Wednesday 13 February 2013

Enabling and Supporting Young People to be effective Digital Citizens

(an article I wrote for Children in Wales Magazine - Winter 2012 edition)

The last few years have seen a huge and rapid evolution of Internet technologies – from the development of social web services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to the development of smart phones, tablet PCs, and now 4G connectivity. All these technologies make it extremely easy to stay connected with friends and family, create and share rich multimedia - publicly or privately, collaborate with peers, access new networks, learning and support.

For those who work with young people, and those involved in policy development in relation to young people’s use of digital technologies, a key issue has been how to address e-safety effectively in the face of these changes. Even as we become more digitally literate, we are aware of incidents of misuse of digital technologies, for example in cases involving cyberbullying and sexting. There are also concerns about issues like addiction in gaming and gambling sites, over-sharing of personal information, loss of privacy and reputation and so on.

Many parents and carers also face the challenge of understanding what constitutes safe use with these technologies. For example, how to manage privacy settings and parental controls, prevent access to adult content, establish time limits for gaming in an increasingly ‘always on’ world.

We also know that young people who are vulnerable offline are more likely to be vulnerable online. Two key recommendations to come out of the ‘Munch Poke and Ping’ report [1] – a piece of research carried out by Stephen Carrick-Davies [2] to consider the risks which vulnerable young people (being taught in a PRU) encounter online are ‘to model very positive use of technology’ and ‘to actively involve students as co-researchers and peer-educators to help other young people understand the risks’.

Additionally, across the globe, effective use of digital and Internet technologies in education is being recognised as a key enabler to improve teaching and learning. The EU has defined ‘digital competence’ as one of 8 key skills needed for lifelong learning [3]. According to the American Knight Commission [4], successful participation in the digital age entails two kinds of skills sets – digital literacy and media literacy. They provide the following definitions: “Digital literacy means learning how to work the information and communication technologies in a networked environment, as well as understanding the social, cultural and ethical issues that go along with the use of these technologies. Media literacy is the ability to access, analyse, evaluate, create, reflect upon, and act with the information products that media disseminate.”

eSafety has traditionally been about specific behaviours, risks and dangers online, measures we can take, and systems and processes we can implement to safeguard young people. Whilst important, a better overarching vision is needed which recognises the very positive and integral role that Internet and digital technologies play, for both society and the individual, as part of a balanced lifestyle.

This requires that educators and professionals supporting young people must themselves engage in and harness the potentials offered by this evolving digital media space – key 21st Century Digital Citizenship Skills. They must understand the role of the Internet and digital technologies in transforming services, education, businesses, socialising and more. The must also understand what these technologies mean to young people themselves – in terms of relationships, identity; peer-pressures, resilience and coping strategies. They need to understand what their gaps in knowledge are; how and where they get support. The must work with young people as co-creators of new programmes of digital leadership. These programmes must not simply stop at ‘safe use’, but must inspire young people to become innovative and effective digital citizens, skilled and able to develop a positive online presence; resilient and kind, so that they are able to use these technologies for the larger good.

[1] Stephen Carrick-Davies
[2] Much Poke Ping Report and website
[3] KEY COMPETENCES FOR LIFELONG LEARNING - European Reference Framework
[4] Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action

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