Developing Online Safety Resources for Elementary School Children at IDC 2018

Posted on behalf of Priya Kumar, Elizabeth Bonsignore, Marshini Chetty, Tammy Clegg, Brenna McNally, Jonathan Yang, and Jessica Vitak

Our paper on “Co-Designing Online Privacy-Related Games and Stories with Children” will be presented at the international Interaction Design and Children Conference in June. Below we summarize our findings.

What did we do? Children spend hours going online at home and school, but they receive little to no education about how going online affects their privacy. We explored the power of games and storytelling as two mechanisms for teaching children about privacy online.

How did we do it? We held three co-design sessions with Kidsteam, an intergenerational design team at the University of Maryland, College Park that designs technologies for children’s by working with children throughout the technology design process that included eight children ages 8-11. During these design sessions, which included eight children ages 8-11, we reviewed existing privacy resources with children and elicited design ideas for new resources.  In session 1, the team examined currently available resources such as Google’s Mindful Mountain game. In session 2, we improved the design of a conceptual prototype of an app inspired by the popular game Doodle Jump. Our version, which we called Privacy Doodle Jump, incorporated quiz questions related to privacy and security online. In session 3, children developed their own interactive narratives–similar to Choose Your Own Adventure stories–related to privacy online.

What did we find? All three co-design sessions emphasized that, when presented with educational resources related to privacy online, children want to understand the purpose of these resources and what takeaways they offer for everyday life. If resources rely on abstract or unfamiliar scenarios, children might have a harder time relating to them or understanding what they are supposed to learn from them. For example, a child might more easily absorb a privacy lesson from a story about another child who uses Instagram than a game that uses a fictional character in an imaginary world. Additionally, we found that materials designed to teach children about privacy online often instruct children on “do’s and don’ts” rather than helping them develop the skills to navigate privacy online. Such straightforward guidelines can be useful when introducing children to complex subjects like privacy, or when working with younger children. However, focusing on lists of rules does little to equip children with the necessary when making complex, privacy-related decisions online. Finally, we found that both gaming and interactive narratives can be powerful tools to help to teach children about online safety in an engaging manner.

What are the implications of this work? First, educational resources related to privacy should use scenarios that relate to children’s everyday lives. For instance, our Privacy Doodle Jump game included a question that asked a child what they would do if they were playing Xbox and saw an advertisement pop up that asked them to buy something. Second, educational resources should go beyond listing do’s and don’ts for online behavior and help children develop strategies for dealing with new and unexpected scenarios they may encounter. Because context is such an important part of privacy-related decision making, resources should facilitate discussion between parents or teachers and children rather than simply tell children how to behave. Third, educational resources should showcase a variety of outcomes of different online behaviors instead of framing privacy as a black and white issue. For instance, privacy guidelines may instruct children to never turn on location services, but this decision might differ based on the app that is requesting it. Turning on location services in Snapchat may pinpoint your house to others — a potential negative, but turning on location services in Google Maps may yield real-time navigation — a potential positive.  However, turning on location services on apps like Find My iPhone, Google Maps, and Snapchat have different, and sometimes beneficial, outcomes such as the ability to find a lost phone or get real-time navigation. Exposing children to a variety of positive and negative consequences of privacy-related decision making will help them develop the skills they need to navigate uncharted situations online.

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