How to use internet radio to help protect young people

Russell Prue

Russell is an award winning independent ICT Evangelist and Broadcaster. He speaks at conferences and seminars about new uses of technology that have the capacity to influence the direction of learning and teaching. Russell also provides strategic ICT thinking to several key UK education players. He is involved in a number of action based projects that are forming the basis of his ongoing research interests. Russell is passionate about the use of ICT in all learning.

In 2005 Russell published his first book “The Science of Evangelism” the title sold over 2000 copies and has a top 5 star rating on Amazon. In September 2008, Russell started broadcasting and producing regular live Internet radio shows about Learning and Teaching for busy educators and started a new radio station. Anderton Tiger Radio is an internet radio station that’s ON AIR 24hrs and provides a range of highly engaging and inspiring programming.

In September 2009, Russell felt the need to create a new school radio solution that was easier and more fun to use. Today, he continues to innovate and manufacture the cheapest school radio equipment in the World. His latest development The Anderton Tiger HUB costs under £3,000 and provides an excellent solution for schools wanting to engage learners with this technology.

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A curious title you might think. Well, these are curious times, as it would appear that life-sized posters, DVDs, pamphlets and YouTube videos are not getting the message across to young people. It also appears that not everything we are telling young people about how to behave on the internet is connecting with them. Why is this do you think? Might it have something to do with listening to older people? Is culture getting in the way of keeping our young people safe on the internet?

According to research published in 2012, parents worry the most about their children being groomed on the internet. Actually, this is the least likely thing to happen to them of all the present dangers that our young people are exposed to on the internet. But that doesn’t stop adults worrying about the risk. Whilst the risk is relatively low, the potential consequences are serious enough to be life-changing. There is risk in everything we do, and there is an inbuilt desire to protect our young. But are we really protecting our young as well as we can?

It is also clear from recent evidence that young people are still making mistakes online. I am not sure that they completely understand the consequences of their mistakes, but we’re still seeing too many children and young people affected by online bullying and the posting of offensive photos on social media sites. Once published even to a private small group of friends, this material can be copied and relayed to other sites and shared with a much bigger than intended audience. Once out there, it is nearly impossible to recover the image, post or remark; it’s just too late. How can we teach that there’s no undo button? Can we do that through the use of books, pamphlets, DVDs? It appears to me that some of the agencies working in Europe producing advice and guidance for young people are themselves behind the times. Technology has moved on, children and young people are creating, sharing, mashing, and yet the adults are still using traditional media in a traditional way to communicate with their modern audience. It’s not the traditional media I have a problem with; it’s the old fashioned use of that media that is driving me crazy. Let me give you some examples of this. Much of our material is passive and not interactive. I don’t mean interactive in a gaming sense as one would play a game, I want young people to make the game! They should be creating the game themselves for others who are perhaps younger or older to play. If it’s a fun-filled newspaper for young people to read about being safe online, then they should be creating the newspaper, not just consuming it. After all, this is how they enjoy YouTube: they see, they make, they share.

In schools, we filter the internet and ban almost everything of interest to young people. Young people are a force of nature; where there is a will they will find a way. Technology presents many new opportunities, many of which some adults can’t comprehend. A young person’s desire to keep in constant contact with their peer group baffles most of us; nevertheless, this is a fact and way of life for many of them. Suddenly, losing access to social media or being out of contact via text messaging causes great alarm for young people. They are often distraught; complaining that this is “the end of the world for them”, and moaning, “I’ll have no friends now.” Any parent that has tried to restrict or remove the use of their child’s mobile phone will have experienced this. I am of course referring to the fact that young people are never without their mobiles phones. The average teenager in Europe sends 3,339 texts each month. It hasn’t stopped at texting; picture messaging has become an easy and acceptable method of exchanging photos, with much of this user-generated content falling below accepted standards of decency; some of it is even illegal. Any amount of national or international internet filtering will not address this issue. Policy makers who believe that centrally filtering or providing some form of opt-out internet service will solve all of our illegal content issues are mistaken.

Smartphones

Smartphones offer young people a level of privacy to connect to internet services and access these without supervision or the knowledge of parents. This has extended the reach of social networking sites such as Facebook. These mobile devices once called phones now have more computing power at their disposal than it took to get humankind onto the moon. You can do many wonderful things with the latest smartphone, in fact some of the latest tablet PCs don’t look like phones at all. I'm going to confine my observations of this technology to media broadcast (because of my interest in radio broadcasting). You can also watch live TV and listen to radio on most new phones these days, and it is this new development that I want to explore in greater detail. Whilst TV still takes up considerable bandwidth, audio streams don’t. Young people have discovered that the huge choice of internet radio stations can be accessed on their phones, bringing live and interactive programmes with music directly to wherever they are. If young people are spending more time online and using these devices, why then are we still printing books, magazines and information cards with advice and guidance on how to keep safe on the internet? How can anyone teach the safe use of mobile phones, and then cover important topics such as anti-bullying behaviour when mobile phones are banned?

What is internet radio or radio 2.0?

Let me introduce you to the concept of radio 2.0, also known as internet radio. Often these broadcasts are live and interactive; there are fewer restrictions on content and lower costs than traditional over-the-air broadcasts. The single biggest difference is that internet radio covers the planet. Wherever there is an internet connection, radio 2.0 will reach. Right now, there are thousands of broadcasts going on around the world and you could listen to any of them. What has this got to do with learning and teaching? Well consider for just one moment having a station at your disposal, what would you do with it? Who would run it, and who would listen? I’ve been researching the benefits of having an internet radio station in schools for several years. I’ve discovered that a successful school radio station can be used for anything, not just music. When children and young people make shows about subjects that interest them, more of their peers listen. I’ve also learnt that working together in groups is the stuff of growth - something that policy makers appear to have missed. They call working together and sharing stuff, cheating. Collaboration is not cheating, success in our ICT-rich world that our young are actually creating themselves, requires high levels of collaboration. And yet, we in England under the current central leadership are moving backwards in time and away from project based assessment where the biggest teamwork opportunities reside. Just look at the amount of texts young people send to each other. Collaboration isn’t negotiable, it needs to be a major component for success in learning. The most interesting discovery I’ve made is that working to a deadline is good for young people. Real-life isn’t full of try-again opportunities, and neither is there an undo button on everything we do. Yet in school, more than often, if some aspect of our work isn’t good enough, we get another opportunity to do it again. Live radio doesn’t have that feature. There’s nothing like it to focus the mind and get the best work possible out of young people when they know it has to be right first time. I think the most import aspect of my research is that I’ve noticed in general our children and young people aren’t good at coping with failure; most of them don’t know what failure looks like or feels like. Live radio can fix that, coping with the unexpected is a great rehearsal for the world of work. There are parallels here between what is happening on the internet and with young people right now. They don’t know what trouble really looks like. In schools we’ve over filtered their lives and over protected them, leaving us unable to teach the skills they need to help them cope with trouble.

Just in terms of school radio production, I know from experience that when young people have acquired the skill of coping, their quality of work is higher. To measure this, I look for a change in behaviour, specifically when something unexpected happens and they cope without any fuss and sometimes without anyone knowing what has just gone wrong. It is at that point that the school should start expanding their broadcasting activities because the broadcasting team is now ready for anything. It might seem obvious, but in terms of school radio broadcasting, missing a link or a handover or introducing music that doesn’t play when it’s supposed to, are all relatively easy to spot and simulate for that matter. I’ve discovered all of this quite by accident. I set out to look for more inspiring uses of technology having been challenged by one headteacher. The headteacher was searching for a cheap quick solution that would inspire his youngsters to use technology creatively. He couldn’t find anything available on the market that was suitable, he needed something inventing. That sounds easy, I thought; however, the Headteacher wanted something that required minimal supervision by his already time-poor staff. Whatever I came up with, his children had to own and manage it themselves. I have to admit that I didn’t immediately turn to radio broadcasting for a solution; I thought that visual or TV broadcasting would prove to be a more up to date use of technology. However, TV isn’t something that young people can do live every day; it isn’t sustainable and requires large amounts of supervision and investment as the equipment isn’t cheap and much of it too delicate.

A new approach?

It really is time to take another look at how we go about sharing important advice. I’ve discovered two things during my research with young people using mobile devices. Firstly, if they participate and are more engaged in an activity rather than just being told something, they are more likely to absorb that information. Educators know this. Secondly, if you try to ban mobile phones, they will find a way around that ban. They will text from their pockets, under school desks and from their bags, all whilst trying to not be seen doing so. This begs the question: why are we wasting any time trying to ban phones? Niel McLean, a former director of BECTA, has always said, "If you want young people to understand something, get them to make one." Apply this to key internet safety messages through internet radio broadcasting and you have the perfect solution. I can prove this actually works. Young people do enjoy listening to other young people especially if they know them. School radio stations are perfect conduits for communicating essentially important messages, whether they are internet safety, or just general positive behavioural messages. Just imagine the positive reach that a show about being safe online has when it’s created by young people. I really think that children and young people have become fed up listening to adults going on at them about how to be safe, when, as is often the case, young people know more about the technology. I’ve been researching and exploring the educational benefits of getting children and young people to make live radio programmes. I’ve discovered that if young people are encouraged to work together to a tight deadline, and with a clear understanding of the consequence of failure, they are capable of producing work that’s brilliantly engaging and of an incredibly high quality, well above what is normally expected of them. By steering the focus of the content, any educational outcome is possible as this can be applied to any subject.

Safer Internet Day

For the last three years I’ve been producing and hosting the world’s biggest Safer Internet Day Radio Show live from London. In 2012, over 40 million people tuned in live during the 12 hour non-stop show to listen to young people, safety product providers, internet safety experts and a huge mix of VIP guests. The majority of content came from young people talking about the dangers on how to be safe online. If children and young people become the carriers of these messages, then the messages themselves seem to have a greater impact. Perhaps it’s because education as a sector has been slow to embrace change. In many classrooms, the teacher is still standing at the front spending most of their time with their backs to the class writing on a glorified chalkboard. I accept that the board might now be an interactive touch surface, but our use of this technology hasn’t really affected the pedagogy of learning. However, not a lot has changed in the last 100 years even with the use of technology; most classrooms are still laid out in a 'church-style' style configuration.

In 2013, the theme of Safer Internet Day is “Connect with Respect”, and there will be an even bigger focus on the content created and broadcast by young people. The sustainable solution is for schools to create their own shows on a regular basis, developing school radio to include key safety messages including safe internet use. There is nothing like hearing young people talk about their experiences on the internet using the same language, expression and context as their target audience. They instinctively connect with young people. That’s why I believe they have to be the carriers of the messages about how to be safe online. I am not taking about adults scripting the content, young people need to write and produce this in their own words. When they do this, their messages carry much further in the minds of the listener. Another suggestion is to mix the children up in age groups. It is then much easier for younger children to see by good example what is expected of them when they get older. This helps in raising levels of aspiration; we call it aim higher, exceed your expectations and constantly strive to improve one’s opportunities. We can also affect behaviour using this mixed-age approach. With younger children seeing older children achieve success, and older children learning to communicate with younger children, the benefits are wide-spread. Only during formal education do we teach children and young people within horizontal aged groups for the purposes of learning. This was once done for efficiency and assessment; however, this model is no longer efficient, and there are more opportunities for assessment than a year group exam. In fact, collaboration and the ability to work well in groups are both becoming the new currency for success in the world of work.

The challenge for all of us is to ensure that learning and teaching is sufficiently desirable to interest and engage our audience. To do this, we must involve our audience of learners in the fundamental aspects of learning and teaching by allowing them to participate. Our messages of being safe and secure on the internet should be part of every child’s development and woven into the fabric of learning. Educators cannot achieve this alone, which is why parents must play an important role, so that children and young people can “Connect with Respect”.

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