Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Digital Citizenship

In February of 2008 I carried out a voluntary survey of our pupils about their use of technology both at home and at school. Over 400 pupils responded and the results shocked me into starting to develop a digital citizenship approach to esafety. You can find the survey results at
http://www.abbotswood.hants.sch.uk/planning/digitalcitizenship/surveyresults.htm
Whilst not a big enough sample of pupils to draw national correlations I suspect that most schools would have similar figures.

Esafety is important but I believe it is more important to teach digital citizenship which incorporates esafety as a vital component. Esafety helps pupils to stay safe when using technology, but digital citizenship incorporates larger elements; helping pupils to become good online citizens, understanding the limits of technology and knowing how to help each other. This approach is still in its early stages and is still reacting to technology rather than being proactive, but I hope to change this in the future.

With this in mind I have developed various approaches to encourage good digital citizenship.

Circle Times
In Year 5 we have a PDL program of circle times based around some of the issues that came up in that survey. You can find these online at
http://www.abbotswood.hants.sch.uk/planning/digitalcitizenship/index.htm
These short circle times present real scenarios that children are encouraged to discuss before the teacher adds more information which may challenge less useful or dangerous behaviour. These cover the dangers of password sharing, problems with developing online relationships with people we have never met, the problems of making or sharing images especially with a mobile phone, the problems associated with text based messages which have no verbal or facial contexts and issues related to cyber bullying. Modules also cover social networking, real time messaging systems such as MSN and the use of mobile phones. When looking at Social networking we try and look at the issues through the use of our VLE (Virtual learning environment). This enables us to tackle the issues without promoting BEBO or Facebook that pupils should not have joined (Bebo has a 13 age limit and Facebook users are meant to be 16). The key here is the delicate balance of tackling some of the important issues without promoting or demonising technologies which might encourage others to try them out.

Whole School Initiatives
In previous years I have also run a couple of whole school initiatives to demonstrate certain issues with technology. To explain the problems associated with filling in too much personal information on a website I set up a school survey about ICT use. At the end of this survey the website automatically redirected the children to another survey from a made up company offering them free toys if they filled in another survey. This survey asked for lots of personal information including their address and when their parents were out of their home. 11% of pupils filled in the survey and submitted it. Without revealing who the individuals were, I then ran an assembly to highlight the importance of not giving out any personal information online and explained what such information can be used for by burglars. (Before anyone gasps in horror both surveys fed the information to a secure surveying site accessible only by myself.) This was a particularly powerful message and although I feel some pupils probably felt tricked by it, the message was  communicated very effectively. In another assembly I also set up with a colleague an email dialogue with myself in the assembly hall and him pretending to be a junior age pupil. We swapped emails and he spelt things wrongly and used pupil language. After a few messages I asked pupils to use the clues available to guess what my friend was like. I deliberately choose pupils from Years 3 & 4 to provide answers and predictably they suggested a 10 year old boy who liked football. I then asked the school if they would like to meet my friend and then introduced my teacher colleague. This made the "think you know" message really relevant to our pupils.

Home Support
I also regularly run esafety workshops for parents as the vast majority of problems occur at home on unsupervised computers on technologies that are not monitored or recorded, unlike our school VLE. The main message here is one of communication between parent and child. Research shows that if issues such as cyber bullying or grooming are discussed sympathetically with children by their parents ahead of time then the vast majority of children will tell an adult if they get into trouble. This massively reduces the risks and effects of such problems. The reason many children won't tell their parents is that they are frightened that parents will respond by taking away their technology, effectively punishing the victim rather than the perpetrator(s). Response to these sessions from parents has been very good and has sometimes led to further direct work with parents and children adjusting behavior and practice at home to make it safer whilst allowing children the use of technology. The only limitations with this has been that not all parents attend. I hope to webcast one of my sessions soon and post it on the school website to widen the reach of these important messages.

Pupil Engagement
The next step is to engage more meaningfully with pupils, to challenge misconceptions. I recently designed an online charter that Abbotswood pupils need to sign. Some pupils disagreed with some of the statements such as, "I will not communicate with people I have not met in real life." One pupil said that she plays games with strangers online, we discussed this and I agreed that a group gaming site is reasonably safe but that one on one chats with that person might not be, she agreed. Ultimately we want pupils to make the right choices themselves which means engaging them in discussion and rule creation. That is my next step.

What would you add to Digital Citizenship?

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