How to shock teenagers into staying safe online

Three gun-toting virtual gamers, a “girl meets boy” storyline, and an acute case of sexting (sending sexual images by phone) are key elements of a new drama-led workshop initiative designed to shock young teenagers into thinking more deeply about internet safety.

The first stage of a pilot project, devised by the educational ICT supplier XMA has been launched across five Education Commission Catholic secondary schools across London, Surrey and Kent and involves almost 800 pupils from years 7 and 8.

A 15-minute play, performed by the Saltmine Theatre Company, kicked off day sessions at each pilot school with a hard-hitting tale of how a chance online meeting with a stranger and posting personal details online can at best lead to cyberbullying and humiliation and, at worst, despair and suicide.

The audience then split into workshops, where the group’s three young actors challenged students about their own internet practices. How much did they recognise the pressures on the main character, Sarah, to send a compromising picture of herself to Scott after meeting him in the flesh? Were they aware of the dangers of personal information on the internet which enabled Scott to find Sarah’s phone number? And how would they have reacted in Sarah’s situation? Responses were instantly posted up on a big screen from students inputting into iPads via the free app

Later, Sarah was quizzed by students about her feelings towards Scott, and key scenes was re-enacted in “forum theatre” style to allow students to say what action could have been taken to avoid what actually happened and show a very different, positive outcome.

This autumn Saltmine will revisit the pilot schools and help students devise, perform and film their own 30-second online safety video ads to inform their own peers.

Saltmine team leader Anna Turner, who played Sarah, says student feedback forms showed the safety message had hit home. “One pupil thought it would be boring but found it really fun. Many were shocked by how much people can find out about you online and would take down personal details from their Facebook and other online profiles.”

One valuable insight came from a boy who, when asked if Scott really liked Sarah, said: “If he had been really interested, when she said no that would have been OK.” Anna says: “I replied: ‘Yes – he would have respected her’. It was profound. I was really glad he said that.”

Doreen Cunningham, assistant head at St Catherine’s School, Bexleyheath, Kent, says: “We’ve used a lot of internet safety materials but this approach emphasises it all in a new way. The drama is very direct and aimed exactly at the kind of things students are doing like gaming on mobiles, texting online, and messaging on Facebook, so they immediately recognise themselves. They were so taken up by the first part of the drama that when the actors talked to them seriously they were ready to listen.”

Guy Bates, Business Development Director and event organiser at XMA, hopes the project will take off nationally after Saltmine’s return visits in the winter term: “This approach encourages students to fully interact with the actors and the subject material, think about and discuss alternative, positive outcomes and then use existing technology to express their views and create a medium to take the message to their peers.”

“The new computing science curriculum requires schools to address e-safety as never before, so we are keen to support schools wishing to excel in this important area.”

Student feedback:

“The ending of the show was very dramatic and surprising; I never thought it could get so serious“

“It was better than just more information and I didn’t realise I didn’t know so much”

“I didn’t know something so small could become something so big”

“The show helped me use information on my situation and made me feel better about myself”

“I’m going to delete anyone I’m following I don’t know and take all my locations off FaceBook”

Saltmine Theatre Company is a professional theatre company that tours schools, theatres and churches throughout the UK and abroad. Part of the Dudley-based registered charity, Saltmine Trust, the group believes in the power of story and creative engagement to spark hope and purpose, and to encourage positive life choices. This is Saltmine’s first partnership with XMA – during one week near the end of term, it worked with the following five pilot secondary schools: St Catherine’s School, Bexleyheath, Kent; St John Fisher Catholic School, Medway, Kent; St Mary’s High School, Croydon, Surrey; The Holy Cross School, New Malden, Surrey; and St Paul’s Academy, Greenwich, London SE2.

XMA in Education delivers innovative IT solutions that enhance how people learn, teach, govern, deliver healthcare and do business. Our team comprises over 250 specialists based across the UK, who bring together over 30 years of experience, world-class vendor partnerships and broad service delivery capabilities on the ground and in the cloud. We are passionate about education and have a strong track record in delivering learning-led solutions across multiple vendor platforms. Our allLearn mobile device programmes are helping to break down the classroom walls and deliver exciting, interactive content to learners anytime, anywhere. We deliver affordable, sustainable services and solutions that start with learning outcomes as the key driver, making maximum impact inside and outside the classroom.

Apple’s versatile iPad devices are being used increasingly in schools to transform students’ learning both in and outside classroom. The results include improved communication, better access to online content, and an enhanced interest in cross-curricular learning from students fascinated by the power of accessing an ever widening range of new apps on the iPad. Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, (foreign language) radio, TV, they can all be accessed on the iPad, which has become a primary communication tool. Use of iPads in the Saltmine workshops allows even the shyest pupils to express their ideas. At the same time, it underlines the need for full e-safety awareness so students can enjoy using the iPad without harm.