No one can doubt that the internet is the most wonderful invention, full of promise and hope. Moreover, technology in schools in these enlightened days leads to fewer negative consequences due to savvy safeguarding and effective firewalls.
But is that all we mean when we talk about the internet or cyber safety? It most often refers to the notion of protecting children from potential risks online and developing an understanding of potential harms. It means warning them of the jeopardy of giving out personal information, which may lead to unsafe or unsavoury communications. Obvious risks such as online bullying, grooming or device addiction are frequently referred to in policy statements and regularly reviewed and updated. You may be feeling pretty confident that your technology team, along with your subscriptions to fabulously pricey firewalls, protect you from malware, phishing & online threats.
But for me, web literacy has become the single most crucial aspect to focus on for the detrimental consequences of technology in schools; it remains the weakest link. It’s certainly scary when we look at how society is being swayed by powerful advertising, clever algorithms and social media intervention into all kinds of public opinion – shifting and polarising political, cultural and social thought. And it’s never been easier to have a platform to voice extreme views. The graffitied toilet walls of my youth are now exposed to millions – our little impressionable minds included – through ‘reputable’ search engines, including Google.
What percentage of children in your school use Google as a search engine? What percentage would say they can use it effectively? All of them? And what if you asked them: ‘What is the purpose of Google?’ What do you think they would answer? I’d love to hear their responses if you decide to ask them. Did any express the idea that it’s like an online library?
I was astonished when I tried the following experiment whilst writing this article! I typed into the search bar ‘Are cats better than dogs?’ and the first answer out of 1,920,000,000 responses was unequivocal that scientists have proven that felines are better than canines.
Then, when I typed ‘are dogs better than cats?’ the first of 1,850,000,000 results in 0.55 seconds proved unequivocally that the companionship of dogs is infinitely better. This is because they walk, play fetch and interact with owners, leaving cats to stalk around on their lonesome during night’s dark hours.
They can’t both be unequivocal. So both answers cannot be correct.
So where do we begin to honourably shape those innocent minds before they can be warped by extreme belief, paraded as fact on the internet? We never sent children, or adults for that matter, to a library to reinforce existing beliefs – on the contrary, it was where critical thought developed. Without you focusing on its conscious teaching, Google seamlessly removes critical thinking.
Instead, its algorithms all the time work out what it thinks you want to hear. The ideas in this TedTalk have been in circulation since 2012; Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”: Inspiring: Informative: Ideas – YouTube. However, we are still coming across educators and influencers who, having missed Netflix’s ‘Social Dilemma’, are not teaching the critical skills needed to keep children safe online and in their heads! Despite using Facebook and TikTok, perhaps some of your teachers are no more digitally literate than the children they are teaching.
This discernment has to be taught from the earliest age. My fifteen-month-old granddaughter can already swipe, open browsers, and play music, but there’s no way this ‘talent’ can be mistaken for digital literacy. She will need to learn to validate the information, conduct more sophisticated primary searches, and appreciate that just because knowledge is at her fingertips, it doesn’t mean it is valid. Digital literacy needs as much weight as traditional literacy!
About the Author
Julie continues to build on her relentless quest for innovative and impactful pedagogy and is motivated by growing knowledge of neuroscience and its impact on ways of learning. After 30 years in both the UK and schools around the globe, supporting inclusive, diverse learners and mentoring PGCE student teachers as a Headteacher, advisor and consultant, we’re absolutely thrilled to have Julie onboard.
She wholeheartedly supports the LifeWise mission to positively prepare children for life. Julie has been involved in opening trauma informed schools, classroom design and creating communication friendly spaces, growing student numbers, raising attainment. She is also a published author but ask her what her greatest accomplishments include and she’ll tell you the success of students thirty years down the line!
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