Prof. Tanya Byron: Its not digital citizenship, its citizenship its what we do

For todays Friday Feature, we posting a video of Dr. Tanya Bryron speaking at a discussion series run by the Royal Geographical Society that aims to improve public understanding of, and engagement with, some of the big issues likely to affect our lives and society in the coming years. The series helps people make their own informed decisions and judgement on the most important challenges of the 21st century.

The talk was aired back in December 2009, but were including it how because, as always, Dr. Bryon hits the nail on the head when talking about online safety, and she does so in a very engaging manner.  The clip runs for 18 minutes, which is a little longer than our normal features, but we think its worth taking the time to listen to her thoughts on themoral panic that often surrounds the dialogue about online safety, the digital divide between parents and children, and education and I.T.  You can watch the clip here.

Main Takeaways:  Heres some of what Prof. Byron said:

  • Moral Panic: Prof. Byron talks about the moral panic that surrounds the whole conversation around the digital divide, and explains how she looks at the issues around children and young people and the digital lives they have.  She engagingly explains about the moral panic she hears that were raising a generation of monosyllabic, non-communicative, fat-thumbed kids who do nothing all day but stare at screens, and how this then translates into a panic about the erosion of the morals and fabric of society.  She wonders why, when technology is positively transforming the lives of so many people, we are so intent on being so negative about this space when it comes to children and young people.  She notes that the moral panic is often fuelled by the media and the stories on which the media focuses (she cites a story out of Finland the YouTube Killer), which gives the impression that technology is not only making our children less clever, less social, less communicative, but sometimes also making them into killers.  What we are doing, Prof. Byron explains, is getting so lost in moral panics that always come when something new arrives that challenges our way of living, that we are losing the reality of what this technology can do.
  • Digital Divide: She tells us how she became aware of a massive digital divide in her own home in that she was suspicious about how her own two children (who are multi-platform, multi-media content consumers and creators) were using technology.  Like many parents and adults, she had more concerns than understanding of what they were doing.  Prior to attending a conference in the U.S.A. on digital citizenship, she asked her reseach team (her children and their friends) the following question: What do you think about this digital citizenship thing?.  She says they looked at her as if she was an absolute idiot, and replied: Mum, it is not digital citizenship, it is citizenship, it is what we do.  At that point, Prof. Bryon realized just how clunky we are as adults because while we still see the digital, on-line and off-line, kids generally see it as one piece: it is who they are and how they live their lives.
  • Risk Averse Culture in which we Live: Prof. Byron notes that we have this perverse risk-averse culture, driving children to do their childhood indoors, and so they are doing it online.  We have an ironic, paranoid fear of risk to children in the offline world so we are raising them in captivity, but they are doing their childhood in the online world where we are not preparing them for risk at all, and it seems that this is a massive divide.
  • Education and I.T.: Prof. Byron is a big proponent of video game labs in schools, because she believes children learn through video gaming.  Yet, she notes, when you talk about putting technology into schools, the level of moral panic goes up to such a degree that its startling.  And, Prof. Byron goes on to say, that she thinks it is a discriminatory practice.  Just because the older generation doesnt understand it doesnt mean to say that it isnt important, possible and necssary.  We have to get away from it was not like this in my day, and we have to get in a place where we narrow this digital divide, we talk to children and young people, and we look at the exciting and incredible things which are going on online for them.  Additionally, she notes, technology should not just be ICT in schools, it should be part of the pedagogy; the way we teach children and young people should harness the motivation and enthusiasm for what it is they love to do.
  • Conclusion: To conclude, Prof. Byron notes that most of us who are in positions of education or policy making just dont get it and retreat into under-confident, tired and paranoid ways of thinking about digital issues.  She thinks we need a little less conversation and a little more action.  And get ourselves moving towards being part of the great digital economy that we all must be.

Our Editorial: As always, Prof. Byron somehow manages to give us a dose of medicine without making it taste too awful!  She exemplifies an adult sensitivity to the needs of children and young people that many of us could do well to try and emulate.  You rock, Dr. Byron!

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