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eSafety for Teachers - COVID's New Challenges

06.04.2021

In this article Lorcan Tuohy, member of the Webwise youth panel (part of the Irish Safer Internet Centre) and BIK Youth Ambassador outlines challenges teachers face while teaching remotely in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Quotes highlighted in the article are based on interviews Lorcan did with a range of educators from across Ireland.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone in all different ways, but it has been particularly difficult for those in education. Moving to an online platform in March of 2020 was a big hit to several education centres, teachers and students alike were placed in a ‘no man’s land’ unsure of what to do or what resources they could use to continue learning.

A year later and we are still in the same situation, with schools still semi if not on the online learning environment. This reliance on technology has most certainly put us in a position where we spend many hours a day sitting in front of a laptop, computer, or phone. This significant increase in online usage has opened a large vulnerability or catalyst for cyberbullying and the health issues that come with this prolonged exposure. This new online environment means that now more than ever we need to wary and considerate of the potential of these risks entering the classrooms much more frequently.

For this article I decided that it would be great to hear from a number of teachers in relation to this area of concern as they are the first point of contact as educators from students. To hear from these teachers, I did individual anonymous interviews with teachers that have had a mix of good and bad experiences to ensure their own privacy and to ensure I got a full insight into the situations that teachers were placed in and how they found solutions to those issues.

Now, I would like to mention some of the more common problems the teachers found in relation to the online environment as well as some solutions to this.

Fatugue and screen time

The potential of students being exhausted and spending too long in front of the computers was a common concern among all the teachers interviewed. While the online platforms can provide advantages such and accessibility and in some cases on demand lessons meaning that if a student were missing for some classes, they would be able to reconnect and catch up with much more convenience. As one of the teachers said, “I enjoy the ability to pre-record out lessons for them [students] but I sometimes worry with certain students falling out of a routines and logging into the system at crazy hours what impact that is having on their health”.

To avoid such things like this happening some teachers opted for a change in methodology in some cases only possible because of the online resources. For example, the use of breakout rooms to allow students to work together on certain topics allowing students to learn for each other and collaborate. Other teachers opted for a more feedback-based approach when it came to deciding workloads, opening possibilities for weekly feedback, and getting an understanding of how much work is too much for the students.

A final note that was also common among the teachers was not actually in relation to student fatigue but was related to teachers suffering from the prolonged hours that the online systems bring with them as well as the added stresses of adopting drastically changing technology. This was significant more in 2020 than it is now but still a couple interviewed struggle to find time to themselves. The advice one teacher gave was setting up an automatic out of office for students “I set up auto-reply once the school day ends. This way if I do get any E-mails from distressed students late at night, they can access the resources and instructions immediately from the links in the auto reply”. This gives teachers that little bit more freedom and peace of mind that they should not feel the need to be online 24/7 out of fear of missing a student they cannot help.

Concerns over increased bullying and privacy

The second issue that has arisen from the interviews is the concerns over a potential increase in the amount of bullying taking place due to the fully online environment as well as some privacy concerns most notably over the use of cameras in class.

Firstly, to address the issue with using cameras in the online classes to try and better engage the classes has been a massive struggle for several reasons with the most frequent being students coming up to teachers voicing their concerns about their backgrounds and their privacy. Not every student has their own areas to work and study in completely isolated from the rest of the people in their house, or also they might not have a background that they feel comfortable displaying not only in front of a teacher but the rest of the class.

This left teachers with concerns for loss of engagement. One teacher mentioned “But we would have had a sense that some of the kids perhaps were coming online, leaving their computer on and then they were actually on their Xbox, or they were actually playing a game on their phone or that sort of stuff.” This obviously puts teachers into a sort of grey zone of needing to ensure the students are paying attention but also needing to respect the privacy of the students. To work around this some teachers found that using interactive tools where it can be seen that students individually are contributing and noting those who aren’t contributing for a follow up.

Finally, the concerns over increased bullying due to the increased exposure online has naturally grown.  With young people spending more and more hours online it is essential that they have the tools and ability to use the platforms in a safe and ethical way applying media literacy skills with everything they do online. While most of the teachers interviewed here said that while it is a constant concern for their students, they believed that they had the tools and resources available to them to combat and ensure this kind of bullying is prevented from happening in the first place. The teachers were in common agreement was that communication and trust with your students were key to ensuring that any instances of cyberbullying that may take place are dealt with confidentiality and quickly. Having good communication and trust with your students lets students know that if there are concerns about issues about this that they are brought to your attention immediately.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that the past year has posed several challenges in relation to the areas above and more. Interviewed here were only a small number of a vast number of teachers who have had to endure and adapt the last year so without a doubt there are many more issues that are not written here that others experienced during this difficult year. A number of the teachers interviewed said that they got a lot of their support from co-workers and peers. This shows the importance of collaboration and teamwork when it comes to situations like the ones we are in today.

About the author

Lorcan (Ireland)

I'm Lorcan and I'm a 20-year-old student from Ireland. I first became interested in online safety through my own experiences online and I signed up to become a Safer Internet Day (SID) Ambassador with the Irish Safer Internet Centre. I organised online safety events in my school for Safer Internet Day and I became a member of the Irish Youth Panel. Through this role, I have taken part in open policy debates and panel discussions focusing on the challenges and benefits of technology. These include an Open Policy Debate organised by the Irish Government in March this year which lead to the first Online Safety Strategy, and the EMEA Child Safety Summit hosted by Google and Facebook in April of this year. I'm also a member of Tipperary Comhairle na nÓg, where we actively promote positive use of technology and being aware of online safety.

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