Digital natives – it is a term that is used often, but is better at describing the fact that young people in schools have never known a time that did not include or have widespread access to technology. It does not mean, however, that they instinctively know how to use the technology in ways that build and enhance digital wellbeing and digital resilience. Large portions of the school day are spent online – how do we ensure that wellbeing and resilience are being supported? The UK Council for Internet Safety says that “Digital resilience is a dynamic personality asset that grows from digital activation i.e. through engaging with appropriate opportunities and challenges online, rather than through avoidance and safety behaviours.”
In the past, the work of schools in this area has been given many labels – netiquette, cybersafety, digital citizenship, digital wellbeing, and now digital resilience. These all describe the way in which the focus of these efforts has shifted, from “being polite”, to “staying safe” and now to “maintaining balance”. An increase in time spent online both for learning and recreationally means that not only do we need to work with our students on the “how to” of using technology, but also the “about” – learning how to recognise and manage risk, learn from difficult experiences, recover and stay well, and navigate the numerous ways in which their interaction with technology can impact themselves and others. Education institutions play a pivotal role in this.
There are a variety of approaches implemented by schools – little to no formal work, often relying on incident reaction; making it part of the work of an IT or Media Literacy specialist, who in turn presents focussed lessons on these topics, or special events like Digital Citizenship Week. In what appears to be rare among schools, there is now also a recognition that the skills that build and enhance digital wellbeing and resilience is the responsibility of all members of the teaching and learning team, through modelling and making explicit links between what is happening in the classroom and positive digital wellbeing and resilience behaviours.
The challenge for schools is how to develop a sequential, vertically and horizontally aligned program for students. In an already crowded school day, finding the time to implement such a program without negatively impacting on other priority areas is difficult. It is also important to teach skills and behaviours and provide opportunities necessary for good digital wellbeing and resilience in context, and in a way where the application of them by students can be assessed. Similarly, there is a growing need for programs for teachers and families to help build and support their own wellbeing and resilience while supporting young people.
With a significant portion of their day spent at school, students also require an environment where they can practise and apply the principles of positive digital wellbeing and resilience. This may include the use of content filters, which are typically deployed to ensure optimal use of limited bandwidth, limit distraction and protect students. The last two may need some rethinking in light of the work emerging about digital resilience, and the notion that it is not developed “through avoidance and safety behaviours”. While certainly not advocating for a “no filters” policy in schools, it may be time to consider easing some of the filtering policies that many schools implement – but of course, not without the necessary support to ensure students understand, know, learn and recover from challenges they may face while online.
Helping students develop their digital resilience cannot be left to “the tech people” in a school. It is something that needs the involvement of everyone, every day. Through the Blended Learning and Technology Integration communities of practice, as well as the school counsellor networks, AISA provides resources for schools to seek advice as they develop their digital wellbeing and resilience programs.
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