August 13, 2017

Who teaches your children about the internet? Do you have dinner time conversation about online behaviour? Do you even know what children should know and do to traverse the digital world safely?

Teaching digital safety, literacy and citizenship are becoming crucial in preparing children adequately for the world that they are inhabiting. Make no mistake; it is not a skill that they will need some day in their distant future; it is a skill that even five-year old’s need NOW. And for teenagers, keeping them safe online is just as important if not more than keeping them safe in the real world. OK maybe not more, but you get the idea.

Parents are out of their depth.

But whose responsibility is it to teach kids these skills? Since the first two-year-old have gotten hold of her parent’s iPhone and managed to open things said parent didn’t even know existed, parents have been intimidated by their offspring’s technical savviness.  More often than not parents are fooled to believe that because their children are digital natives, they would understand how to navigate the digital world safely and effectively. It is only recently that parents started to realise that knowing how to use a program or app and being digital literate are not the same thing.

The curriculum is dragging behind.

At school, we also often have the debate about who should teach learners the skills they need to navigate the digital world. Nowhere in the curriculum do you find learning outcomes that state that you have to teach children about their digital footprint, or to keep themselves safe in the online world. I am sure it will come in time, but at the moment, while everybody agrees that digital literacy and citizenship is crucial, nobody is taking responsibility for teaching it.

So what do you do, if your principal asks you to include some digital citizenship in your Life Orientation classes, or some digital literacy in your English classes? To create an authentic lesson, you can’t just put a lot of notes on the board. Or make a list of do’s and don’ts.

You go online, of course.

There are some great (and not so great) free online resources to teach digital literacy. 

f you haven’t played around on Common Sense Media, you are missing out. It is a great place for teachers to get reviews, references and resources. Common Sense Media have a whole free Digital Citizenship programme. And the best part is that it is so well designed, you need nothing more except to work through it (you can’t expect to do nothing now, can you?)  and decide which parts will fit into your curriculum. 

Their digital citizenship programme consists of 3 parts. 

Digital Passport – This is an award-winning suite of games aimed at grade 3 – 5 learners addressing the fundamental issues that they are facing, Multitasking, Privacy, Cyberbullying, Online Search & Plagiarism. (yes, looking at these topics I think I should do it with my high schoolers)

Each of the modules consists of an ice-breaker, a short video, a game to reinforce the concept and an activity to consolidate. Although the videos are slightly old (yes in a digital world, something made in 2012 is already old), the games are really brilliant at being fun while bringing home the concepts. The best part is that there are teacher guides for each of the activities telling you step by step how to use it. (There is even a webinar that you can watch)

Digital Compass is aimed at grades 6-8 and consists of animated, choose-your-own-path interactive experiences. Learners get the opportunity to explore digital dilemmas and make an attempt to make the right decisions. There are eight 45 minute lessons, each with an extension activity, which could be used for assessment. The dilemmas covered include, protecting your online privacy, self-image and identity, copyright, cyberbullying and managing your digital footprint. 

Digital Bytes teaches teenagers about Internet hoaxes, plagiarism, online entrepreneurship, digital footprints and media literacy. There are currently 16 media rich, self-directed Bytes, each taking approximately 2 hours to complete.

Any of these activities can seamlessly fit into your class. Even if your learners do not have access to their own devices, you can still incorporate parts of the activities in your class.  

Google is never one to be left behind, and we all know that they put a lot of effort into educational products. They released their  Be Internet Awesome programme this week, just in time for the summer holiday in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Be Internet Awesome consists of 4 games in “Interland” that encourage kids to become “a fearless explorer of the online world”. Each game focus on a different aspect of digital citizenship.

  • Kind Kingdom encourages you to hand out kindness to friends who are down.
  • In Reality River you are challenged to distinguish between what is real and what is fake. BTW fake as in phishing and hacks, not as in fake news. 
  • Mindful Mountain aims to make you think about your audience before you post.
  • Tower of Treasure helps you to create a secure password. 

I have to admit that even though I had fun playing around in Interland, I do not think it is a very useful resource, especially not when compared to Common Sense Media. Maybe Google should stick to designing tools for teachers and leave the designing of lessons to teachers. The games are fun, and the graphics are good, but the digital safety context is kind of accidental. The idea that cyberbullying is preventable by handing out hearts to a friend who is down is making light of a serious problem. Mindful Mountain is all about lines and angles, I never thought about what the avatars actually represent.

If I have to keep a class busy for a lesson, would I send them to Interland? Why not, it is fun, and they might learn something. A good teacher might even be able to use it as an introduction to a discussion about online habits. But it is definitely not something that stands by itself. If I find the context contrived you can bet your bottom dollar that the kids will too. Doing a straight forward lecture on digital safety might just be more authentic. But maybe it is just me, have a go at yourself and let me know in the comments what you think of Interland.

If you are looking for more ideas on digital literacy or citizenship, follow my Pinterest boards on these topics. As I come across more ideas I will add them. 

Getting back to my original question, whose responsibility is it to teach children about the online world? Share your thoughts in the comments

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