If you look at the internet as if it was a game, do you think you would know all the rules and would you be able to take advantage of its tools? A large portion of a student's time is spent online, either researching, developing work, or accessing learning materials. But it is also spent during free time, exploring other areas of interest and socialising. The online and offline worlds are blending and becoming almost inseparable.
Oftentimes, the issue of new technologies is dominated by questions of cybersecurity and the correct use of social networks, which can lead to a negative view of the internet. This aspect is important to protect users, but partially undermines the potential and the many benefits of this inexhaustible source of digital knowledge, goods and services.
"We must not be negative and catastrophic about new technologies. The internet is not the end of everything. It is a source of information, socialisation and extraordinary development, a revolution in progress that we are fortunate to be experiencing," said Clara Sarmento, researcher at ISCAP - Instituto Superior de Contabilidade e Administração do Porto – in Porto, in an interview to the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre.
Using automatic translation tools to remember a meaning and hear the pronunciation, or being able to be in other countries in real time and learn about other areas and cultures - through Google Earth or Google Maps - is pure literacy. Storing content in the cloud to work on different devices, creating informal workspaces on Moodle or even Whatsapp, and using programmes to solve math problems define what the World Wide Web is all about.
Remember: "Once on the internet, forever on the internet"
The internet is an enhancer of learning and interests. "The resource is there and students are exploring it, everything is an open world. But it's always a double-edged sword," explains Clara Sarmento. Since everything that is free is used and downloaded as often as possible, copyrights and image rights are sometimes invisible or forgotten. The vast world of social networks opens many doors and can lead to unexpected resources, but it can also expose some problems.
Learning to seize the opportunities and let the positives outweigh the negatives can mean we need to be guided. There are fears on the side of teachers and educators on how to deal with new technologies in the classroom, as well as on the side of parents and carers because of all the concerns about online safety and health resulting from being in front of a screen all the time, and mental health, because of the isolation that the internet can cause. And on the side of young people, they sometimes experience a chain of isolation that is difficult to break and has an impact on their daily lives.
To provide answers to these questions, the project ENDING, coordinated by Clara Sarmento, has developed two guides for families and teachers and educators, and a new guide made by students for students is in preparation, which will take the perspective of the students themselves and provide advice and solutions.
Remember that "once on the internet, forever on the internet". The recommendation is to use the internet with critical thinking and respect for privacy. Come back with empathy for others, and be aware that your safety depends on everyone. A small step for you contributes to a much bigger step on a global scale.
Find out more about the work of the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.