Online Games: A Few Considerations

Game Based LearningType ‘online games for children’ into a search engine and a staggering amount of results are returned. Quite literally, hours and hours could be spent playing the array of online games. Some online games may have an educational value, developing knowledge and understanding of content in the school curriculum for English, Mathematics or other subjects. Others may benefit wider cognitive development, encouraging reasoning and problem-solving abilities. There are, however, recreational online games that need to be evaluated for their suitability for children and it is important to know what to look for to ensure online safety.

Arcade-type games are prolific on the internet and many of those in search results for ‘online games for children’ (or similar keyword searches) contain inappropriate content. A ‘shoot ‘em up’ game is very different in nature when children are blasting the answer to a number sentence than when zombies, people and everyday objects are the objects of destruction… FunBrain, although an American site, offers arcade-style games that have educational value and some are simply there for the purpose of having fun. As part of Pearson Education, the appropriateness of the content can be trusted.

Online games hosted in the USA that comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits marketing and prevents online collection of personal information from children younger than thirteen years old. It is worthwhile knowing about COPPA in the context of the UK because it can provide some assurances to teachers, parents and carers that the online gaming environment has been subject to regulations intended to protect children. Remember, searching for online games using Google or other search engines can provide links to websites hosted anywhere in the world.

Poptropica is a virtual world for children, a multi-player online role-playing game. It has controls to ensure online chat is restricted. Children can communicate with other players and compete with them when travelling through different islands to complete quests and challenges. This website involves scripted chat. It is not possible for a child to type their own questions and answers therefore what is communicated is limited. Personal details cannot be shared. In the event of an adult using the website, they are unable to engage in any conversations other than those determined by the scripted chat facility provided by the website. Avatars are randomly generated and provide anonymity. Poptropica can be considered a safe online role-playing game for children and preferable to console games or other online virtual worlds where multi-player chat is not necessarily subject to such strict constraints. This website is an example of an online environment adhering to the COPPA.

For domains in the UK or elsewhere, it is wise to find parent or teacher information links. In preparing this piece, it was found that this is not always straightforward. It is, however, quite informative. Several websites offering online games for children place the responsibility on those supervising children’s use of the games to decide on whether it is safe and appropriate. Any such notice on an online gaming site should alert an adult to a possible lack of control in the materials available and the extent to which personal information could be shared within games.

So, for teachers, parents and carers concerned about online games that are appropriate for younger children, the following points need to be considered.

If the game is a virtual world where role-playing is featured, thoroughly check the nature of the chat facility. It should generally involve controls in how usernames for avatars are generated and ensure avatar pictures cannot be uploaded therefore the risk of children identifying themselves online is limited. Scripted chat rather than free typing facilities are a feature that should be evident before allowing a child to interact with others in an online virtual environment role-playing game.

It is important to examine what a gaming website says about its own view of how it is or is not actively aiming to support the safeguarding of children. Perhaps a general rule of thumb is to only allow access to reputable websites from trusted organisations, such as the BBC, Disney or other major organisations that produce online games for educational or entertainment purposes.

You can teach your students more about the risks associated with online communication and gaming using a selection of lesson plans and assembly plans available to E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members.

Written by Jazz Williams on February 06, 2014 12:39

A school e-safety policy is so much more than a set of rules

In the months since the inclusion of e-safety as part of the Ofsted inspection criteria, many schools are beginning to come to terms with the e-safety inspection criteria which includes; having a whole school consistent approach, developing robust and integrated reporting routines, having staff training and responsibilities identified, delivering age appropriate education, having the correct infrastructure, monitoring and evaluation, management of personal data and last but certainly not least, a school e-safety policy.

In the most recent Ofsted ‘Inspecting e-safety in schools’ briefing, they identify key features of good or outstanding practice for e-safety policies as:

  • Rigorous e-safety policies and procedures are in place, written in plain English, contributed to by the whole school, updated regularly and ratified by governors.

  • The e-safety policy should be integrated with other relevant policies such as behaviour, safeguarding and anti-bullying.

  • The e-safety policy should incorporate an Acceptable Usage Policy that is understood and respected by pupils, staff and parents.
  • Significantly, there is only one indicator of inadequate practice:

  • Policies are generic and not updated.
  • It is easy to see why schools could fall into the latter category, not least because the e-safety inspection is a relatively new addition to the Ofsted inspection and may not yet be fully integrated with the other school procedures and policies. Downloading a 'one size fits all' policy template from the internet is a quick fix, but isn’t ideal and indeed, not a satisfactory solution where Ofsted in concerned.

    If e-safety issues are global and the associated risks applicable to all young people, why is an off-the-shelf policy inadequate. The answer to this lies with the whole school community involvement. If a policy were aimed at just students in a single year group, then it’s possible that a generic policy could well stand up to interrogation. However, add several more year groups, plus their parents and not forgetting their teachers, governors – the entire school community – and the parameters for the policy become vastly different.

    Each school will have a different relationship with its stakeholders – some school may have a locked down IT systems which prevent certain websites within the school, however once outside the school environment, pupils could have unrestricted access. This situation would require a different policy for pupils and parents to those which allow unrestricted (but monitored) access to the internet.

    Alternatively, a school may have a defined code of practice about personal social media accounts for teachers, while others may have accounts set up specifically for school use – again in each case, a different policy would be required.

    One area which all schools should have in common is the involvement of the students in the creation and implementation of the school e-safety policy – how this is applied however is again down to the individual school.

    These highlight just some of the areas where a policy would benefit from being unique to the school – let’s not forget, that there are several more areas from the Ofsted indicators that could also be interpreted differently. With all the possible variables, it becomes clearer why each school requires its own policy, even to the extent that schools sharing the same site could very well require different policies despite their shared location.

    On a final note, there is also the issue of a policy being ‘updated’. While the digital landscape is constantly changing and schools are become more e-safety aware, the school policy will need to be adjusted appropriately. There are no hard and fast rules about how frequently this will need to happen, but Ofsted suggest that a good policy should be updated regularly.

    If you would like to share your experience about implementing an e-safety policy in your school, we would love to hear from you – simply complete the comment section below.

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on October 31, 2013 17:42

    E-safety Support teams up with Fantastict

    Since the launch of E-safety Support earlier this year, we have had the pleasure of talking to many schools about the e-safety issues they are currently facing. One of the biggest challenges identified by our member schools was teacher training.

    As a result of your needs, we have partnered up with the UK’s largest dedicated provider of e-safety training and consultancy – Fantastict. This new partnership will not only give teachers and schools access to a nationwide network of trainers and consultants, but all E-safety Support members will also benefit from a free ‘Needs Analysis’ consultation. Premium and Premium Plus members will also receive discount off any training and consultancy booked with Fantastict.

    Responding to our member needs is part of our commitment to ensure that the whole school community can be involved in the delivery of the school e-safety provision. By partnering with Fantastict, we can help schools access quality e-safety training which will ensure that teachers are aware of current e-safety issues, supporting them in school and complementing the teaching and learning materials available from the E-safety Support website.

    Visit the Fantastict website to find out more about the bespoke e-safety training available

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on September 25, 2013 10:57


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