A Teacher’s View of Internet Booby Traps

Kenna McHugh

Kerry Gallagher is a Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep, a 1:1 iPad school, serving 1500 students grades 6-12. She is also the Director of K-12 Education for Connect Safely. She has published digital educational guidebooks instructing on social media, data privacy, and fake news. In 2015, the Family Online Safety Institute recognized her with the Outstanding Achievement Award for her work on online safety.

As a teacher, Gallagher has embraced the use of the digital tools. She recognized the data privacy issue as far back as 2009 when she taught middle and high school history. Her paperless collaborative classroom model led her to help schools create student-driven technology integration programs and data privacy guidance. As an early adopter, she was invited into the larger conversations about student data privacy. By 2014, special events and conversations about vetting for Internet trapdoors and booby traps became intrinsically important.

“I think that was one of the reasons that I saw it, even though, at that point, I was a classroom teacher and not someone at district level, not someone writing policies.”

Now, as a digital learning specialist at St. John’s Prep and due to her work at Connect Safely, she stresses the importance of not just training teachers but students as well. “Incoming 9th graders have to do a digital citizenship orientation with their parents that’s a one-hour program with us during the summer before they start school. During their freshman orientation, they spend an additional hour with the digital learning specialist. We also offer at least one parent webinar every year on digital citizenship, and we have at least two live parent council presentations on digital citizenship programming over the course of
the school year.”

Gallagher is quick to clarify, “But I would tell you that if we were not providing the teachers with professional training on these issues that it would not be on their radar. I’m not sure it would be on the radar of your average classroom teacher yet unless their school is providing them with some professional training on
the issue.”

The concept of hijackers or internet trapdoors of potential student data leaks is something Gallagher hesitates to circulate. “I think we need to look at security from a perspective that isn’t quite alarmist because, if we use scare tactics to share the information, I worry that it will paralyze parents and students and teachers and they’ll be afraid to use technology.”

She encourages educating because she knows that these parents and these students who are the families that make up St. John’s school community are already using a lot of these tools in their personal lives without realizing how much data they’re sharing.

It’s important to loop parents into the full discussion about data privacy. “When you loop parents in, they can become kind of wide-eyed and frightened, so making sure that the approach is measured and positive is important. It is meant to be empowering, not to scare them.

“One of the goals of the school is to make sure that the school is only advocating we use the tools that are taking care of data the right way and so, in that sense, we need to make sure we vet all of our technology products before we recommend that teachers use them.”

Through her experience in both teaching and being an online safety advocate, one thing she says many schools are leaving out of their discussion and policy is that it isn’t just about the technology department vetting everything and telling teachers to be aware. “It’s important that the technology department work closely with whoever is in charge of professional learning to educate the teachers about why the vetting policy is in place because I see data privacy as one of the areas that they need to understand. We don’t necessarily want teachers to do their own vetting because they have enough responsibilities and concerns."

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