Safe Remote Learning in Education: How to Ensure Safer Use of Technology

The Department for Education have stated that schools will remain shut until further notice. The only exceptions will be for children of key workers, who are required to help support the country’s battle against coronavirus (COVID-19), and vulnerable children, such as those who have a social worker or with Education, Health and Care Plans.

Yesterday’s announcement also means many teachers, parents and children will now look to implement measures to continue learning outside the classroom, particularly given the uncertainty over when schools will reopen.

Remote learning is a term which has been coined repeatedly over the last few weeks. But what is remote learning? What does remote learning involve? And how do you ensure your child has a safe remote learning experience? Our cybersecurity expert and former ICT Teacher, Emma Davis, explains more below.

What is Remote Learning?

Remote learning, also often referred to as distance learning, is simply a method of learning which doesn’t facilitate face-to-face contact with the teacher in a physical location. It means children can learn away from the classroom and often employs online methods such as webinars, e-learning, live-streaming or the ability to download resources and materials.

School’s may employ different approaches to remote learning, and each should have their own policies in place and guidelines for parent and students. As a parent, try to engage as much as possible and make sure to take note of the school’s ICT Policy, Acceptable Use Policy and their approach to data collection and storage.

Often there will be a member of staff within the school who has been appointed responsible for liaising with parents with regards to online learning. Make sure you know who your parental advocate is and don’t be afraid to ask them questions if you are not sure.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

Also referred to as a Personalised Learning Environment (PLE), many schools will provide a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for their students to work from home already. They will be able to provide resources for students remotely and mark work submitted online. They may have been using these VLEs already for coursework, homework and other tasks for a few years.

Safety considerations

  • Schools should not expect your child to sign up to anything with a personal email address. They should either be provided with a school email address or a username and password.
  • Ensure your child always keeps their login to this facility private and that they don’t share their account with anyone.
  • Many VLEs include a chat function or message boards, etc. It is important to monitor the use of these facilities and that your child understands what is appropriate to write online. Perhaps remind them that these messages will be visible to the school staff and they shouldn’t put anything in a message, that they wouldn’t want anyone else to see.
  • It’s important to remind children of their conduct online. As a member of the VLE, they share a digital environment and their behaviour impacts the success of the online school community.
  • If it gets to the point of issuing online assessments, it is important for parents to reinforce the fact that this should be carried out independently and do what they can to reinforce the school guidelines.
  • Many VLE providers will also create an app that parents can use. These are a simpler format and could help you to become more familiar with the service your child is using.

Video Conferencing Software

Schools may decide to deliver online learning using video-conferencing programs such as Skype or Zoom. These programs enable students to talk to each other, and potentially their teacher, when they need some verbal face-to-face communication. Whilst they are a great way to keep in touch, to safeguard both students and staff, one-to-one tuition is not generally advised.

Safety considerations

  • Don’t put unnecessary personal information in the user profile of these apps. For example, try to keep location, phone number and dates of birth private.
  • To ensure that there are no security flaws in these applications, make sure they are also kept up to date and install any patches as soon as they become available.
  • Always check the terms and conditions of the programs, especially those around age. For example, by default, Skype restricts the privacy settings of users under 16 years old. However, this won’t be effective if they are registered with parental information.
  • Help to educate your child on how to use these programs to ensure they are safe. Careless use of Skype can lead to a breach of personal security, downloading viruses or malware or even contact from people they don’t know.
  • Remind your child to never accept instant messages, phone calls, screen sharing or files from someone they don’t know.
  • Consider using a parental control tool like Skypito to manage who your kids communicate with. Skypito requires parents to approve all of their child's Skype contacts, and allows them to restrict calls and chats with strangers.

Protecting your home network

It’s important to make sure that your home network is secure. Increased use of the Internet for anything increases your risk of clicking on or downloading something nasty to your network, so it’s important you have anti-virus / anti-malware software installed to ensure the safety of your family.

Safety considerations

  • Keep your anti-virus program updated daily and allow it to stay current. There are new attacks every day and the amount of malicious content on web applications is rapidly increasing in both frequency and expertise so it’s important to stay up to date.
  • If you have a wireless router, check that your wireless network is secure so that people living nearby can’t access it. It is best to set up your network so that only people with a wireless ‘key’ (i.e. password) can connect to your network.
  • If your network is secure, users will be prompted for a password when they try to access it for the first time and there should be a padlock symbol next to the network name. If this doesn’t happen, your network isn’t protected and anyone will be able to join.
  • It is always best to change the name of your network – but not to anything that identifies it to you or your family. You should also change the default password, as these are often freely available to attackers online if they know where to look. You should choose a password of at least 8 characters, with a mix of case, numbers and symbols. The current advice is to pick three random words or a memorable phrase.
  • Always cross-check information if you’re not sure about what your child is being asked to do and speak to the school contact.

Secure online chats and chatrooms

It is normal for students to want to be able to communicate with each other whilst they are unable to see each other. It will help them feel less isolated and they will be able to help each other out with their home learning. However, it is crucial that they can do this safely.

The best messaging apps will use encryption while transmitting the data, so that it can’t be intercepted and read by others. Many have end-to-end encryption to protect messages along with other forms of communication, such as group chats, voice calls, media files etc.

When online, a child may also make use of chatrooms to get help on their work or to find someone to talk to. They can be a positive environment for students to collaborate. However, there are also some risks associated with them, so it’s important to reiterate general online safety advice around using messaging apps and chatrooms.

Safety considerations

  • Advise children to never give out personal information about themselves, friends or family online and always think before answering private messages.
  • Some online ‘friends’ are actually just strangers and children should not hesitate to block people that make them feel uncomfortable. They should take a screenshot of their conversation if they need to report the conversation to someone.
  • Children can always log out to avoid unwelcome situations or change their screen name if necessary. Children should definitely not use their real name in a chatroom and should report any users who are breaking the rules set out by the chatroom provider.

How we can help

At National Online Safety, our whole ethos is centred around keeping children safe online. Our range of training courses and learning resources can be accessed anywhere, at any time, and our Certified School Membership means you can focus on providing a whole school community approach to online safety.

To find out how our membership programme can benefit you, click here, or alternatively, email us at and one of our Online Safety Consultants will be available to help.

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