In the last couple of days, Google and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation announced a further development in their relationship: a $1.2 million grant from Google so that the e-Smart Digital Licence “will be made available to every grade 6 student in Australia in 2015” – Medianet.
You can read all about this licence here: https://www.digitallicence.com.au/home – but essentially it’s 8 modules for young students to work through as they explore such issues as cybersafety, managing identity online, and social media.
I must confess to feeling a little divided on this one. On the one hand, we can applaud these two organisations for stepping up to put money where their mouth is and create a concrete opportunity for young people to have conversations about living and learning online in ways that are safe, managed and controlled. Never a bad thing at all.
There have been a plethora of these types of technologies made available in the past to young people such as NetSafe’s Hector’s World, Cybersmart, and a whole bunch of apps available aiming to teach safe behaviour through games.
No easy fixes
For me, though, the issue here is how these modules will (and already have) been used in schools. There are no easy fixes because, in part, the problem we are trying to solve is a moving target that depends on age, experience, context, the technology being used, purpose and so on. Challenges online cannot be avoided, in the same way as challenges in the playground, on the street, at home, will occur as part of the messy business of growing up. To hope that modules will do the trick on their own is overly optimistic at best and naive at worst – but I see in schools that this is often the only time in which students will engage with these ideas.
But, to really support and help young people navigate the online world in which they increasingly live and learn, there needs to be a deliberate attention to behaviours, relationships, technology use and so on as a core part of any learning online, as part of the curriculum, throughout school life. The learning is most likely to stick when grounded in previously known concepts, contexts and prior knowledge. Like any useful piece of knowledge or understanding.
Just as I found plodding through of modules for the Computer Driver’s Licence (remember that?) back in the day meant very little in the real world of becoming computer literate so, I suspect, modules on cybersafety will do little to effect behaviour change in students- unless they are part of an embedded approach to digital literacies as part of what it means to be a learner in today’s world.