Teaching Internet Safety to the Public: It’s Easier than you Think!

The issue of Internet safety is arguably one of the most important skills to address in basic digital literacy instruction. At the same time, it can be a difficult topic to teach for many reasons. We took a deeper look at this topic during our March TechSoup for Libraries webinar, and heard from one library that has successfully been offering Internet safety instruction to the public.

Teaching Internet safety may present challenges for any organization, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. The key is identifying what topics and types of instruction are most needed, and then finding a way to offer it using the resources available. There are many existing instructional resources that can be used to support Internet safety instruction, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Why Teach Internet Safety?

Internet safety encompasses a wide range of topics, from creating safe passwords to virus protection. Avoiding scams and phishing, how to tell if a website is secure, and safely using public WiFi networks are other examples of Internet safety topics. Online privacy and our personal online footprint are also becoming increasingly important within the realm of Internet safety. Many libraries and nonprofits are especially concerned with youth Internet safety and providing education for parents, teachers, and children.

Internet safety is therefore an essential technology skill, needed for online communication, e-commerce, information access, and online services. Libraries can teach Internet safety along with other basic digital literacy skills, thereby providing a valuable service to the community.

Internet Safety Resources

There are many resources created by nonprofit organizations and government agencies that can make Internet safety instruction much easier. Using existing resources means you can streamline your preparation, and can give you confidence that the information you present is current and up to date.

The full list of resources covered in the webinar are included on the archive page. A few we want to highlight are below.

One freely available resource is GCF Learn Free’s Online Safety course, which is available for adults and kids (in English and Spanish). This course is a self-paced tutorial that gives an introduction to Internet safety, and then covers 8 different topics in detail. It uses text, images, and video for instructions.

You can use this course as a primary outline for your class, or you can mix it with other teaching tools to create variety. It can be used with individuals or in a classroom environment.

In GCF Learn Free’s terms of use they clearly indicate that their materials are copyrighted, but can be used as long as it is for non-commercial purposes, the materials are not altered, and you provide a link back to the original materials. They even have a curriculum guide for technology trainers that can help you plan out classes using their materials.

Another resource that is very useful is OnGuardOnline.gov, which provides articles, videos, and games about Internet safety issues targeted at the general Internet consumer. You can subscribe to the site, which is a good idea since it is continually being updated.

With any resource you use, it's always important to check the copyright for each site to be sure it indicates that it is available for free use. If the site does not indicate it is available for free use, then you should contact the organization and ask for permission. If the site is copyrighted and you aren’t sure if it is okay to use, then it is advisable to find a different source.

Tips for Teaching Internet Safety

Austin Stroud, Instructional Designer at the Monroe County Public Library (Bloomington, IN) shared his best practices for adapting instructional materials, based on his experience designing tech training.

  • Know what your community needs: Before you decide on what to teach, remember to identify the needs of your community. What are common questions related to Internet safety? Does your community have a large number of families, or is there a high percentage of older adults? Are you serving more new computer users, or does your community already have a solid foundation of digital literacy? If you aren’t sure what is needed, try to conduct a survey to see what people are most concerned about when it comes to being safe online.
  • Know your audience: When adapting curriculum, be sensitive to your audience. Think about what their experience is, and try to accommodate multiple levels. Include a variety of activities to keep them engaged, including videos, quizzes, and hands on activities. Remember that you won’t have time to cover everything, so try to focus on a few key ideas per class, but be prepared to add more if you run ahead of schedule.
  • Be wary of recommending specific products: Be cautious about giving recommendations with regards to Internet safety. Patrons may want help selecting antivirus software, setting up a firewall on their computer, or finding a reputable computer repair shop. To avoid any liability for your library or organization, it is a good idea to help the person by providing them with information and options, without providing advice. Give them information so they can make their own decisions.

Based on my experience as a trainer, Internet safety can be taught in a variety of ways:

  • Group classes, individual instruction, or self-paced tutorials
  • Engaging guest experts from the community to offer special workshops
  • Having library staff answer questions as they arise
  • Teaching classes focused solely on Internet safety topics or incorporating Internet safety into other classes
  • Directing patrons to online instructional sites or creating your own custom tutorials and handouts to share

There's no "right" approach. What works for your library will depend on your community's needs and the resources your library has available.

Learn More

This webinar was part of a new series on Public Tech Instruction, which shares tips and best practices on training the public on specific technology topics. Our next webinar in this series will focus on online job search assistance for the public.

Internet Safety at Your Organization

Do you have tips related to teaching Internet safety? Share them in the comments below!

Lock image: perspecsys photos