Not so long ago, the official advice for young people to stay safe online was to never share self-images.
“Today children all over the country are posting TikTok videos of themselves dancing in their bedrooms,” jokes Erin Barrett, a sixth year student at Ardscoil Mhuire, Co Limerick.
So it goes online. In an increasingly confusing media environment, technological changes and new fads are replacing old ones. It’s hard to keep up – even for young people themselves.
This is one of the reasons why the latest trend aimed at empowering young people to stay safe online is boosting their overall “digital media literacy” skills.
The phrase is used to cover everything from critical thinking, being aware of echo chambers, spotting fake news online, and being mindful of how your personal information may be used.
As democracies around the world are threatened by the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of fake news, these are skills that are increasingly vital to navigating the modern online world.
To mark Safer Internet Day, Webwise – a publicly funded internet safety group – is releasing a free digital literacy educational resource for junior high school students today (February 11) called Connected.
This resource addresses online well-being, news, information and misinformation, big data and the data economy, and online rights.
Lacks critical skills
While today’s “digital natives” may be proficient with devices, experts say they often lack the essential skills to interpret the world around them.
Brian O’Neill, professor of media and communication and director of research at Dublin University of Technology, believes that the ideal place to teach digital literacy is in school.
“Digital literacy encompasses the skills and competencies needed to be able to function effectively in the digital environment,” he says.
“It’s deliberately quite broad: it’s about attitudes, values, skills and understanding, so education is the most appropriate place to provide that foundation, that digital preparation, for the type of environment in which young people live now and in which they are developing their own identity and their own future career.
Regarding the Connected program specifically, he thinks it is well organized and will resonate with young people.
The program addresses digital wellbeing, technical skills and the ability to work with technology, as well as content issues and awareness of the political environment.
“Webwise has established good digital skills to live at the starting point, so this is meaningful for all students, regardless of their particular disposition – some are more creatively oriented, others lean towards the technological end , everyone will enjoy it,” says O’Neill.
The Connected program is just one of many programs available online for use by teachers and their classes (see below).
At Ardscoil Mhuire, the sheer volume of activity planned for Safer Internet Day means it has expanded into Safer Internet Week this year.
The school organized an exhibition for the students. “It will be fun and playful, there will also be a lot of information but delivered in a very fun and active way,” says Patrick Huff, the school’s deputy director.
This includes the “Nana Test”, where a student dresses up as Grandma, and students are tested to see if the information they have uploaded can be shown to their Grandma. If not, the advice is that it should not be published.
Huff thinks the test is a good way “to urge students to reflect on their online presence and online behavior.”
“I’m here as a facilitator,” Huff says. “Students take the lead, I help them, but that’s really their vision, and they’re very driven by a sense of inclusion and making sure everyone gets the best out of it. They cast a wide net, but I have no doubts about their ability to achieve what they set out to do.
Erin Barrett became involved with Webwise during transition year through Young Social Innovators, where her class ran a campaign to raise awareness of the implications of teen sexting.
Today, she is a member of Webwise’s Youth Advisory Board. Barrett describes the panel as “facilitating synergy among many young people who are passionate about internet safety education, and providing us [those on the panel] with skills and opportunities to spread awareness on an even wider scale.”
The school has also branched out into the local community, with students visiting two primary schools to discuss internet safety, covering topics such as how to research effectively and how to spot misinformation, and the dangers echo chambers and filter bubbles.
In the meantime, schools are encouraged to explore Connected and other resources to build students’ skills in digital media literacy,
If these skills are so crucial, should they be compulsory in the national curriculum for all children?
O’Neill says, “We can always do more. That doesn’t mean we haven’t done a lot of good things in the past. By developing this resource [Connected] for the junior cycle, Webwise makes a very distinctive statement – that students need a solid foundation of digital literacy to enable them to develop skills in many different areas
As for Barrett, she has come to understand that digital literacy is essential to navigating the online world.
“For example, being digital media educated means you don’t instantly believe some of the misinformation that has dominated social media in recent years,” she says.
She thinks digital literacy is an essential skill to teach young people, “because technology keeps changing every day, so it’s so important that we keep ourselves informed so that we can make the best decisions online. It’s definitely something we need to keep in mind, and we need to keep learning and informing ourselves.
Internet safety and digital literacy: free educational resources for teachers:
Webwise.ie, the state- and EU-funded Internet Safety Awareness Centre, has produced a range of educational resources. Here is a guide to some of the most popular:
Html Heroes: An Introduction to the Internet
This new SPHE resource has been developed for third and fourth graders on safe and responsible internet use.
There are eight interactive lessons included in the program such as online games, screen time, fake news and online advertising.
Be in Ctrl
This junior cycle SPHE resource deals with online sexual coercion and extortion. There are three lesson plans and it is supported by the Garda school curriculum.
This SPHE resource was developed to engage second and third year students on the topic of non-consensual image sharing. There are two high quality short animations, six lessons and information for school leaders.
Anti-harassment kit #UP2US
This resource includes anti-bullying activities, colorful stickers and supplies to create interactive poster campaigns. Also included is the #Up2Us Anti-Bullying Teachers’ Handbook with SPHE Junior Cycle lesson ideas.
MySelfie and the wider world
This Elementary Level Cyberbullying Teacher’s Handbook is an SPHE resource developed to engage fifth and sixth graders in the topic of cyberbullying. A series of short animations is the centerpiece of the resource.
Think B4U Click
Designed for Junior Certificate CSPE teachers, ThinkB4UClick explores the issue of online privacy in the context of online rights and responsibilities.