Safer Internet Day 2014 at the Children’s Hospital School, Leicester – guest post

Many of the Leicester’s schools have been busy planning and taking part in events and activities in support of Safer Internet Day 2014. Mel Madlani, ICT Coordinator at the Children’s Hospital School, writes:

The Children’s Hospital School provides appropriate education for students who are too ill to attend their mainstream school. Our role is to support, educate and enable students to reintegrate as, when, and if appropriate. We work in three bases or school sites (at the Willow Bank Day School, Leicester Royal Infirmary, and at Oakham House), and on outreach in pupils’ homes. The length of time students are with us varies from a few days to longer periods – often students move through different parts of our school as dictated by their health and other circumstances.

This year, students across the school participated in activities to mark international Safer Internet Day on 11th of February 2014.

The Day’s theme for this year was ‘Let’s create a better internet together’. The day offered the opportunity to focus on both the creative things that children and young people are doing online, as well as the role and responsibility that we all have in helping to create a better internet. Students took part in activities across the four sites of The Children’s Hospital School.

Outreach staff working with students in their homes delivered presentations and encouraged students and parents to become more aware of safer internet practices.

Students at Willow Bank School discussed their own personal digital experiences and talked about issues that affected them online. Teachers led discussions which allowed students to think about what they post online, the impact of their online activities, practical ways to protect their privacy, and taking a mature and responsible approach to posting online. Students also watched the live stream of Safer Internet TV at 14:00 in the school hall – which covered dealing with bullying, safe use of social networking services, and using the internet for good.

SID2014 Children’s Hospital School film project

Willow Bank students also took part in an extension activity which involved planning, recording and editing a vox pop style video. The video wasn’t made to share externally, although we share some anonymised quotes from the final film in this post. Our students decided from the outset that this was an activity about process and reflection.  The project framed student conversations about their own experiences on the internet, both good and bad.

The children at the Willow Bank Hospital School face a number of challenges related to emotional and mental health. A number of our students have been personally affected by the issues discussed in the film, particularly cyberbullying. The process of creating the film allowed the students to explore issues in more detail, and they proposed intelligent and practical suggestions for making sure young people’s experience online is a positive one.  We were really proud that the young people who took part were able to find their voice and speak up around the issue. Our learners found confidence in talking about an issue that is so important to them.

The Drama room was converted into an “interview studio” complete with three-point lighting, a tripod camera set-up and external sound recording. Year 11 students helped to design and organise the space paying particular attention to the “privacy” of the students being filmed. The interview chairs themselves were set up behind a set of heavy cupboards so that the discussion groups could hear the interviewees’ contributions without adding to their anxiety by seeing them!

The students were responsible for outlining the basic aims of the project and collaborated in discussions with school staff as regards what the film should look like and what it would hope to achieve. The film project allowed students from 13 to 15 years old, of all abilities to take part. They worked collaboratively in producing the finished product under the guidance of staff from a variety of backgrounds – including Drama, ICT and Music.

They designed the set for the filming and volunteered themselves as interviewees, and cheered and supported each other through the ‘ordeal’ of being filmed. They designed the cutaway shots and ‘modelled’ for them. They liaised with Adam Wykes, who edited the final footage, and had a hand in the sound and graphic design of the final piece.

The final film raised many important issues regarding internet safety, and sketches out many solutions. Almost the entire school body played some part in the making of the film. The project has improved the students’ awareness of issues relating to personal safety, but has fortified their resolve to help ‘make a difference’ .

The students discussed safety on the internet as it applied to them personally, and they helped each other to find practical solutions to issues of internet safety that they themselves wanted to see put into place. There was nothing didactic or moralising about the project – it was very much their chance to tell us for a change!

Students participating in the film project focused on two questions, first in group discussions and then (after much encouragement!) to camera:

  1. What are the threats and dangers faced by young people using the internet today?
  2. What can we do about it?

Several of our students who didn’t wish to be filmed still played an active part in the production – the cutaway shots of “hands using laptops” and “anonymous internet users etc.” were all designed and filmed by this body of students and helped to give the production a  more professional feel.

As well as discussing technical solutions, such as filtering, blocking and reporting, students were clear about the importance taking personal responsibility for managing their online activity:

“If you don’t want somebody to know something, don’t tell everyone. Because if you go on to Facebook and you post something to Facebook -guess what – almost everyone in your school is gonna see that now because you put them on Facebook”

There was a healthy sense of righteous anger, which, given the context of our students, was genuinely touching.

Many of our learners spoke about how they used the internet to communicate with the outside world whilst they were ill either at home or in the hospital. The internet provides many of them with a positive means of staying connected with their peers, and many have formed new and lasting friendships online. The students discussed technical ways of supporting e-safety, including improving reporting options. Many feel that social networking sites don’t provide effective ways of reporting inappropriate content or behavior.  It was clear from the discussions that took place that many of our students are familiar with key e-safety issues and of the importance of taking steps to stay safe online.

Students drew attention to the importance of school staff understanding how learners make use of online environments:

“A lot of, almost all of the internet safety lessons I’ve been taught in, they don’t give you a physical page of twitter or Tumblr or, you know, an Instagram feed or whatever – because that’s what so many kids are looking at – they don’t give you a Facebook feed and tell people to identify what’s going on. A lot of the teachers, at least from my perspective anyway, wouldn’t really know what is actually going on there; they wouldn’t be so sure about that. But that’s what children are engaging in and that’s what they need to be taught about.”

They pointed out the importance of e-safety education and activity that takes place in real world environments, and acknowledges real world issues:

“Contextual things where we take a website and we have a look, we physically take a look at what we can do and what we can and can’t do. Instead of say, making a poster or creating a document or a presentation on what we can do. Because a lot of it does boil down to common sense, it’s things that can be universally applied. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Those are lessons that don’t need to apply to the internet; that can just apply almost anywhere.

I think if an internet safety lesson said ‘right this is what young people do on the internet, regardless of whether we like it or not, let’s have a look at the sites they use and let’s have a look at the things physically on the page, and what we can suggest to these children, what they can do to avoid being in danger or endangering other people or posting things that maybe other people aren’t so happy with.”

They were also aware of the need to celebrate the benefits of digital environments, and the importance of feeling secure and being able to have fun:

“And to encourage it as well, as a forum where you don’t have to feel worried about what you post, because there should be a happy medium between respect and fear – you shouldn’t have to worry about what you’re posting.”

As a result of the day’s activities and the film project, internet safety and young people’s experience of and views on being online were raised across the school.  The project clearly communicated to our learners that our community values their voice and opinions, and supports discussion about young people’s experiences, both positive and negative, in digital environments. The project actively supported learners in thinking through solutions for issues that affected them negatively, sending a clear message to them about their role in looking after themselves and each other, and their power to change their world.

About Josie Fraser

UK-based Social and Educational Technologist, currently working for Leicester City Council (Local Government) as ICT Strategy Lead (Children's Capital). I support schools across the city in making effective and innovative use of technology to support learning, teaching and whole school development.
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