A session with Lila Jorge, Associate Head of School
and Suzie Radcliffe, Tech Coach
We were delighted by the strong turnout at our Talk Tuesday session, about “Digital Dialogues” Upon seating, attendees were promptly requested to stow away all personal devices—phones, computers, smartwatches, and the like. The session deliberately embraced a device-free environment. Notably, some participants exhibited hesitancy, viewing their devices as extensions of themselves. However, the underlying goal was to provide a firsthand experience of what children feel when asked to disconnect from their devices. This intentional exercise aimed at fostering empathy and understanding among parents regarding their children’s digital experiences.
Tech Series at BFIS
This session marked the initiation of a series of tech sessions designed for both parents and students, emphasizing a collaborative approach. It wasn’t a standalone event but the inaugural installment of an ongoing program. Our dedicated team of counselors and our Tech Coach are committed to addressing this topic comprehensively, engaging with students during dedicated well-being classes and with parents at Talk Tuesday sessions. This strategic, integrated approach ensures that both parents and students benefit from an ongoing, holistic exploration of technology-related themes and there is a home-school alignment regarding technology.
The Experience of Putting Our Devices Away
As a preliminary engagement before delving into the main discussion, participants were asked to reflect on the experience of relinquishing their technological devices. In response to the question, “How did you feel about removing all tech devices for this session?” Parents expressed a range of sentiments. Some saw it as complying with a police request (is this also how our kids see us?), highlighting a sense of obligation. Others conveyed a fear of missing out, emphasizing the habitual reliance on constant connectivity. Additionally, there was a recognition that the act mirrored the dependency observed in their children’s relationship with technology. This introductory activity served to underscore the pervasive role of devices in our lives and set the stage for a deeper exploration of the session’s theme.
In preparation for this session, we proactively sought insights from BFIS parents through a pre-session questionnaire. Their primary concerns regarding technology use emerged as follows:
- Impact on Wellbeing: Parents expressed apprehension about the potential effects on their children’s overall well-being.
- Setting up Screen Time Balance: Striking a balance in screen time emerged as a common concern, reflecting the need for moderation.
- Peer Interactions and Cyberbullying: Concerns were raised about how technology influences peer interactions and the associated risk of cyberbullying.
- Supervision and Monitoring: Parents were keen on understanding effective strategies for supervising and monitoring their children’s online activities.
- Current Configuration for Internet Access Filtering: Questions arose regarding the adequacy and effectiveness of the current configuration for filtering Internet access.
This valuable feedback informed the session’s content, ensuring it directly addressed the pertinent issues raised by the BFIS parents.
Technology has the transformative power to enrich and advance our individual lives, yet it’s not without its pitfalls, sometimes leading to unhappiness. The key lies in crafting a thoughtful integration strategy—maximizing the benefits while mitigating the downsides.
The Use of Technology at School. An Ongoing Debate
The use of technology at school and the ongoing debate of pros and cons is not new.
We can draw parallels between the current debate over the use of technology in classrooms and the historical debate surrounding calculators around 1986. Both discussions center on the integration of tools into education and the impact on learning methodologies. Research on calculators in education suggested that the debate wasn’t about completely replacing traditional methods but finding a balanced approach to their use. Similarly, the current discourse on technology in classrooms involves discussions about the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating tools like AI.
However, the contemporary technology discourse differs a little bit from that of 1986. Today, the debate extends beyond the classroom; technology is now an integral part of our daily lives and it has transcended educational boundaries, permeating various facets of our daily existence. It’s not just a tool for learning but an inseparable component of how we navigate, communicate, and function in our modern world. This shift underscores the dynamic nature of the technology debate, reflecting its evolution from a specific educational context to a pervasive force shaping our everyday experiences.
What To Do?
So, How can schools and parents collaboratively ensure the healthy development of children in the digital age, fostering a balanced relationship with technology within both the home and school environments?
The school has dedicated considerable effort to shaping its vision for learning about technology. While digital citizenship holds a pivotal role in this vision, our reflection has highlighted the necessity for a more deliberate focus on achieving a harmonious equilibrium between technology usage and the mental health and well-being of students.
Elementary School Technology and Safeguarding
In our Elementary School, a significant focus is placed on cultivating a culture where students are not merely consumers of technology but active creators. We invest considerable effort in promoting Maker-Centered Learning, where coding and technology play a crucial role. But technology does not stand alone. It is seamlessly integrated with other core activities such as reading and math. Another innovative use of technology at our Elementary School is the creation and broadcasting of our Weekly News. Through this initiative, students leverage technology not just as consumers but as creators, employing it to produce content that extends beyond passive consumption. This approach fosters a dynamic learning environment, encouraging students to actively engage with technology in a creative and meaningful way, not as mere consumers.
Also, in Elementary School, students utilize iPads for specific activities and within a limited timeframe. Upon completion of the designated activity, students responsibly store their iPads in designated cubbies. This approach ensures a balanced and purposeful use of technology, aligning with the school’s guidelines for iPad usage.
Students engage in reading through the digital platform EPIC! while maintaining a conscious effort to strike a balance between online and traditional paper-based reading. To ensure responsible use of technology, we implement iPad agreements, an integral component of the digital citizenship framework that both parents and students must acknowledge and adhere to. This approach aims to foster a healthy and mindful integration of digital resources into the learning environment.
Additionally, at BFIS, we employ JAMF, an iPad management, and app vetting system to streamline the administration and ensure the careful selection of applications for our devices.
The effective integration of technology in classrooms hinges on teachers’ continuous professional development in technology implementation. This is vital not just for staying abreast of the latest technological best practices but also for establishing a harmonious balance between leveraging technology for educational purposes and safeguarding the well-being of both educators and students.
Secondary School Practices
BFIS Secondary School upholds a Technology Agreement of Responsible Use, guiding students in utilizing technology creatively and collaboratively. This agreement instills values of respect, responsibility, and ethical conduct in students’ interactions with technology, extending to both social and personal spheres.
Additionally, in our school, we enforce a campus-wide ban on cell phones during the entire school day for students from Grade 6 to Grade 10. However, for students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), phone usage this school year is permitted exclusively outside the school grounds.
In our educational approach, teachers conduct diverse sessions on Digital Citizenship for students. Leveraging the valuable resources from Commonsense.org, an online portal, these sessions empower students to cultivate crucial digital habits and skills, fostering responsible and informed online behavior.
In response to the rapid advancement of AI and the emergence of tools such as ChatGPT, our school has proactively enhanced and updated our academic integrity policy and guidelines for AI use by students. This revision ensures that our educational environment remains robust, fostering a commitment to honesty and ethical conduct in the face of evolving technology.
In alignment with the practices in Elementary School, it is imperative to underscore the significance of ongoing professional development. This is pivotal in establishing a harmonious equilibrium between incorporating technology in the classroom and safeguarding the well-being of both educators and students.
Safeguarding BFIS Infrastructure
To uphold a secure online environment, we’ve implemented a multi-layered filtering system:
- On-Cloud Web Filtering by Category: Utilizing cloud-based filtering, we categorize and control web access to prevent students from encountering inappropriate content.
- On-Premise Web Filtering Firewall: Our on-premise firewall acts as an additional layer, ensuring robust web filtering directly within our network infrastructure.
- Application-Specific Firewall Filters: Tailored filters for specific applications further enhance our protective measures, offering a comprehensive shield against unauthorized content.
At BFIS, we leverage Google Workspace for Education to provide a secure online environment for our students. Our approach includes:
- Google Accounts with Restricted YouTube Access: Students’ Google accounts are configured to limit access to specific YouTube content, ensuring a safe online experience.
- Safe Search Implementation: We enforce Safe Search settings to filter search results and enhance the safety of online browsing for our students.
- Adherence to Google Under 18 Policies: We strictly adhere to Google’s Under 18 special policies, aligning our practices with industry standards to safeguard students online.
- Audit and Investigation Tools: To maintain accountability and transparency, we employ audit and investigation tools. These tools enable us to monitor online activities and messages (complying with GDPR) and promptly address any concerns.
Technology shifts at BFIS
As we revise our Vision for Learning on technology at BFIS, notable changes are occurring, including:
- The introduction of the BFIS Tech Feedback form for parents. Parents now have access to the BFIS Tech Feedback form, providing an avenue to share concerns about their children encountering inappropriate websites. It also serves as an opportunity to seek guidance on different aspects such as suitable apps for their child’s use
- Starting in the 2024-2025 school year, BFIS will enforce a comprehensive ban on the use of mobile phones throughout the entire school.
- Strengthening Security Configuration Assessment with a Focus on CISCO Best Practices
- Establishing alignment between school and family phone usage policies is crucial for effective implementation and avoiding challenges. In instances, such as during overnight trips, where alignment is lacking, difficulties arise. For instance, parents texting their children late at night or allowing them to be connected can undermine school-imposed phone restrictions.
- We are implementing more restrictive filtering systems.
- We need to revisit and revise the transition plan from Elementary to Middle School, when students bring their own computers to school, ensuring that students possess the necessary skills to effectively and safely use their devices.
- Also coming for upcoming grade 6 students we will have a 3-year computer leasing, including filters and control and monitor their online activity. Discussions are ongoing about extending the same filtering and monitoring options to older students who bring their computers, with a focus on involving parents. However, this initiative is currently under careful examination to ensure strict compliance with GDPR laws.
- We will continue to bring professional development to our teachers about technology usage and best practices.
- We will continue auditing and visiting classrooms to revise how teachers and students are using technology.
- Setting High Expectations and High Support. Establishing robust expectations for technology use goes beyond mere restrictions. It involves comprehensive strategies such as fostering conversations to understand the why behind the rule, laying out plans for improvement, and demarcating boundaries. This ensures that students navigate the digital landscape with confidence, understanding both the opportunities and limitations.
- More intentional planning in the Well-being and balance through our team of counselors
- Continue to strengthen our partnership with parents to know your concerns and needs as well as for you to know the needs of the school.
Our school is diligently researching and crafting a comprehensive K-12 curriculum, focusing on six pillars of understanding. This curriculum addresses crucial aspects such as online safety, fostering creativity over consumption, emotional well-being, and more. Recognizing the paramount importance of digital literacy, we aim to equip our students not only to be tech-savvy but also to enhance and sustain their overall well-being.
Amidst the session, attention shifted to small steps that families can take
Steps Families Can Take
- Custodial apps- Become the administrators
- Ensure that messaging apps are disabled on laptops
- Remove devices from bedrooms
- Educate yourself on the latest technologies
- Talk to your children about risks and teach them how to be safe
- Create realistic rules together
- Obtain your child’s passwords
- Limit multitasking
- Set developmentally appropriate expectations and agreements with your children using the Family Tech Planner.
Emphasizing from the outset, this article doesn’t stand alone; rather, it comprises a series of initiatives directed towards parents and students, specifically focusing on promoting the safe and responsible use of technology at school and at home. We will continue talking about this interesting topic on our next Talk Tuesday session for parents on December 5th with Suzie Radcliffe, BFIS Tech Coach.