Recently I had the pleasure of launching the ACMA’s new Cybersmart Networking tool at St Aloysius Catholic College in Kingston, Tasmania. Cybersmart Networking is a new, innovative tool to provide students with insights into the consequences of posting inappropriate information or images online.
I would like to thank the school, in particular its principal, Mrs Elaine Doran, for allowing the Huntingfield campus of St Aloysius to be used for the launch, and for the participation of staff and students in the activities. This modern, open-plan campus with its friendly staff and students was the perfect location to hold the launch.
I would also like to thank Maria Vassiliadis, Acting Executive Manager of the Safety and e-Education Branch of the ACMA, Sharon Trotter, Manager of Cybersafety Programs of the ACMA, and Graham Rodrick, Senior Adviser for Online Education and Strategy at the ACMA, as well as other staff from the ACMA, for their hard work in developing the Cybersmart Networking program, as well as their marvellous efforts in putting together the launch.
As the Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, I am a passionate advocate for cybersafety and for child safety more broadly. The digital world is an integral part of our lives and the lives of our children and teenagers. For the young, it provides a social lifeline and a world of knowledge and entertainment. Social networking in particular is the cornerstone of the social lives of many older children and teens as they make the transition from passive content consumers to active participants in the online world. As adults, we are aware of the potential risks and the need to help equip our children to manage those risks should they arise.
The ACMA’s 2009 ‘click and connect’ research indicated that children and teens think they know what these online risks are. However, it also indicated that many are not consistently adopting behaviours that will help them avoid these risks and keep them safe in the digital world. The Australian government, through the $128 million cybersafety plan, is committed to educating children and teens about the risks associated with the online environment. The new Cybersmart Networking program is targeted at 12- to 14-year-old students, educating them about safe social networking. It empowers students so that they can make informed decisions and deal appropriately with issues when using social networking platforms. This adds to the suite of interactive shared learning activities produced by the ACMA, including Cybersmart Detectives and Cybersmart Hero, as well as other educational resources including the Tagged DVD, Wise Up to IT, Let’s Fight it Together, and Hector’s World.
Cybersmart Networking uses interactive role play to identify issues in a simulated social-networking environment. Children work in teams, online and in real time. Each child plays a central role in the activity, uncovering clues and making suggestions about how a student might deal with the issues identified. Cybersmart guides respond to questions the students ask and help them through the activity. Guides include police, education, government and child welfare advocates who are experts in child safety. As the scenario unfolds, the children discuss the issues they encounter and ways of managing them. Supporting lesson plans provide follow-up activities with teachers, reinforcing what the students have learned. The activity is conducted in schools, and students participate with Cybersmart guides located remotely.
A total of 140 students from four schools participated in the launch of Cybersmart Networking. The schools were from Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia. These students from across the country were guided from a temporary headquarters set up at St Aloysius. Senior Constable Russell Barratt and Sergeant Brett Saarinen of the Tasmania Police were two of the guides during the launch, responding to the students’ questions and messages in real time. The students involved sent a total of 1,085 messages during the activity, with almost all messages answered by the Cybersmart guides. The students involved were genuinely engaged with the program, working in pairs to work through the problems.
I had the opportunity to talk to several pairs of students who were talking through the problems presented to them and were genuinely thinking about cybersafety issues. They loved the fact that they were learning in an interactive environment and were given the opportunity to think through the issues for themselves. They thought it was a much more effective way to learn about these issues than just being told what not to do when online. Teachers were impressed with how engaged the students were with the Cybersmart Networking activity.
The online world is an interactive one, and education about online dangers must also be interactive, mimicking the form of the online environment. The Cybersmart Networking program has been tailored so that students are provided with age-appropriate messages on how students can protect themselves online. Schools wishing to participate in the Cybersmart Networking program in 2012 can do so by filling in an online form at the Cybersmart website.
Cybersmart Networking builds upon the two previous interactive shared learning activities, Cybersmart Detectives and Cybersmart Hero, which have already had over 30,000 participants. Targeted to students aged 10 to 12 years old, Cybersmart Detectives addresses issues of online safety and grooming. It encourages young people to think before posting personal information online and to be wary about people they have only met online. The Cybersmart Detectives activity has recently been independently assessed by Edith Cowan University. Results show that there is clear evidence that this program is a very effective education tool. Feedback from education experts, psychologists and teachers shows this interactive format is highly effective in engaging students to process key learnings during the activity. Targeted to students aged 11 to 13 years old, Cybersmart Hero addresses the issue of cyberbullying and the responsibilities of those in the best position to influence cyberbullying—the bystanders. Over 30,000 students have now taken part in these interactive shared learning activities.
In September, I joined the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, ACMA Deputy Chair, Richard Bean, and more than 280 students, teachers and industry experts at the launch of the ACMA’s new cybersafety film, Tagged. Tagged has been developed by the ACMA under the government’s cybersafety plan. It tells the story of Kate, Jack, Raz and Em and dramatically illustrates how online actions can have real-world consequences. The story-line was developed in consultation with young people, ensuring that it is credible and resonates with the target audience of teens 14 years and older. It addresses contemporary online issues, including sexting, cyberbullying and protecting your digital reputation, in a format that students can relate to. Tagged is recommended for use with students aged 14 years and over and is available free of charge to all schools. Tagged is supported by lesson plans, incorporating realistic scenarios and activities, as well as character reflection interviews which further explore the themes presented in the film.
I have had the opportunity to talk to high-school students about the Tagged film. The students who have viewed the film find it engaging, entertaining, relevant and relatable to issues they are currently facing. They are able to see themselves and their friends in the characters in the film. As one student told me, ‘Tagged is cool.’ Tagged complements a diverse range of resources aimed at informing, educating and empowering students. Itcan be ordered for free from the Cybersmart website. The film is accompanied by lesson plans, activities and character interviews for use in schools which promote positive online behaviour. The government’s online resources to improve knowledge of online risks are being taken up by schools, students, parents and online professionals. In just over two years, over 360,000 participants have attended one of the ACMA’s professional development and internet safety presentations, and the Cybersmart website which the minister launched two years ago has received well over one million visits. The Cybersmart site provides access to Kids Helpline for confidential online counselling and access to the government’s Cybersafety Help Button. The help button provides practical information and tips on how to deal with cyberbullying, unwanted contact and offences or illegal content. A Cybersafety Help Button for Android smart phones is currently available free of charge from the Android market and will be available soon for the Windows Phone 7 and iPhone.
Cybersafety issues are becoming increasingly important for the children and teenagers of today. The tools provided by the ACMA are helping these children and teenagers to learn the risks that are inherent in online activity and teaching them how to stay safe online. The launch of the Cybersmart Networking program and the Tagged film are just two more tools in the arsenal of parents, teachers and schools to improve the safety of the online environment. I am proud that I can be involved with these programs.