The kids are online: under elevens take lead in designing cyber safety web app

Date 6.02.2018

An internet safety app being developed not just for, but by, children will be showcased by the University of Northampton today.

A beta version of the online tool will be demonstrated by its designers – 30 nine and ten year olds from Preston Hedge’s Primary School, Northampton and a team of academics from four European countries – as part of a special one-day conference to mark Safer Internet Day.

The web app will be available to children across Europe next year following testing and further development within partner schools in Belgium, Denmark and Greece.

Speaking on behalf of the team behind it, the University of Northampton’s Dr Michelle Pyer, said she was very excited about the children’s design ideas, which are being bought to life by the project’s programming experts.

“The pupils’ ideas, experiences, drawing and design work have inspired us to think creatively about how to produce an online app that will inspire other children to go online safely.

“So many children are now using the internet. It’s really easy for them to access the web or social media, but they don’t necessarily understand all the dangers. We are really hopeful this app will engage them and help them to learn to surf safely.”

The online app features cartoon characters – designed by the children – and these guide the user through a set of commonly encountered online scenarios.

These include dangers such as phishing scams, or address the pitfalls of social networking, and will develop children’s skills within the digital world.

A series of multiple choice questions then tests the users’ understanding of the dangers.

In addition to making children aware of the threats, the project is also about highlighting the positive benefits of the internet, said Dr Pyer.

“In developing the app, the children shared their experiences of being online, including the social opportunities it offered and how they managed those safely.

“They also interviewed their teachers and parents about their ideas, so that these views were also included in the design.”

Digital Lives, Children’s Perspectives, is the first conference to be held by the Erasmus+ co-funded CyGen (Cyber Safe Generation: Digital education by design) project.

During the event the children, along with their teachers and the rest of the team, will deliver workshops about the project.

Some will also act as journalists for the day, with their news items and videos about the conference eventually available on the project website

Academics from the University of Northampton and the University of Huddersfield are working with partners in Denmark, Belgium and Greece on the project, which will enlist the help of over 120 eight to fourteen year olds from four schools across the partner countries.

This unique, three-year collaboration involves the children and researchers working together with teachers and parents to understand the challenges and opportunities that the internet presents – and to co-design educational resources to support safe online participation.

During today’s conference, parents, teachers, policy makers and academics from across the world will hear from members of the CyGen team and keynote speakers Dr Hayley Davies, Dr Marion Oswald, and Detective Inspector Ed McBryde-Wilding – who was formerly with the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command.

The afternoon workshops will offer further insight to the research – and provide key take home messages on both cyber safety and co-design.

Erasmus+ is the European Union’s (EU) programme for education, training, youth and sport, with the EU committing £12 billion to the programme between 2014 and 2020. In the UK, the programme is managed by the Erasmus+ UK National Agency, a partnership between the British Council and Ecorys UK. CyGen is funded as part of Erasmus+ Key Action 2 Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education.