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Ministry of Education.
Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore to tātou waka e ū ki uta

Section 8: Safety in digital technology

A student working at a computer

8.1 Information for all teachers, including safety in non-specialist rooms

Each school is required to develop, implement, and manage health and safety policies and procedures that are approved by the Board of Trustees. These policies and procedures are expected to be adhered to in addition to implementing the recommendations in this manual.

Schools will need to be mindful of safety in respect to e-learning and digital technology. The two key aspects are:

  • safety online
  • appropriate equipment, layout, and design.

Teachers planning for and implementing safety in digital technology should have thorough knowledge in this area. If this is not the case, teachers should seek advice from a specialist.

Before commencing work in digital technology, teachers need to do a risk analysis to identify hazards. This may include:

  • the people involved, such as students, resource personnel, and the intended end users of the outcomes produced (including cultural and ethical considerations)
  • the materials and equipment used, including power leads, power points, and energy sources
  • the environment, for both the process and the location where the final outcome will be placed.

Students should also be made aware of the importance of identifying hazards. This process should become an integral part of their classroom practice. When hazards are identified, they can be eliminated, isolated, or minimised.

Digital technology and e-learning (learning supported by or facilitated by ICT) can expose students to a variety of risks. As a result, it is difficult to predict all of the risks that may impact on students.

All digital technologies have risks. To minimise these risks, schools need to develop safe practices that include the student body and involve raising community awareness. As new technologies appear, the ability to future-proof and be forward thinking is critical. An up-to-date e-learning strategic plan is an essential part of dealing with risks. The e-learning strategic plan should be aligned to the school’s goals and vision and be implemented in planning throughout departments and syndicates. Teachers, students, and the community should be aware of safe practices online and be informed of the risks. 

A policy for the use of digital technologies, which is signed by students and parents, needs to be more than just a signed piece of paper. The school community needs to be actively involved in the development of the policy content, and be aware of what it means for digital users at the school. A policy for the use of digital technologies needs to be co-constructed and be well-understood to be effective. 

8.2 Safety online

The deliberate teaching of digital citizenship is important at all levels of schooling. Students need to be aware of the safety aspects of their digital footprint and their actions when online. Schools need to have policies that deal with online safety, including but not limited to:

  • working in an online context
  • managing accessibility
  • managing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and online communities
  • cyber bullying
  • managing bring your own device (BYOD) to school
  • community awareness and support
  • copyright
  • anti-virus protection and spam.

Schools can consult Netsafe for support in these areas, including policy templates, resources for schools, reporting incidents, and getting support if an incident occurs.

Using digital technologies

Global communication and growing networks means students need to be taught how to keep themselves safe online. Well-understood processes and procedures should be developed to suit the needs of the school. Schools need to ensure that any e-learning strategic documentation includes a policy that reduces risk to students but does not exclude them from deriving the benefits from the technology.

Restrictions

Agreeing on what is undesirable is not a simple task, because people’s views are influenced by their cultural, religious, political, and moral perspectives. Schools will need to decide for themselves whether they are going to restrict material and, if so, on what basis. Students should be involved in any risk analysis – if students are determined, they will always find ways of accessing and sharing dubious information. Chat services give students access to people throughout the world. However, some of these contacts have led students into dangerous situations.

Schools need to consider this carefully and develop a policy that is well-understood by the students, the school, and the parent community. Educating the parent community plays an important role. Robust discussions need to happen to consider whether it is necessary to restrict or, alternatively, to educate.

Acceptable use policies

The purpose of an acceptable use policy is not to set restrictions but rather to set guidelines for exploring and using digital technologies. This is an agreement between the school, teachers, and students to adhere to guidelines when they use digital technologies. The school community needs to ensure that, alongside safety aspects, they consider other educational components to effectively use an online environment, such as:

  • discriminating between information sources
  • identifying information that is appropriate to age and developmental level
  • evaluating and using information to meet educational needs.

The policy should include procedures that provide guidelines to deal with behaviours, such as:

  • violation of privacy
  • cyber bullying
  • flaming (making or receiving emotional verbal attacks)
  • addiction (excessive use of the Internet)
  • sending or receiving objectionable material
  • engaging in destructive or illegal behaviours
  • making or coming into contact with undesirable people
  • failing to respect property rights (copyright).

Consideration needs to be given to:

  • the imposition of a specific code of morality or standards of behaviour on others
  • the issue of intellectual freedom
  • the freedom of the individual to make choices
  • the rights of students to make informed choices
  • the purpose of such facilities at school (which may well be different from that at home).

In developing this policy, schools need to determine their roles and responsibilities and those of parents, including:

  1. What is the role of the teacher with regard to censorship and guidance?
  2. Should the school have a role in consulting and advising parents?
  3. What is the role of the school in developing responsibility among its students?

Positive management

Positive management of digital technologies within the school includes developing appropriate skills with students.

Discussions within the school community can identify the key skills that are considered essential, for example:

  • effective searching skills
  • netiquette
  • discriminatory skills
  • ability to reorganise and reuse information to meet a desired purpose.

Monitoring access online

With the introduction of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and mobile digital technologies policies, schools need to ensure that clear understandings and guidelines are given for accessibility and monitoring.

What procedures need to be put in place to ensure the safety of all students? Schools need to work out a system that functions best for them.

Consideration could be given to:

  • password controls
  • supervised use if students and devices are clearly visible to others – to encourage students to self-monitor the material
  • restrictive programmes – such as screening software that will remove access to most undesirable material
  • self-imposed restrictions – where students agree to follow guidelines for accessing unacceptable material (which is most effective when the guidelines have been developed with the students)
  • intranet/LMS/SMS – appropriate and relevant material is downloaded for use.

Electrical safety

All electrical equipment and installations must comply with local authority and electrical safety regulations. A registered electrician must carry out all wiring and electrical maintenance except for replacing a fuse. The following defects must be corrected immediately by a registered electrician:

  • machinery or equipment that gives electric shocks, however slight
  • overheated switches or plugs
  • sparking or spluttering from cords or plugs
  • broken or frayed leads or cords
  • broken switches.

Regulations require that all electrical appliances including portable power tools, isolating transformers, and RCDs (Residual Current Devices) used in school are:

  • inspected and tested before use
  • inspected before being used after repair
  • inspected at least every 12 months
  • tagged at inspection – each piece of equipment should be tagged and all inspections should be carried out by a registered electrician or an approved power tool agent
  • recorded in a school register of all electrical equipment.

Teachers should encourage students to examine all electrical equipment before it is used, including all plugs, sockets, and extension leads. This also applies to any electrical equipment borrowed from various sources for short periods of time. Careful positioning of electrical extension leads and equipment within the classroom can minimise the potential for accidents. 

8.3 Classroom layout and design

In some schools, specialist rooms house digital devices, radio stations, television studios, and photographic darkrooms. Specialist equipment in these areas can present various safety concerns and hazards.

School documentation needs to include planning for the location of specialist equipment and safety procedures that cover each environment.

Considerations can include:

  • classroom layout
  • lighting
  • headphones
  • seating and workspaces
  • ventilation
  • workstations
  • ergonomics
  • security
  • placement of devices, including location and adequate number of power and service outlets
  • electrical safety
  • surge protection. 

Classroom layout

When setting up spaces, careful planning is needed to ensure consideration is given to the location of digital devices. Using experts in digital technology, teachers from other schools, and other specialists may be useful for guiding any decisions. These issues can be expensive to fix if they aren’t right in the first instance.

The following should be considered:

  1. Power points and service outlets should be located in convenient places – installing more than needed is wise.
  2. Regular checks should be made on all electrical 240 volt cabling to check for fraying and other damage.
  3. Mobile devices require a specific, convenient, and safe place for charging. Ensure power circuits and plugs are not overloaded. Also consider how digital devices can be safely recharged between work sessions.
  4. Check for tripping hazards.
  5. Check for possible overloading of power circuits. Instead of adding multi-boxes, get advice from a qualified electrician and upgrade the supply.
  6. RCDs should be regularly tested using the test button.
  7. Ensure there is adequate WiFi coverage, in terms of their number and position.

Two other important issues are the need for enough space at each workstation to open books and folders and the need to avoid placing a screen on top of computer housing.

Lighting

Digital technology requires specific lighting considerations as glare on screens is not desirable. Reflections and screen glare can be prevented by:

  • using down lights rather than fluorescent lights
  • ensuring there is enough light for students to see any written work that they are using as source material
  • ensuring that lights are not placed above ceiling fans, which can create a flickering effect
  • locating digital equipment away from windows and other light sources that may reflect on the screen
  • careful positioning of digital equipment to avoid the need for curtains or blinds.

Consider controlling lighting levels in rooms with projection equipment such as datashow projectors.

Headphones

The hazards associated with audio digital equipment depend on the situation and the equipment. Prolonged use of headphones should be monitored, and students should be given guidance on appropriate volumes. Headphones are a potential health issue when shared by different students. One solution is to treat headphones as personal items and have students supply their own.

Computers, laptops, and mobile devices

Students who use digital equipment, especially for long periods of time, should be taught the basics of ergonomics. This is useful preparation for life beyond school. Considerations for ergonomics include:

  • having mini-breaks – getting up and moving away from the device
  • ensuring eyes periodically look away from the screen
  • being aware of posture and position
  • ensuring the correct chair height and the placement of keyboard and mouse
  • having the desk at the right height
  • setting the screen angle and brightness and avoiding reflection and glare.

If they are aware of these factors, students are more likely to avoid developing occupational overuse syndrome (OOS).

If schools encourage students to BYOD, a policy and practice document should be available for students and their families and whānau.

Seating and workspaces

Students need comfortable workspaces to use digital devices. Because students vary in size, ideal working positions will also vary. Furniture needs to be adjustable to allow for this. Properly constructed seats allow each user to adjust the height and angle positions. Purpose-built furniture is more likely to encourage good sitting positions. Ideally, both the seat and desktop should be adjustable. When buying devices, the cost of providing supporting equipment, comfortable seating, and workspaces needs to be taken into account.

The picture shows a starting position. Students should not be expected to copy it slavishly.

seating position

Advice about posture is difficult to give because each person varies. There is a sense that searching for a correct posture is fruitless because any posture held for a long time will end up causing soreness somewhere.

However, a safe piece of advice is “the best posture is the next posture”. So students should be encouraged to move and to avoid spending long periods looking at the screen.

Printers

Where possible, consider the recycling of print cartridges and ensure they are disposed of according to recommended guidelines.

Ventilation

Digital devices generate a lot of heat, and rooms containing several devices can become very warm. Extra ventilation should be considered in rooms with many computers and in rooms with specialist equipment.

Curtains installed to reduce backlighting and reflections on screens may restrict the air flow that normally comes from windows. Where a room has many windows facing north, options for reducing heat could include using sun filter screens that tape directly onto windows or using external shades over the windows.

Workstations

Enough space should be provided for students to look at resource material while they are working with a digital device, especially if it is located in a fixed space. Workspaces should enable students and teachers to work comfortably with other material alongside the device.

Students’ bags should be stored well clear of workstations to avoid others tripping over them. 

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