Growing digital smarts? Check our biases…

‘Tis the night before the #edchatnz conference and I am mulling over the session I am hoping to facilitate…

It’s been just over a month since I joined NetSafe as their new Director of Education, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting my head around a ‘same but different’ view window on education. The ‘same’ being broad, effective understandings around learning, curriculum, digital technologies, online spaces and professional development. The field feels very familiar. The ‘different’ includes spotlights on cybersafety research, wellbeing and how digital citizenship aligns with future-focused ideas related to learning, but also law, crime and community norms.

12640239264_ae3e5b7a05_zOf great interest is the strong focus on how interventions in the online environment are unlikely to be effective without the direct and regular involvement of young people and their whānau/families.

Seems kinda obvious, of course. And yet.

While there are some great pockets of practice around, there is still a strong bias in places towards assumptions and fears about being online.

We still see the following – even though there is strong evidence against their efficacy:

  • the ‘fear based message’ as a starting point for designing a safe, school environment, stoked by media clickbait. This Sunday’s article in the Herald on Sunday is a great example (Hooked on porn: Prepare for a tsunami of damaged people).
  • depiction and positioning of young people as ‘at fault’ — irresponsible, not to be trusted, poor decision-makers …
  • depiction of parents as gatekeepers and surveillance police, and at fault if they cannot make their children conform…
  • hope and trust in technology and/or the prohibition of it as a solution – the yearning for a quick-fix silver bullet
  • digital citizenship/cybersafety positioned ‘off to the side’ of the main curriculum programme

Internationally, there is a trend towards designing balanced, community-focused, learner-centred curriculum for wellbeing (OECD, ERO et al.) — and approaches to digital citizenship, and maintaining safe environments to support that learning, are surely part of this.

I read the recent post on gaming from NZCER (McDowall, 2016) this week and was struck by comments from young interviewees:

Some students felt as though these adults not only had negative views of gaming but had negative views of them personally because they were into gaming. When we asked a group of Year 10 students, for instance, what their parents thought about their gaming, their responses included: “That we’re lazy”; “That we’re just wasting our time”; “That we’re wasting our money”; and “That they [digital games] don’t contribute to our learning.

…and in this TEDx talk from 2014, Sonia Livingstone makes the point that what we believe young people are doing online, what we assume this means, our understanding of the relationship between ‘risk’ and ‘harm’ all influence how we design responses in schools:

Never has it been more important to check our own views as adults/teachers/parents, to understand that young people are moving through a time of new digital phenomena — and begin by finding out as much as we can about their lived experiences online. Without judgement. Check out my post from the past on moving from student voice to dialogue.

This will offer us a solid place to start curriculum planning, reviewing our strategic planning processes, or starting that sometimes difficult, courageous conversation with our children.

Bring on the kōrero tomorrow.



Image credits


88x31‘Digital citizenship? Start talking with the kids’  by Karen Spencer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.




6 thoughts on “Growing digital smarts? Check our biases…

  1. There are some great points here. As the parent of two sons, ages 22 and 8, I am essentially living through two generations (maybe more?) of technology engagement. My oldest is a heavy gamer whose life choices in budding adulthood both surprise me and give me pause. Throughout his adolescence I have tried hard and often to recognize the strengths he brings to this passion and the phenomenal learning he has achieved not only through gaming but in other digital pursuits including video editing, DJing, live streaming. These were all things which took place outside of school and beyond direct parental supervision. It has not always been easy to accept his choices to engage online and develop political notions which seemed to be often at odds with mine. (Guess where he landed on the Gamergate controversy.) What has been important has been keeping the lines of communication open, finding ways to take peeks into what he is up to here and there on SM. (we’re not friends on fb, but follow each other on Twitter)
    As I negotiate the next terms of engagement with my youngest, I will be mindful of the messages I am sending both through modeling and in my language.


    1. I think your experience of challenge and on-going negotiation is a typical one, and I appreciate your honesty here. The tussle between adults and their adolescent children is a well-worn path although the technologies we have today are perhaps designed to be some of those most compelling distractions we have yet seen. That said, they can be doorways to hugely creative acts when harnessed as your son has done. Thanks for sharing your story – it’s a hopeful one, I think! 🙂


  2. Good to know things are working out with new challenges and opportunities.

    I went to a presentation some time ago from a gentleman who started of the scaremongering with the ‘fact’ that there were 43,000 pedophiles on line trying to carry off peoples’ children.

    By the end he had people rushing out the door to rip devices from their children’s hands and ban the internet.

    In my humble opinion the evening was a disaster doing more harm than good.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Allanah – great to see you here:) Your story is a common one. The fearmongering certainly gets folk into the room, grabs people’s attention and plays into long-held assumptions that we somehow ‘feel’ is right. People are notoriously unreliable at judging risk but the media is a powerful influence here. That’s not to say that there are no risks, or that people don’t experience harm, but keeping perspective and staying focused on a larger aim is the key. Prohibition simply does not work – and depriving young people of the very device that is their lifeline to their social connections tends to mean that when they do experience challenge, they won’t tell anyone who might be able to help them. So, while it’s not as ‘sexy’ as crying wolf, messages around open conversations, listening for understanding and not jumping to conclusions is the starting point.
      Thanks for adding to the conversation here:) Hope you are really well.

      Liked by 1 person

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