Digital citizenship is all about how you carry yourself online. This is a topic that is very close to my heart, as people in general are largely unaware (or don’t care) of how their online activities can impact others.
I have played a game called ‘Defence of the Ancients‘ my entire adult life. It started as a modification of the game Warcraft 3 (Blizzard Entertainment, 2002) and has since ballooned into a game in its own right as DotA 2 (Valve, 2013). The premise of the game is simple. You are a team of five, and you are battling another team of five. As a team you have to destroy the other teams base. It is the same formula every game, but as there are over 100 heroes in the game to choose from, no two games are the same. There are nearly 6,000,000,000,000,000 (thats 6 thousand billion) combinations of game you can possibly have – so despite the formula being the same, the game stays fresh. The only thing I dislike about DotA is that some players see the need to belittle, demean and be rude to other players. Sometimes they are racist, sexist, agist etc. They do this for many reasons, but the most common obvious reasons being:
- Not playing well in that game.
- Other players not doing what they want (i.e. they will be rude to others for not playing in the way they want).
- Not speaking English (Which on a South East Asian or Japanese server seems like it would be ok to not speak english…).
On top of the fact that these interactions ruin team cohesion, and frequently result in us losing the game, I cant imagine how bad some of the people on the other end feel. I get abused sometimes (playing poorly!), and it doesn’t feel good even though I am probably older than many who play and fairly confident in myself. To Valves credit they implemented a reporting and banning system early on, but they cant possibly police the entire 12 million plus user base. Most of the systems in place are automatic. What Valve do not appear to have is a strong educator in the company working on a way we can teach the players how to be better towards one another. They also need to be strong in their message that this kind of communication is unacceptable, and level the ban hammer of justice down upon those who persistently bring down the community. This is where schools can step in and discuss this with students. Whilst I believe Valve has some responsibility for policing and educating their community (note Valve: I am very willing to do this job!!), I think schools and parents have a responsibility for teaching children to be good people irrespective of the medium of communication.
In this context, I am this week reviewing the Google Digital Citizenship Course, to see how well it is preparing educators to help their students become good and honest citizens of the net. The method I am choosing to review it is taking it unit by unit, and noting strengths and weaknesses throughout. Unit 1 was an intro unit (“Why teach digital citizenship and safety?”) and so was skipped, assuming we read this blog post with the understanding that someone needs to.
Unit 2 – Teach students about internet safety and privacy
Conclusion: Good to emphasise the role of strong passwords, but making a new password for each site is going to put students off doing it well. Two factor authentication should be used on accounts that need to be secure, but not necessarily on other accounts.
The point of this unit is mostly emphasising the best way to keep yourself safe online is to treat the data you share like you would physical things. Protecting data being the most important part of this – and so passwords and securing your own areas are the principal topic taught. The topic reminded me of a comic I read years ago:
I appreciate the importance behind the content here. Keeping your online profiles safe is really important. I cant imagine the damage that could be done if someone gained access to my email account (one of our friends realised the dangers of this when he left his computer unlocked at LAN Party, and said, in what are now immortal words “do what you like, you cant embarrass me!”). However the suggestions for passwords I don’t buy into, not because it isn’t good advice to have different passwords, or hard to guess ones (a student of mine once had a password of a single hash… ‘#’), but despite the idea of creating a passphrase, this wont work for the dozens of sites we use passwords for. Teaching students to do something so irritating isn’t going to work. Its like getting them a pink bicycle helmet with dragons ears on. Despite how protective it is, they do not want to wear that helmet. We have to present ideas to students in a way that will protect them whilst keeping it easy enough so as not to hugely inconvenience them.
How about make four passwords you use for all sites. Replace A with 4, s with 3 etc and have a character !@#$ depending on if it is password number 1 (!), number 2 (@) etc. Still complex, but way easier than a new random weird password for each site. Pass phrases also don’t work well in this respect (did ‘laura go to the circus’ or ‘did harvey just into the deep end’?). Thinking about this I tried to make a flow diagram to see how different students might use different strategies. If anybody has critiques or improvements please post them at the bottom of this blog 🙂
The suggestion for two factor authentication is good, but not for all your sites. Email, amazon, your bank account are all good things to keep 100% secure. Your membership with a gaming forum – maybe not worth the effort?
Unit 3 – Online safety on the go
Conclusion: Good section which covers lots of the ‘how to keep your device safe’, but appears to stick to the Google line that only the Google store is trustworthy. Needs to emphasise other Android based app stores.
This section mainly looks at how students can keep their personal devices safe. This covers:
- Securing your phone with a non-easy to guess pin.
- Downloading from trusted places such as the app store.
- Updating your device when system updates are available.
- How to use public wifi safely.
All of these topics are good ones to cover. The coverage of public wifi might try to distinguish between ‘open’ and ‘encrypted‘ public networks, there is a difference unless the hacker is sitting with you in the wifi zone.
The only problem I have with this section is the suggestion to only download from trusted sources. Google, through development of Android, created a very open operating system that is available for all to create apps. I even made one to scan homework (though it isn’t on the app store, just my phone!). However despite this open system millions now use, the Google store has rules on what they do and do not allow in terms of content. So for example you cannot access Adult material (though I sincerely hope we are doing a good job of teaching students not to try and access this, I am confident that many will). This forces them to look elsewhere, and inevitably they download something that might compromise their devices’ security. I understand the philosophy behind this decision (and agree that some apps should be made as hard to find as possible), but then they do allow Gambling apps that work within the law. Google thus decides what is and what is not ethical for people to have on their phones. Maybe the course could also promote android app stores that do allow a wider range of content (but mostly do the same as the app store).
Unit 4 – Savvy Searching
Conclusion: A good section with good information but I do not feel it fits the criteria of online safety or being a good citizen of the net. Useful, but maybe not in context?
This is a topic that all students should be taught when starting to write research papers, or just to learn from what they see on the internet. The ability to distinguish between what is real and what is fake can be challenging. Just look at the recent failure of a large national newspaper in the UK to check their facts before tweeting about an article from a popular fake news site. If the big players in journalism are getting it wrong, then it is clearly not always straightforward to tell what is real and what is fake.
The tips given are good though:
- Check the author. Is it written by James, the Kindergarten physics wizard? Or is it written by Professor Bramley Stoker, of Transylvania University?
- Double check other sites to get authenticity. Professor Stoker may be a maverick, and many of his colleagues disagree with him. Research the same info on different (equally respected) sites to see if different experts agree.
- Check the date on the websites, and try to use more recent publications. If it is concerned with science and published a decade ago, chance are the theories or discoveries have been built upon since then.
Unit 5 – Stay Safe from Phishing and Scams
Conclusion: I like that scare tactics are not deployed here, but rather tangible ways to decide if what you are being offered is legitimate or a scam. Few technical details are given.
I love the start of this section “Being aware doesn’t require being afraid”. In all of the content we teach students about the internet and protecting themselves, this is important. We don’t need them to be scared, we need them to be aware. The section as a whole is pretty straightforward and covers most of what we would expect our students to be aware of. Other things Google might add is how to notice a link in an email does not go to the official website (by hovering over it), and a reiteration that nobody will ever ask you for your password if they are from an official company.
Unit 6 – Manage your online reputation
Conclusion: The most important section in terms of how you represent yourself and treat others in the online world, but needs to be a far greater discussion with students. Some good ideas are put forward and its a good starting point for educators to think about how stuff we put on the net could be maliciously interpreted.
As an idea, this section is deserving of an entire course. Students representation online is important, as they are interacting with real people. Many students do not do this universally well – as a gamer I understand this better than most. The section is brief but to the point, it has good suggestions like:
- Be careful about what you post, as it could reveal your true location, that your house is empty etc. This is something I would imagine few consider (and I admit I had never considered).
- Think about what others post as well as yourself. How can students help their friends be better online citizens.
- How students should try and defuse tense online situations instead of exasperbate them.
Like I say, this section is very light for the depth of the subject. For example were I teaching this subject, I would have students think about the state of the person on the other end. Some people play games or chat online as a way to escape their lives for a while. Being unkind to people like this might not help their mental wellbeing, and cause them to sink into depression (as an example). In real life, students wouldn’t shout ‘QUIT PHYSICS’ across the classroom when they get a question wrong, so why would they should ‘QUIT THIS GAME’ in the online world? Its not immediately apparent to students that the person on the other end might not be in a good place in life.
The digital citizenship course is a decent course for advisory teachers to take (as Dean of Grade 10 I might get my team to take it before we teach this stuff). I learned from it how we can be traced using geolocations on photos we post as an example. The quizzes were not very helpful, and could easily be guessed even if you did not watch the videos.
I do not believe that it has enough depth to make it a good course for students yet, for example it also does not address some of the situations where students find themselves such as computer gaming with chat interfaces. But that is where we can adapt the material in order to make it relevant to our students.
The biggest problem with the course is that it does not help non-tech savvy teachers understand how the students utilise the internet. We cannot address utilisation of each different app and how it could be misused, but we can teach students to be good netizens using some of the things they most commonly use as examples.