In this final video lecture, we’ll look at some themes of this week and last, and think about how they impact in the classroom. How do we plan to teach the children the skills they’ll need to negotiate the challenges of being a citizen and a scholar in the 21st century? What can classroom projects offer as its context for learning about some of these things? We know that children are prolific consumers of digital content. In a recent report by Ofcome, they estimated that even the youngest children in the survey, the three and four-year-olds, spent on average about six hours a week on the internet. We know most of this time is playing games. But increasingly, children are also watching television this way.
In primary age children, internet consumption rises to nine hours a week. And we know that 8 to 11-year-olds are increasingly using the internet for school work. We also know that children, especially boys, spend time gaming, the youngest spending an estimated six hours a week gaming, and the oldest, in the 12 to 15 age bracket, spending up to twice that amount. The question for education is how we harness this interaction with digital content for positive means. In 2011, the Next Gen report, published by Nesta, highlighted a serious problem– a skills gap between the skills of school and university leaders and the skills needed to be part of a fast-growing digital game industry.
Many high tech companies also identify the needs for highly digitally literate employees. The Next Gen report suggests the setting up of a talent pipeline. And schools are now actively engaged in harnessing children and young people interested in digital media. They’re beginning to shape the computer programmers and software engineers of the future. One phenomenal success bridging the leisure and education divide is Minecraft. This virtual reality game has been a sensational hit, and used in a variety of educational contexts. In late 2013, even the ordinance survey produced a Minecraft map of Britain. Children and young people are prolific creators of digital content. Fueled perhaps by social media, the use of videos and photographs and the ubiquitous selfie is on the rise.
The means to share has given us the impetus to create. We know that over half of teens, and a third of preteens, use their mobile phones to take video. And this number increases substantially with still photos. The fact that a digital device is capable of both creating and sharing such information makes these things even easier. This has a dual impact on education. Firstly, it means we need to encourage children and young people to think responsibly about how we use social media. But also we need to think about how we harness the creative space that creates. We also know that young people get a lot of their information from the Web.
Many teachers would like to create more discerning and critical uses of the information. There are two sides to this. On one hand, vast amounts of information can be accessed via the Web in a second. But on the other, we know that the information is filtered, and an information bubble is created all around us. One of the most important technologies for children to learn is how cookies work. These are small programmes which are placed on our computers by websites. And they gather information about what we do. They’re the thing that make the seemingly appropriate adverts appear on web pages. However, it’s really important for children and young people to understand that such a selection actually restricts what we see.
Most people have a favourite search engine on the internet. But how would the scope of our understanding be broadened if we used a different way of searching? All of the time we’re the Web, filtering and selecting is taking place but not all of which we control. In the early days of the internet in school, many used filtered services, where some websites and types of content for were blocked. Many schools still do. But as the use of the internet develops and evolves, some schools are beginning to question filtered services.
And we also know that while many parents are concerned about what their children are viewing online, not all turn on the parental controls on their own home internet service, making it important for teachers to educate children and young people about what to do if they do encounter something they don’t like, or feel they shouldn’t see on the internet. Controlled information bubbles are all very well, but we must teach children what to do when their bubble is burst. In summary, to become effective digital citizens and digital scholars, children and young people must understand how ownership is expressed on the internet, by using licences such as Creative Commons.
They must also understand the issues raised by the easy creation and sharing of digital media, such as photos and videos. These are issues for both teachers and parents to tackle. These skills are allied to becoming effective digital producers who might go on to design the software of the future. We also know the ability to write computer code is important in this, but understanding such issues as rights and permissions is also important. Only then will children and young people become useful, creative, and safe citizens of the digital world. In these four lectures, we’ve covered a lot of ground, discussing a wide range of topics.
To finish, I’d like to give a quick summary of the main things that children should learn about, both as part of the new computing curriculum and, where appropriate, in other contexts. Firstly, children should learn about digital identity, their footprints and shadows, and how they can take steps to take ownership of this. They also need to learn about data, how it’s collected and stored, and from big data to cookies on their own devices. They need to learn about passwords, safety protocols, and how to access the digital world with regard to their personal safety.
They need to learn about the pace of technological change, and how this affects the choices we make about software and devices. They need to learn who owns and polices the internet. They need to learn about creating and distributing digital content with increasing independence and a responsible attitude. And they need to learn about how all kinds of digital information needs to be approached with due regard for its reliability and validity. Finally, they need to learn about how hardware and software mediate our interactions with the digital world in many ways. There is much here that’s new to schools, and how to approach these topics will need to be planned carefully with the new curriculum in mind.
This goes beyond coding, e-safety, and ICT that might have previously been taught, and looks in depth at the relationships between the technology and people who use it, with the aim of creating good digital citizens of the future.