As way of an introduction, could you summarise the Enter Cyber Town project for our readers in just a few lines?
Enter Cyber Town is a SAFT.is and Heimili og skoli coordinated and sponsored project. They hired my company, 2creatEffects, to design and deliver 6 e-safety story based e-learning courses for all school children in Iceland. The first of these courses went live at the start of March. The project is supported by the Ministry of Education, The National Commissioners Office, Save the Children and the Red Cross.
You mentioned the concept of Cyber Hygiene as a central part of your strategy here in Iceland, could you elaborate on this please?
Cyber Hygiene is a concept that relates to the personal steps an individual must take to be safe in cyberspace; meaning that we must all invest in becoming more aware of the risks and in turn more vigilant in cyberspace. A joint government and private sector study in the UK indicated an estimated 70-80% of harm currently delivered by cyber criminals could be eradicated if the public was more vigilant in cyberspace. Many countries have taken the concept on board and are prioritising public education within their cyber security strategies.
Where did you get the idea for Enter Cyber Town from?
The inspiration and idea for Cyber Town comes from my time living here in Reykjavik. Cyber Town, much like Reykjavik, is a very high-tech place, a place where most people are interconnected through cyberspace, and nearly all aspects of life across society have a connection on-line. The characters that feature in the six courses are based upon friends and family here in Iceland.
You explained in your presentation that the courses are story based. Could you tell us a bit more about this please?
I’m a strong believer that we learn best by doing, discussing and experiencing first hand what we are supposed to be learning. This is learning through action. Educationalists call this method experiential learning. In the case of Enter Cyber Town I decided that the lessons would be best delivered through stories. Each of the stories are tailored to the history and popular culture of Iceland, and, where possible, to the existing academic syllabus. The first three courses for children aged 6-13 are designed to be facilitated to the student by a teacher or parent and come with a facilitators handbook - packed full of tips, advice and recommended talking points. The last three courses, for ages 13-20, are designed to be facilitated by the student, and followed up with a class discussion.
What research went into developing these courses?
I have learned over the years that the research phase of developing a new course is absolutely essential. In this case we started by examining pre-existing course materials. I wanted to see if there was some sort of standard in Europe for what is taught to each age group. I quickly discovered that there was in fact no consensus between approaches. The next step was to reach out to teachers, parents and children. This was done through SAFT.is. After a number of months of careful research and analysis we then created our own standard for Iceland, which we piloted on a number of youth panels and tested using volunteer school teachers. The result is what we have now, which I hope will be highly relevant and effective lessons for each age group. Furthermore the research and development process will not stop now we’ve created and are starting to deliver the courses. In fact we are already reaching out to teachers, parents and children for feedback on the courses that have already been delivered. We’ll process that information and make adjustments accordingly.
You mentioned that there are six courses, broken into age groups, starting at 6 years old. How do you teach a 6 year old about e-safety?
That was in deed a very difficult challenge for me. I was sitting at home one afternoon looking at my Border Collie/Icelandic Sheep Dog pondering that very question. It was at this moment that an idea popped into my head. Young children tend to love animals, nature and they have already been drilled hard into road-traffic safety procedures. I decided to create a story that drew a parallel between road-traffic safety and internet safety. So the 6 year old engages in a walk through Cyber Town together with their Grandparents, and Embla the Cyber Dog. When they reach a busy road, they STOP, THINK before they PROCEED. Just like on the internet. Along the route they get lost and meet a stranger – should they ask him for directions, or should they ask their Grandparents?
What does the future have in store for Cyber Hygiene here in Iceland?
The courses we've created are only a first step, an introduction to cyber hygiene. I'm working closely with SAFT.is and Heimili og skoli to come up with additional ways to reinforce our messages, including devising a number of competitions - you'll have to follow us closely to find out what we have in store! Overtime it would be appropriate that deeper and more comprehensive education be provided. This would not necessarily need to be delivered in class as our existing courses are, rather they could be delivered as part of a governmental public information campaign, or as voluntary distance learning. I'm very keen to see schools and colleges take on their own initiatives to raise awareness of this issue with their own students. In the private sector many companies across Europe are beginning to introduce various types of "e-safety awareness" training for new employees. In fact it is becoming increasingly common that as a new employee you won't be able to access the companies IT system until you've completed and passed a basic course in cyber hygiene.
Are there any other final messages you’d like to offer our readers?
Whilst conducting my research I spoke with a number of teachers and parents and discovered that many of them were of the view that they knew much less than their children about cyberspace. They therefore felt vulnerable in trying to teach them anything about e-safety. Whilst it is true that many of our youngsters are cyber savvy and understand the latest lingo, it is also true that the majority of them do not know how to spot suspicious activity, or what to do, or who to speak to, if something bad happens to them in cyberspace. The majority of adults on the other hand, have the life experience and wisdom to understand the human motivations for exploiting cyberspace. My final message is therefore one of hope and encouragement. Please get involved in your children’s on-line activity. Build a positive and open relationship with them in cyberspace, and start as young as possible. Learn the lingo and stay in touch with the latest apps – let them teach you. By doing so you stand a better chance of them telling you if something suspicious has happened, and therefore helping keep them safe in cyberspace.
Finally, I'd like to offer a personal thanks to my colleagues Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, Björn Rúnar Egilsson and Sólveig Karlsdóttir from Heimili og skoli, Guðberg K. Jónsson from SAFT.is, and my dear friend and colleague Jakob Kristjansson, who played such an important role in the early phases of developing Cyber Town.
For more information about Chris's other educational services please visit www.2createffects.co.uk and www.cyberhygiene.net and http://www.entercybertown.com/
Here is more about this project