5 Things Students Should Do to Stay Safe and Secure Online

Note: This article was originally published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) on February 5, 2021. It has been republished here with their permission, and the permission of the author. You can read the original here.

Today is Safer Internet Day, an occasion to recommit to best practices for protecting digital identity. In the spirit of this important celebration, we’re proud to feature an article by the LTC’s Nicole Zumpano, originally published by ISTE. Each of its timely resources and recommendation will help you make digital literacy and internet safety a cornerstone of your classroom year-round.


As adults, we do everything possible to keep our computers, bank accounts and families safe. Our list of to-dos continues to grow as our use of digital technologies increases. While these tasks are rote to most adults, we can’t expect that our students will follow our lead.  

It is our responsibility as educators to make sure learners know how to do more than surf the web and consume media. All educators — from classroom teachers to technology coaches and school administrators — should lead the discussion on digital literacy. Here are some ways to make sure our students stay safe and secure online:

Teach students to conduct data mines (on themselves)

Students should do this every 3-6 months. While many will Google their names, we need to teach them to dig deeper. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Log out of internet browsers before searching (staying logged in can affect the results).
  • Search (using quotation marks) full legal names, nicknames and usernames.
  • Search Google Images with names/usernames.
  • Use multiple browsers, such as Chrome, Bing, Yahoo, Safari and Firefox.
  • Look beyond the first page of results. Go at least five pages deep until the name/username no longer appears. Take note of what kind of results appear (presentations/social media/images/etc.).

Here’s an exercise I give to graduate students, but it can easily be replicated for high school students.

Check privacy settings on social media accounts

Because many sites may be blocked during school hours, allow students to check privacy settings on those that are not. At a minimum, show students how to access privacy settings (perhaps through a screencast or screenshot). On each social media site, students should:

  • Check privacy settings to see who can view posts.
  • Go through “friends” lists and remove people who should not be there.
  • Search posts and remove any that they wouldn’t want a parent, teacher, employer or college official to see.
  • Look at tagged images that others have posted.  

Watch the video below to seen how Katrina Traylor Rice taught students about digital privacy while teaching a unit on the Bill of Rights.

Teach digital literacies

Digital literacy is a term that has many moving parts. Students need guidance on varying types of literacy, including media (how to “read” media), social (how to interact in an online environment), and information (the ability to locate, evaluate and properly use information).

Safety falls into this category as well. Students need to know, understand and apply password algorithms as well as recognize scams and understand how their data is being tracked and used by companies.

Stress the importance of digital maintenance

This is the spelling list or cursive practice of the digital world. It’s not glamorous to teach but essential for students to know:

  • Teach students how to download Google Drive files to an external drive.
  • Remind them to backup Drive files, important emails, smartphone photos/apps/etc. at least once a month.
  • Make sure parents have access to account passwords in the event of emergencies. Have them write the accounts/passwords on a piece of paper and place it in an envelope in a safe yet visible place.
  • Reiterate the importance of logging out of accounts, not simply closing the browser window.

Start early

Teaching digital responsibility is not just for middle school teachers or library media specialists. It’s everyone’s duty, and we must start with kindergartners. Consider developing a digital media scope-and-sequence to address what should be taught at each grade.

This is something that can be developed by teachers, students and parents alike. At a minimum, make a commitment with grade-level colleagues that you’ll help teach students how to be safe and secure digital citizens. A good place to begin is by reviewing the ISTE Standards for Students.

Being alert — being aware of online actions, and knowing how to be safe and create safe spaces for others online — is one of the five competencies of the #DigCitCommit campaign. Watch the video below to learn how you can get involved in the movement.