Empowering students: Safely using the internet for learning

Cambridge is designing curricula and assessments for an increasingly digitalised world. Uppermost in my mind at the moment is the role we have to play in ensuring that the positive aspects of online resources are recognised, and responsibly developed. Students will then be able to benefit from well designed learning and assessment experiences, and ultimately improved educational outcomes.

Effective interactive learning and teaching resources

Good teaching and learning resources are carefully structured and integrated with discrete item sets, classroom tasks and tools, games and collaborative projects to build on skills and inform. They improve teachers’ and students’ own learning strategies. Students gain ownership of their own learning: they ‘learn how to learn‘ whilst teachers can gather more information about how their students are progressing.

Rules for navigating the online world

All of this can be achieved by developing carefully curated digital resources. I am particularly interested in the responsibilities of service providers in drawing up a social contract with schools and learners. But what are the rules and how can Cambridge empower schools and their learners to navigate their digital world? How do we define what children’s rights should be in this digital age?

A UK Digital Skills Taskforce was launched in 2015 by policy makers, and legal and technical experts. Its primary focus is on the experience of children and the response of industry in relation to children’s rights. Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has set up a Children’s Manifesto which focuses on the internet and children’s rights. It’s known as the ‘Five Rights Initiative’: safety, support, data usage, the right to remove or curate online presence, and the right to know who has access to children’s data. Representatives from the UK Children’s Media Foundation, service providers, training organisations, teacher unions, Ofcom, CEOP, Barnardo’s, psychiatrists and universities, ask probing questions of the tech industry and related services as to whether they fully understand the children’s rights in relation to the way in which they design and deliver their services. There is now agreement that there is a need for consolidation of how and where children access the internet and the need for accountability or transparency in this regard.

How do we ensure safe access to online worlds?

Some service providers are leading the way by turning on parental controls by default and designing a ‘walled garden’ of age-appropriate content for children. Design principles are carefully set out with user interfaces designed with children, including a built-in bed-time mode and robust search functionality which only brings up the right content. There are also Digital Leaders’ Programmes in UK schools which are teaching students to be responsible via modular online programmes with badges for achievement.

Can Cambridge’s curricula and resources support learners’ understanding of digital technologies?

Cambridge recognises that in addition to the challenges of online learning, there are also many benefits including the potential for increased social, behavioural and cognitive development. I think that visual literacy, rich learning opportunities and the ‘gamification’ of learning and assessment will ultimately transform our classrooms. However, I also recognise that the ‘digital divide’ exists and that very unfortunately, not all students have equal access to enriched digital learning and assessment opportunities.

How do we support schools, students and parents mediating online content?

One of the biggest challenges facing us is guiding schools to take the lead in engaging safely and positively with technology, as well as helping schools to support parents’ understanding of their children’s evolving relationship with new technologies. Our curricula encourage learners to have a strong sense of self so they are better able to navigate the compelling narratives and stories they encounter in an increasingly ‘post-truth’ world. Media literacy and confident critical thinking go hand in hand after all. Cambridge aims to guide teachers to choose good digital learning content that encourages such critical thinking through endorsement of publishers’ materials, as well as creating bespoke Cambridge teaching and learning resources for schools.

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