As elementary and secondary students spend more time online, a new free program has rolled out and is aimed at giving children, teachers and families the tools to help young digital users safely navigate the Internet.
“Think Before You Link” is an online course for students from grades three through eight with a focus on cybersafety, online bullying and Internet ethics. It was produced by Discovery Education and Intel Security and is being offered free to schools around the country.
“This was a long-identified need,” said Lori McFarling of Discovery Education, which provides educational software to schools and professional development for teachers. “We’ve heard from our district partners that what they really needed was help to introduce the concept of online safety to our youngest students.”
The program is divided into three parts, each of which should take a student about 45 minutes to work through, McFarling said. In addition, there are supplementary materials that educators can use to extend lessons, and separate but related programming for parents. The curriculum addresses questions of privacy, contact with strangers, malware, passwords, gaming and plagiarism, among others. It was created in consultation with the National Cyber Security Alliance.
“These are tools meant to be used in school and out of school,” McFarling said. “It’s aimed at helping kids to become confident, safe, digital citizens. We really wanted to target and make sure we spoke to the youngest of learners because we know how early young people are getting online.”
Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) demonstrated “Think Before You Link” from a classroom in Prince George’s County.
The program joins other cybersafety efforts already in schools, including a free digital citizenship program created by the nonprofit Common Sense Media that is used by about 60,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools. That program was developed in 2008 with help from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.
Attention to online safety comes as Internet use continues to grow among elementary and secondary students, and as parents become increasingly worried about the online activities of their children.
A 2013 survey by Pew Research Internet Project found 9 in 10 teens between ages 12 and 17 have a computer or access to one at home. According to the same survey, approximately 37 percent of all teens have smartphones, up from just 23 percent in 2011.