Teaching Internet Safety

A crucial part of your digital literacy instruction programs ought to be classes for the public on Internet safety.  There’s a lot of topics in this area, so planning a curriculum around this concept is rich and varied based on audience, purpose, and tech level.   First, work on identifying your community needs.  Get input from staff working your service points regarding common questions answered.  Offer surveys for your community on what they want to learn about, or questions they have.  Identify the most common tech uses, like ecommerce, social networking, and/or child safety.  Once you have an idea about what is most meaningful to your community, it’s easy to build classes on those specific topics targeted towards interested audience.  Plan to tier your classes as well, for example, Facebook Privacy Settings should require the completion of Facebook 101, or a class on browsers should require an Internet basics class first.  Creating prerequisites for classes will ensure that attendees have a fundamental knowledge in order to keep up with your planned objectives.

Next, choose how you want your classes to be.  Carefully consider the time and amount of learning objectives for each session.  Experts suggest that classes greater than 90 minutes are too long, so aim for 30, 45, 60, or 90 minute classes.  It’s a best practice to plan for no more than one learning objective per twenty minutes of class, with opportunities for the community to put those principles into action.  Also, consider making handouts digitally available for offline use and linking to ready made and free resources on Internet safety for out of class learners.  Additionally, ensure your peers and staff are aware of course objectives in order to provide point of need assistance at your service points.  Finally, consider offering one on one sessions to help individuals who request more guidance, limiting these sessions to a half hour or an hour in order to provide service but not monopolize staff time.

Types of classes to consider will matter to your users, which takes us back to user surveys and feedback from peers and staff regarding the most frequently asked questions.  If you are comfortable, provide a survey at the beginning of the class to gauge where your audience is to choose relevant learning objectives on the fly.  If your audience already knows basic concepts on your topic, feel free to move onto more advanced ideas.

Ideas for classes:

  • Malware/viruses, how to avoid and remove or handle threats
  • Public wifi safety
  • Browsers
  • Privacy
  • Child safety for parents
  • Teen safety for parents
  • Internet safety for adults
  • Password management
  • Social engineering
  • Internet bullying/harassment
  • Evaluating websites
  • Phishing/scams
  • Email safety
  • Teen safety and privacy
  • Social networking
  • Facebook
  • Photo sharing sites
  • Online document management (Google Apps, SkyDrive)
  • Free software
  • Internet 101

Do be concerned about potential liability issues with tech training classes.  Avoid recommending products or services, and instead focus on providing users with a list of tools and their descriptions.  Enable the user to make decisions about their devices and accounts by showing them how to find and use the information available to make informed decisions.  Consider creating a short disclaimer regarding how you can help and how you cannot.  Work with your administrative team to create a policy and/or procedure providing a level of continuity and expectations for all staff.  If your library does want to provide hands on help from staff or volunteers, create a liability waiver to protect the library and communicate to the owner of the device/account that they are still responsible for themselves.  If you do hands on work, make sure you are involving the user and clearly communicating anything you do.  Essentially, be careful when you are dealing with personal devices and accounts of your users, and find the right balance of instruction and library protection.

Finally, think creatively about marketing your classes.  Does your chamber of commerce have a newsletter you could advertise in?  Or could you run a brief in your local paper on the community calendar?  Of course advertise on your website and social media, and around the library.  Consider making a display for users that includes materials from your library’s collection with take away information and a sign pointing to classes.  Focus marketing classes to the target audience, and get your peers or staff involved.  If someone is asking questions, hand them a flyer or a bookmark.

Teaching Internet safety to our library users is a very important part of digital literacy, and with a little bit of work you’ll be helping your users be more web savvy and proactive in protecting themselves and their loved ones online.