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Learning by doing: Safe social media for grade school

Citizenship – both digital and the traditional kind – is a verb. It takes practice. So, as you may have heard us ConnectSafely.org folk say, social media need to be in the classroom so students can practice digital citizenship just as for generations they (hopefully still) have opportunities to practice citizenship at school. So I’m thrilled to tell you about a free package of safe social network site + teaching materials designed specifically for schools. The companion components are the well-established Radiowaves.co.uk (now in 1,400 K-12 schools) and its just-launched companion, “Safe,” a collection of classroom activities and teachers resources for elementary school students to learn safe use of social media in and out of school (there are even worksheets for classrooms without computers). Once students have completed the program, they get Safe certificates. Both resources are based in the UK, but the great news for teachers in other countries is: “We are very keen for schools outside of the UK to participate,” Radiowaves executive Kate Valentine told me via email (she was referring to both Safe and Radiowaves).

Safe is based on three main media-literacy questions students are encouraged to ask themselves when using digital media:

  • “WHO will see what you share? How do you control who can see it?
  • “WHAT are you sharing? Is it yours to share? What personal information are you sharing?
  • “WHERE are you sharing things? Is this the best place for you and your work?”

These are such important questions, but – because for years I’ve been hearing young Internet users portrayed incorrectly as consumers of rather than participants in new media (by those of us who grew up with media that could only be consumed) – I’d like to see Safe add one more question about the impact of what one is sharing, producing, and uploading on oneself, others, and one’s community (see “Why ‘digital citizenship’s a hot topic”). You may be wondering how digital citizenship increases a child’s online safety, and my answer is: because civil, ethical behavior decreases online risk. A 2007 article published in Archives of Pediatrics reported that youth who engage in aggressive behavior online are more than twice as likely to be victimized online (see “Digital risk, digital citizenship,” May 2009).

Safe is the brainchild of London-based Childnet International, a youth-guided online-safety organization; “The i in online,” a London law firm’s corporate-responsibility project (where firm volunteers work with students on responsible Net use); and Radiowaves.co.uk, providers of social-media tools for school. Here’s where teachers can join Radiowaves and Safe.

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