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Filling the gap in children's cyber safety education

Filling the gap in children's cyber safety education - The Tweeting Galah

This time last week, I was launching my book, The Tweeting Galah. This took place at the Our Lady Star of the Sea School Community Fete (Esperance, Western Australia). To say I was excited, would be a huge understatement! I was also completely blown away by the amount of support I received from parents and teachers.

At the heart of this support was the message that what I had created was a timely and necessary resource for parents, who are struggling to keep up with what their children are doing online.

Research out of America has found that tweens - defined as children aged 8 to 12 years old - spend more than four and a half hours per day in front of laptop, mobile or tablet screens (Source: Common Sense Media 2015). Meanwhile, in Australia, nearly every tween has used the internet in the last month, and 45% of them use social networking sites (eSafety 2013). Recent research has also found that teens' use of smart phones could be as damaging to their health as obesity and drugs (Murdoch & Griffiths University via ABC 2017). Risks range from the physical and mental health effects of too much screen time, exposure to online predators and cyberbullies to posting or finding inappropriate content.

So, long story short - I wanted to create a solution. I wanted to help fill this education gap, and provide a meaningful and effective way for children (and their parents) to learn about the risks that occur online, as well as present practical solutions for them. Thus was born the idea of "The Tweeting Galah."

What to include in "The Tweeting Galah"

In a nutshell, "The Tweeting Galah" is a collection of four short stories that address the issues of cyberbullying, online predators, too much screen time and posting inappropriate content.

I knew the book needed to engage children, otherwise they would tune out these important messages! So, I chose Australian animals as the characters, rather than actual people. The illustrator, the incredibly talented John Field, did an amazing job at bringing these characters to life. This is one of my favourite aspects of the book!

Being a teacher, I know how important reflection and discussion is in the learning process. So, I applied Bloom's Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking to develop a series of questions following each of the four short stories. These are designed to provide a stimulus for discussion between a tween and their parent (or teacher). It's been amazing to already have received feedback from parents, saying how they used these questions and were able to engage in some great discussions with their child. Given that research has found fewer young children than teenagers proactively discussed cybersafety issues with their parents (eSafety 2013), this could prove to be a valuable tool and resource.

About half way through the development of my book, I stumbled across something amazing. It was called Zappar augmented reality. Using this technology, I was able to add interactive elements to my book, extending it beyond the pages and onto the screens of parents' devices (because I would never encourage a child to use a device unattended!) By scanning bar codes on various illustrations using the free Zappar app, families can participate in a range of learning activities such as quizzes and cybersafety scenarios. They can also listen to Gabbo, the galah and learn more about him and his friends. Families can download a Digital Device Contract to complete, as a way of establishing safe technology boundaries and send it directly to Gabbo who will respond with feedback! For me, this was such an exciting moment - to be able to not only teach cybersafety but also provide examples where technology can be used in a positive and meaningful way with clear learning outcomes.

Where to from here?

I loved every minute of writing and creating "The Tweeting Galah." It's exciting though, to have moved into this next phase of publication. As I mentioned at the start of this article, I've been overwhelmed by support from the local Esperance community and beyond. Already, radio and newspapers have shared the wonderful news. The book is currently stocked in Perth, Dunsborough and Esperance and online orders are available.

My dream is to see families all across Australia reading this book. I would also love to see teachers and schools embracing the book as a resource to educate students on digital citizenship and cybersafety. I've developed lesson plans and teacher fact sheets to accompany class sets, as I know what it's like to be a busy teacher who just wants the lesson there and ready to go!

I know self-publishing in 2017 is a tough gig. We are saturated with books and stories. Thousands (if not more!) authors take the plunge every year and unfortunately, do not see make the impact they were hoping for.

I am cautiously optimistic though, that given the importance of children's safety and wellbeing online that this book will make a positive and significant impact in the cybersafety education space! Time will tell, I guess :)

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