Are you online offline?

For large swathes of the global population, the notion of whether a person is considered ‘Online’ is somewhat of a redundant question.

The relatively rapid migration from dial-up Internet connection, to perpetually connected broadband and mobile wireless high speed data access has had a radical impact on what it means to be ‘online’.

In the not too distant past, the phrase “Are you online?” was a euphemistic enquiry as to whether or not one had entered in to some kind of contract with an Internet Service Provider.

More recently the same phrase could be a question asking whether a person was actually logged in or connected to any given service at that point in time.

Recently I have seen a trend which has confused things further. It seems that the term ‘Online’ is being used to refer to something that happens through a Web browser as if somehow other platforms interacting with remote services over the Internet are in some way not ‘online’.

For instance, it is now quite common for a TV advert to end with a phrase such as “Order online, or use our smartphone app”. This is quite meaningless. Strictly speaking it is the phone itself that is online i.e. the point of connection, but regardless of this arguably pedantic point, neither the advertiser’s Web site or their App can be used for ordering without being ‘online’.

Does the lack of precision on the use of the term ‘online’ here confuse? Do people think that they are not ‘online’ if they are using an app? Does it matter? Possibly not and maybe the less technical term of being ‘connected’ will suffice.

However, there is a very interesting question about perception exposed here. For instance, although a Web page open within a browser may refresh with updated information from time to time or even in real time while it is open (most in fact do not), closing the browser or navigating away from that site severs the communication.

This is not true of an App. Although not all apps will need to exploit the mechanism, a modern smart phone app once opened is often still 'running' and processing in the background even when you switch your attention to another app. Further, modern smart phones tend to have features within the operating system which allow the phone itself to interact with some parts of the app’s online data source even if the app is not currently running. This is the mechanism which for instance provides alert notifications from Facebook or ebay.

This is all further complicated by the fact that many people, whether they realise it or not still have an online presence even if they were in the middle of a forest, out of range of any cell connectivity with all their devices switched off, batteries removed and placed in a lead lined box and buried in a field.

This is because many of the utilities and services with which we engage on a daily basis, are still working on our behalf even when we are not connected to them. For instance, our Facebook profiles are still available for people to read and to post to, your online photo albums are still accessible, your blog posts can still attract comments. ‘You’ can be invited to events, and listed with others on an ‘attendees’ list. Depending on your profile setting you may instantly friend or follow back anyone that requests to connect with you. Recommendation engines from online shops, music on demand services or movie streaming services are churning data preparing lists of content they think you’ll be interested in - they may even automatically send you an email about their findings.

In short, the online ghost of your data and meta-data still reflects your presence and represents your likes, activities and habitual interactions for people and software alike to engage with. When you post a reply to someone’s comment on Facebook, the feeling is more akin to a direct contact with them than for instance sending an email, even if your ‘friend’ isn’t currently logged in to Facebook. This is because the context of the interface personifies your ‘friend’ through their trail of activities. Of course you have a great deal of control over these things if you take a bit of care over your service settings.

Additionally, so much of what happens in the physical world is driven by online data and decisions made online, that the notion of being in a position where you are unaffected by things ‘online’ is fallacy.

From an E-safety perspective it is important that people understand the nature of perpetual connectivity and the fact that direct engagement with a service is no longer the only driver of activity.

Putting up an umbrella may shelter you from the rain but it does not stop it raining, nor does it protect you from the effects of the river about to burst it’s banks a mile away. Likewise, switching off a device does not terminate your online activity, or your involvement in the activity of others.

A recent naive post I saw on twitter suggested that the poster had no “sympathy for those moaning about cyber bullying” because they should “just turn off their computer.” Logging off of a social network does not curtail cyber bullying or neutralise the waves that it causes in the physical world. Like many aspects of E-safety, problems are best tackled by action and education in the real world.

These are tough concepts, but digital communications technology is such a useful tool and has such positive potential that it is worth the effort to understand and to ensure that the first principles are taught to our children so that they can apply the understanding as technology continues to evolve.

Media studies was once derided by many as a ‘Mickey Mouse subject’. However, in a society where mass media has such a profound influence on our perceptions, understanding and opinions, can any rational person really argue against the value of educating people to critically evaluate the messages, meaning, contextualisation and veracity of the information we receive and the motivations of those presenting it?

Likewise, in a world where so much of our interaction and engagement is mediated by communications technology, how can we not recognise the importance of teaching the fundamental underpinnings and the modes and models of the interaction?



Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 04, 2013 17:31

E-safety Dynamic and Proactive Policies, Practices and Procedures through Dedicated Time for Lead Teachers

E-safety, as an aspect of the school curriculum, is a dynamic entity and an essential component in safeguarding.

Consequently, e-safety policies and practices can be viewed as having two strands. First of all, known risks in relation to privacy, contact with strangers and accessing inappropriate material (such as violence, pornography and hate sites, for example) remain a constant. In one respect, the key messages that need to be communicated to children are static and unchanging. For instance, not divulging personal details and contact information via social media and networking websites and the steps children can take when confronted with online material and communications that make them feel uncomfortable.

However, the rate of technological developments and digital applications demands e-safety policies and practices need to evolve and progress as and when new issues and concerns surface. It is this balance between static, or core e-safety education (which can be covered as a series of planned assemblies, an appropriate scheme of work and day-to-day highlighting of issues), and an appropriate reactive and proactive response, the non-static nature of e-safety, that poses the significant challenge for schools.

Let us take a relatively recent example. Sending photographs via text message, email and sharing online through social networking websites has been with us for a while now. It is reasonable to suggest that the potential for images to be copied, altered, forwarded and put into the public domain (whether for positive purposes or driven by more malicious intentions) is known and understood. With the advent of Snapchat, digital communications can be sent with the assurance they will effectively ‘self-destruct’ after several seconds and be deleted from devices and servers. Schools are then in the position of needing to rapidly respond to a form of digital communication and sharing of media that has the potential to undermine previous work with children on e-safety: if the evidence of cyber-bullying or inappropriate communications doesn’t exist, then all that is left is the impact on victims and the courage of others not to act as bystanders.

So, where does the static and dynamic model of e-safety leave those who develop policies and practices in school? Clearly, there is a need for the lead on e-safety to have sufficient time to be able to respond to more established issues in this area as well as emerging issues or anticipated safeguarding problems by having a current knowledge and understanding of technological and digital developments.

An e-safety policy should acknowledge that the lead has dedicated time to ensuring practices are proactive and not simply reactive. There is a need to protect time for the lead to regularly review and update Acceptable Use Policies for both staff and children as well as consider how parents and carers can be made aware of potential dangers and risks as technological and digital developments continue to progress at a rapid pace. Dissemination of information related to new risks and responsible use issues also requires the lead to invest time in continued professional development to ensure all colleagues have the knowledge and understanding to address e-safety.

Of course, stating that e-safety policies and procedures are in place (from a dedicated lead with adequate time for the role through to parental engagement) is different from accounting for the impact of steps taken. Evidence of impact, both qualitative and quantitative, is necessary to evaluate the success of e-safety education within the school to inform future priorities and demonstrate to OFSTED that this area of safeguarding has a high profile and the policies, practices and procedures in place are embedded. Once again, this brings us back to the need for an e-safety lead with adequate time dedicated to this area of work in schools.

So, how can this be taken forward in practice? A good starting point is to audit the current position using the questions below. Where an aspect is not in place or needs review and attention, then this should form the basis of action planning and projecting the time necessary to address these areas for development.

  • Is there a dedicated e-safety lead in place?

  • Does the school have an e-safety policy? Is it updated on a regular basis and in response to emerging issues?

  • Is there acceptable use document for children? What about a user agreement for staff?

  • Has there been staff training related to e-safety? Does this include all staff groups? For example, teachers, leadership and management as well as support staff.

  • Is there a proactive approach to getting e-safety messages across to children? For example, a planned series of assemblies, a scheme of work and so on.

  • Are parents and carers involved in the school’s e-safety work?
  • By establishing a baseline in relation to these areas, formulating a plan of action, schools can therefore progress towards stronger e-safety provision and develop clarity in the impact on the school, staff, pupils and parents and carers.



    If you would like to share your thoughts on the issues raised in this article, please let us know by using the comments section below

    Written by Jazz Williams on November 28, 2013 11:36

    Selfies and the development of cyber language

    I recently saw an advert for a smartphone with the strapline ‘putting the camera first’. Now call me old fashioned, but surely the phone should come first?

    Having an all-in-one device which incorporates a camera has changed the way we use photography in our everyday lives. It’s not that long ago that taking photo’s was largely limited to a roll or two of film used exclusively for family holidays and Christmas parties which had to be developed and turned into printed photographs (then undoubtedly stuffed into a drawer and forgotten about).

    Today though, taking photos is something which we are encouraged to do daily and then share via our social media network. And the latest trend for taking these photos it to take one of yourself, or taking a ‘selfie’.

    This week , Oxford Dictionaries classified selfie as their word of the year and defined is as:

  • a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary
  • It seems that the word also has derivations including belfie – a bum selfie, delfie – a drunken selfie and helfie – a hairstyle selfie amongst others!

    This spontaneous way of taking photos seems like harmless fun – and indeed in its purest form it is. Take for example the recent news about a young girl who took a selfie at a Beyonce concert and was delighted to get her icon in the shot (we could add the new phrase photobomb here too). That’s what selfies are all about, but it doesn’t take much for it to go wrong.

    It could start as someone posting a selfie online. Invited or not, comments could be made and potentially this could lead to (another term we are unfortunately becoming familiar with) cyber bullying.

    Or perhaps we should introduce another recent addition to common language – sexting. Sending or requesting inappropriate selfie images, or sexting, could lead to distress, bullying, blackmail or indeed criminal prosecution.

    The development of the mobile device and technology in general has given rise to a number of other phrases and meanings including smartphone (as discussed in our ‘Is that a phone in your pocket’ article) or it’s opposite dumbphone, tablet, android, iOS, live-stream, refollow, hackable, phablet, digital detox, MOOC, internet of things, BYOD....

    According to Oxford Dictionaries, technology remains the catalyst for new words emerging – and that can only be fuelled by how we use the technology we have access to. We must therefore ensure that young people become good digital citizens and use the technology responsibly.



    Image from Oxford Dictionaries Selfies Infographic

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on November 20, 2013 13:31


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