E-safety and the importance of first principles

Digital Literacy BinaryAs the widely known proverb has it:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

In education, we understand this as the importance of first principles. It is not enough to teach someone that the square root of 25 is 5, the student needs to understand how to calculate this, so that when they meet a similar problem they are equipped to tackle it. Otherwise, the only square root problem they can ever tackle is the square root of 25.

The same is true for all subjects. Whether the mission is to construct meaningful sentences, critique the motivations of monarchs, handle chemical compounds or understand migration patterns, the key is to master the first principles and learn the tools of the trade.

When it comes to e-safety we have a problem! Very few people have any first principle knowledge of information technology and this makes it difficult for them to understand, let alone communicate the risks.

There was a very narrow window in which any kind of ‘computing’ was covered at school as a core skill. The basics of programming and the foundation knowledge that required quickly gave way to an emphasis on using computers or more accurately, specific applications. The new computing curriculum and initiatives such as code clubs are addressing this thankfully, but the current reality is that we have several generations of teachers and parents with little or no understanding of first principles.

This is hardly surprising, the rapid evolution of communications technology has for many resulted in it seemingly arriving fully formed and thus much education has been about computer literacy and orienting people in order to use the technology in its present state, with seldom any reference to the first principles.

There is a tendency to look upon e-safety as a technical issue, and devolve responsibility to and ICT teacher or network manager, but while there is a technical and engineering component in the security and capability management of systems, so much of e-safety is about practice and social interaction. Thinking that e-safety is purely the preserve of the ICT department because it concerns computing devices is as muddle headed as assuming that a carpenter be given responsibility for all pencils because they are made of wood. Information technology is subject agnostic. All school staff need to be involved.

There are of course some very good technologies which help mitigate risk, such as those which filter and monitor network traffic, but alas these can never be 100% effective and are far from universally adopted, often leading to a false sense of security.

Good e-safety education needs to work hand in hand with technical solutions and good practice and procedure to deliver a fully rounded solution. The technical solutions will always trail the risks as new technologies, usage patterns and social practice evolve.

E-safety in school in not just about protecting students while at school, it is about giving them the skills to continue to be safe outside of school and into the future.

Good first principle knowledge is essential in order to understand the nature of a risk and recognise it in another form as they encounter technologies that haven’t even been invented yet.

In subsequent weeks we’ll be using our blog to briefly examine some first principles and core concepts that we hope will lead to a better understanding of information technology and its usage, in order to help you with your e-safety teaching and practice.

Written by E-safety Support on February 12, 2015 13:17


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