Digital citizenship - empowerment v control in the classroom

16 August 2017

Merv Cook for web

Mervyn Cook, Director of eLearning at Hillcrest High, working closely with Waikato on digital citizenship.

Becoming a BYOD school sounds like a sensible idea but if you’re going to do it successfully, it requires careful planning and a solid understanding of online safety and the relatively new Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA).

When Hillcrest High School in Hamilton announced it was going to be a BYOD school, it called in academics from the University of Waikato to help guide its introduction.

The school has had a long connection with the university and they’ve worked together on several digital technologies for learning projects over the years, so it made sense to work together on BYOD and digital citizenship.

“There were mutual benefits,” says digital learning specialist Dr Noeline Wright. “We’re all learning as we go, because two years ago the HDCA didn’t exist so we didn’t have a history or basis from which to work or compare. We were, and are, breaking new ground.”

Dr Wright, who is based at the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the university, brought in Associate Professor Ryan Ko, head of CROW (Cybersecurity Researchers of Waikato) to work with staff at Hillcrest to develop cyber practices relevant for specific subject areas.

Dr Wright and her colleagues worked with the school to find out what they knew already, and what they were doing already. They worked across the Year 9 cohort and teachers, first carrying out a survey to find out what students understood about online safety.

“Seventy percent of the students said they trusted their teachers to keep them digitally safe. That’s a huge responsibility for teachers,” Dr Wright says.

The students were asked a series of questions about when and where they might post online and given multi-choice options. “So, for example, we asked if they’d ever post negative or nasty comments online and many said ‘if they deserved it’.” That led to a major discussion about the implications of posting online and discussion about the HDCA.

From there, Drs Wright and Ko brainstormed with a group of year 9 teachers and developed scenarios for use in a classroom context and for students to discuss what they’d do in different situations and match them to one of the 10 principles in the HDCA.

Mervyn Cook is Director of eLearning at Hillcrest and says BYOD has taken six years of thinking and planning. “We wanted to get it right, or as near right as possible,” he says. “The new Act is significant in helping us do that. It means we’ve got something to hang our online behaviour polices on. We’ve incorporated the HDCA into our programme.”

Netsafe, the independent non-profit organisation focussed on online safety, has provided funding for the University of Waikato-Hillcrest High School project. Mr Cook says sexting and online bullying are a fact of life these days and Netsafe is a good resource, often resolving issues before the police need to be involved.

“It’s been essential to get teachers on board, and knowing there’s support out there, such as Netsafe, gives teachers confidence. The next step is to work with feeder schools to ensure students are digitally aware before they come to high school,” says Mr Cook.

And up the road at the university, lecturers are working with student teachers preparing them for what they might encounter at a secondary school. “Teachers need to understand how their roles have changed in an online context and know how the Act is enforced,” says Dr Wright.