Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Society and Education

How Authentic Should a Learning Context Be? Using Real and Simulated Profiles in a Classroom Intervention to Improve Safety on Social Network Sites

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Society and Education

How Authentic Should a Learning Context Be? Using Real and Simulated Profiles in a Classroom Intervention to Improve Safety on Social Network Sites

Article excerpt


Researchers, parents, teachers and teenagers agree that media literacy education is increasingly important in this 21st century, when participatory and collaborative network technologies such as social network sites (SNSs) are omnipresent (Livingstone, 2004a; Safer Internet Programme, 2009). Since children have been found not to be competent in avoiding some of the risks posed to them by the Internet (Livingstone, 2004b), education on cyber security and e-safety seems particularly essential. Examples of risks that teenagers might come across when using popular SNSs are cyberbullying, sexual solicitation and privacy risks (De Moor et al., 2008). School education about these risks is proposed as a solution in order to empower minors to deal with such online dangers (Livingstone & Haddon, 2009; Marwick, Murgia-Diaz, & Palfrey, 2010; Tejedor & Pulido, 2012).

To this end, a vast array of educational materials has been developed to raise awareness and to change unsafe behavior (e.g., Insafe, 2014). However, only a few of these packages have been evaluated so far (Mishna, Cook, Saini, Wu, & MacFadden, 2010; Vanderhoven, Schellens, & Valcke, 2014a), and there has been only limited attention given to the critical aspects of effective materials. Nevertheless, research about prevention campaigns in different subjects, such as drug abuse and aggressive behavior, shows that it is important not to rush the development of materials, but to develop materials around strategies that are known to be effective (Jones, 2010; Nation et al., 2003). For now, it is unclear which strategies can guarantee that interventions and prevention campaigns are effectively changing awareness and unsafe behavior (Livingstone & Bulger, 2013).

It is for these reasons that we developed a new intervention with educational materials for teenagers in secondary education based on specific instructional guidelines drawn from constructivism (Vanderhoven, Schellens & Valcke, 2014b). In the following, we describe these learning principles and how they were applied to these originally developed interventions. We then describe the results of two preceding evaluation studies that tested the impact of these initial interventions on the awareness and behavior of the students. Based on the results, we formulated three hypotheses concerning the principles of authentic and active learning. We explain why and how we adapted the classroom intervention on the basis of these hypotheses. Finally, we clarify the goal of the current study: establishing whether the adapted intervention has more educational value than the originally developed intervention.

Learning Principles

As stated, the intervention that we originally developed was based on instructional guidelines drawn from constructivism (Vanderhoven et al., 2014b). As the dominant theory of the last decades in the field of learning science, constructivism mainly implies that learning is an active process, in which the learners actively construct their knowledge (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). This knowledge cannot be transferred from one person to another just by lecturing. Therefore, some basic learning principles are introduced for the development of educational materials to maximize the chances of successful learning (Karagiorgi & Symeou, 2005). In the newly developed educational materials, we particularly took into account the principles of collaborative learning, situated learning and active learning (Vanderhoven et al. 2014b).

The first principle, collaborative learning, is based on the fact that, for constructivists, learning is inherently a social-dialogical process. Working together helps in sharing and developing multiple viewpoints. As Duffy and Cunningham (1996) stated, collaborative learning provides variation in classroom activities and teaches students how to work together and share the workload. For this reason, we added a two-by-two exercise to the intervention in which students had to cooperate to answer different questions about a simulated SNS-profile, hence ensuring collaborative learning. …

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