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.

10 tips for getting the most out of a virtual PD event

Note: This article was originally published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) on October 20, 2020. It has been republished here with their permission, and the permission of the author.

I miss attending conferences in person. Face-to-face learning, the opportunity to travel and get a change of scenery, meeting old friends and new, the energy and excitement that you see in everyone sharing the same space all make attending conferences an invigorating experience. But times are different, and virtual conferences are the only safe option right now. 

I think it’s safe to assume that virtual conferences won’t go away after the pandemic ends. With this new style of professional development, there is sure to be a learning curve. Here are my top 10 tips to help you make the most of your next virtual conference.

1. Clear your calendar.

Act as if you were out of town attending an in-person conference. Close your email, turn off notifications and move your phone out of reach. If possible, put a vacation responder notification on email and an out-of-office message on your shared calendar. Most folks don’t think to do this for a virtual event but do it instinctively when they are attending in-person. Remember, your email will be there when you return!

2. Attend live sessions if you can.

We all (me included) bookmark and save content telling ourselves we’ll revisit it later, and we almost never do, in part because the next day there’s even more shiny new websites, resources and emails to distract us! If you don’t attend live you might never view the presentation recordings and miss the opportunity to ask questions or potentially gain a new idea to use with your students.

3. Be mindful of your background.

If your video is on — even briefly — make sure your background is free of distracting (or embarrassing) scenes. Turn your video on before you go live to make sure that what’s behind you is appropriate and professional. Is your camera facing the kitchen where someone might get a snack? A bedroom door where someone might be changing? Along those same lines, don’t walk around with your device, either!

4. Connect with others via chat.

If you were face-to-face, you would say hello to those sitting around you and might strike up casual conversations. You can do the same in the chat during a session: Ask a question, share a resource, give the presenter a shout-out when you agree with something. Remember, a large part of what we learn comes from casual conversations with those in our PLNs.

5. Unless you are paying close attention, turn off your video.

As a presenter, it’s distracting to see people eat, interact with spouses or get up to do something else. Just as you would mind your manners if someone were speaking right in front of you, try to extend the same courtesy virtually.

6. Follow the conference hashtag and tweet, retweet, engage!

This is not only a great way to gather additional resources but also to enhance your professional learning network. There is an amazing energy that comes from interacting with other participants this way. Positive energy will help you stay engaged and interested in the event, even if you are attending from your kitchen table.

7. Take notes and save links during sessions.

As much as I love technology, I also sometimes write out notes on a good old-fashioned piece of paper. Often I’ll hear an idea during a presentation and it’ll lead me to my own ideas. If I don’t write them down, I’ll forget the thought as quickly as it came into my head. Do you have colleagues attending the same virtual event? I know several people who will also swap notes with each other after the event. Doing this helps me stay even more engaged in the moment knowing that others may ask about the notes I took.

8. Have a fidget toy handy!

I have a tendency to multitask (not successfully) when watching an online presentation, but I find if I have a fidget toy in my hands I can focus just a bit longer and not use my hands to type or navigate away to my second screen.

9. Offer feedback.

Presenters work hard to prepare and still get nervous to present. If they ask for audience participation and you are able to participate, do so. After all, if you were face to face in a session and the presenter asked everyone to stand would you be the only one to sit?

10. Give presenters grace.

These are bizarre times for all of us, and many people are learning to adapt to situations as they go. Not all folks are comfortable presenting online. If a presenter tries something new and it doesn’t work, it’s OK. Cut them some slack. Remember, we are all in this together for the same reasons — to increase our capacity, improve our practice and learn new ways to enhance the success of our students.