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The Literacy of Digital Monitoring at School

The safeguarding of students within education continues to grow in both importance and breadth, necessitating a nuanced understanding of how digital monitoring in schools can support staff. The integration of such systems within schools is not just a technological upgrade but a complex interplay of technical literacy, domain knowledge, and a profound understanding of the individual nuances of young people and society.   

Literacy and fluency in aspects of digital safeguarding look to triangulate on these three elements, which few possess in a balanced, equal, and adequate way. Too often I find myself in conversation with individuals who lean—both in knowledge and background—toward the technology, the systems and processes, or the young person themselves. My aim with this article is to articulate how we overcome this within our education systems today, empowering those with context, with frameworks informed by policy, and upon the foundation of stellar technology. 

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Technical Literacy: The Foundation and Framework

The first pillar of this trinity is technical literacy. It is imperative that educators and safety personnel possess a working knowledge of school digital monitoring systems. However, this extends beyond mere operation. The challenge lies not in the adoption of technology but in the continuous evolution of these systems and the technicalities of what they capture, how they capture it, and how the information is presented to the user. This evolution demands ongoing training and professional development. Schools must invest in building this literacy, not only to protect their students but to empower their staff to use these tools effectively. 

In England, we have seen guidance which firmly places the responsibility for procurement and validation of digital monitoring systems in the hands of education staff, meeting the rallying cry of IT professionals who have long wished for this kind of engagement from educators and safeguarding professionals. This joined up approach, with technical and education staff working together, sets a benchmark where collaboration and the sharing of subject-specific knowledge is more likely to create a more balanced and fully rounded digital safeguarding solution for students.  

Domain Knowledge: The Bedrock of Effective Monitoring

Equally important is domain knowledge, particularly the ability to identify and assess safeguarding risks. This encompasses an understanding of the various threats that students may face, both online and offline, and the signs that may indicate a student is at risk. It’s about connecting dots that are not always clearly marked on a digital map. This knowledge cannot be purely theoretical; it must be rooted in the reality of the school environment and the broader societal context. It requires staff to be well-versed in the latest research on child psychology, cyberbullying, and other pertinent areas, making them adept at interpreting the data presented by monitoring systems. 

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This domain knowledge is a lifetime’s work and commitment; a passion and specialism for those who make this their profession. This role is a key player in aspects of child protection, protective child services engagement, and welfare practices within school organisations, districts, and municipalities. However, the overlap within digital safeguarding is less common. Instead, we see many schools placing the responsibility on such systems on IT who, in addition to their technical expertise, are expected to possess such specific child-centred domain knowledge. This is not their area; this is not in their job description; and yet, in many circumstances we see digital monitoring at school as an IT system and not as a fundamental aspect of safeguarding practice.  

Knowing the Individual: Context is Key

With a strong emphasis in the previous section on the domain knowledge of safeguarding professionals, you would be forgiven for believing that they should be the members of staff with a key responsibility for this area. However, I would argue that this is not the case. 

Perhaps the most critical, yet often overlooked, aspect is the deep knowledge of individual students. Digital monitoring can alert staff to potential issues, but without context, these alerts can be misleading or misunderstood. The staff closest to students—their teachers, counsellors, and mentors—bring invaluable insights into a young person’s behaviour, social dynamics, and personal circumstances. This intimate knowledge is what gives credibility and context to data, transforming raw information into actionable intelligence.  

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Whilst our teachers are busy, we must strike a balance to empower those most informed to make decisions and to take action. 

Bridging the Gap: Simplification Without Compromise

The crux of the matter lies in striking a delicate balance. Digital monitoring systems must be sophisticated enough to provide detailed insights yet intuitive enough for frontline educators to use without extensive IT training. The goal should be to reduce complexity, not by diluting the capabilities of these systems but by making them more accessible. This includes user-friendly interfaces, clear guidelines on interpreting data, and robust support structures for staff to rely on when they encounter uncertainties. 

It is in this vein that Lightspeed Systems® created Lightspeed Alert™. This innovative platform exemplifies the integration of technology with the nuanced demands of student safety. Designed to simplify the complexity inherent in digital monitoring, Lightspeed Alert offers a user-friendly interface that demystifies the process for educators and school safety personnel. It leverages advanced artificial intelligence to provide timely alerts on potential risks, from cyberbullying to self-harm signals, ensuring that threats are identified early and accurately. Yet, what sets it apart is its commitment to contextual understanding. The tool is engineered to not just flag concerns but to offer insights into the potential reasons behind a student’s digital behaviour. This capability ensures that staff are not overwhelmed with data but are provided with actionable intelligence, allowing for a more informed and empathetic response to students’ needs. By embodying the principles of technical simplicity and deep contextual analysis, Lightspeed Alert stands as a prime example of how digital monitoring systems can evolve to meet the complex requirements of modern educational environments. 

Empowering Decision Makers: The Human Element

Ultimately, the decision-making process on student safeguarding concerns must be swift, informed, and humane. This necessitates empowering those who are closest to the students, equipping them with the tools and knowledge to act effectively. It is a reminder that technology serves as an extension of human capability, not a replacement. The true strength of digital monitoring lies in its ability to augment the intuition, empathy, and expertise of school staff, making the digital literacy of monitoring a shared language spoken for the welfare of our students. 

The literacy of digital monitoring in schools is a multifaceted challenge, requiring a confluence of technical know-how, domain expertise, and a profound understanding of individual students. By advocating for systems that are both powerful and accessible, we can ensure that the decision-making process is rooted in a comprehensive understanding of each student’s unique situation. It is through this balanced approach that we can achieve a safer, more nurturing educational environment for all students, leveraging technology not as a panacea but as a pivotal tool in the broader mission of safeguarding our future generations.