology ends up being a discussion about parenting in this tech-rich landscape,” says Hamada. “We encourage these discussions to take place whenever and wherever they occur.”

Media Mentor Month - students with teacher

Programs guaranteeing student safety

Along with ISB’s commitment to educating students and parents about how to use the Internet safely, the school also uses computer programs to monitor and control what students are accessing on their laptops.

“The school has a responsibility to ensure that it can both audit and manage all devices at all times and this is achieved in two ways,” says Garrett Nunan, ICT Director at ISB.

One, the school uses a software client called JAMF Pro, which allows the ICT Office to deploy and manage software on the Apple devices, as well as take inventory on what software has been installed.

“This gives staff and students the flexibility to install any licensed software they choose but also affords our ICT department the ability to ensure there is nothing installed that shouldn’t be,” says Nunan.

The second piece of content management on Apple devices occurs at the network level. The school uses filters designed by the Palo Alto Network, an American multinational cybersecurity company, to block any inappropriate content.

“It is important to have these types of systems in place as we have a duty to protect our students from accidentally, or purposefully, coming across inappropriate content,” says Nunan.

According to the ICT director, the log files on the servers capture all traffic and in the event of allegations of inappropriate content being accessed and/or inappropriate behaviors such as cyberbullying, there is a full audit trail and a very high level of accountability provided by these systems.

“This is how we can confidently give our staff and students full administrative rights over their devices and not worry too much about inappropriate online behaviors,” says Nunan.

However, even though these programs do their best to keep students safe, it’s important to keep the conversation going.

“Challenges can be met through educating users rather than solely depending on systems prohibiting access or monitoring users actions,” he adds. “We all need to do our best to evolve [as media and technology] changes.”

And as changes occur and more questions surface, ISB is readying itself with answers.

“Our ultimate goal is to equip our students with the ability to think critically and to remain true to their own family’s and personal values when they are interacting with others, whether it is face to face or online,” says Hamada. “We serve a diverse community of learners and it is important that all students and families feel supported and valued.”

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