“What are the consequences that go along with being somebody else than you really are online?” Van Dyck asks his class. He then shows a video of a middle school-aged boy talking about his experiences in chat rooms with others who he knew were not his age. “People treat you differently if they think you’re 25,” he says. “I don’t want to make people think I’m an adult, but I didn’t want people to judge what I was saying because of my age.”
After the video, Van Dyck engages the class in a discussion about the boy’s actions, whether or not they were safe, and asks if lying to the other adults in the chat room was fair. He then asks the students if any of them had been in an online situation where they pretended to be someone they were not.
“I was shocked when I saw the number of hands. Every kid responded ‘yes I have done that’,” Van Dyck says.
Van Dyck presents the students with 10 fairly general scenarios about students who were playing with online identity, covering everything from online relationships to cyberbullying. Each situation, however, is missing a lot of specifics, which, Van Dyck says, encourages students to really tackle each issue and play out all of the possible consequences. Through communication and collaboration, the students come to their decisions about whether the behavior was harmless or harmful.
The students write their justifications on the back of post-it notes, using different colors for each scenario. Van Dyck says this is the most effective aspect of the lesson because it forces students to link their conclusions with hard evidence. When asked what she had learned from the lesson, one student responds, “Just be yourself online and only chat with people that you know. Choose what you say, and say appropriate things.”
The video culminates with several key points from Van Dyck’s lesson:
- Lead the discussion with an unbiased question
- Use sticky notes to record evidence
- Support differing opinions
- Compare answers among groups
“This curriculum lets kids explore the content without sprinkling it with fear, and the kids come to that conclusion on their own,” said Van Dyck. “They figure out what things they need to be fearful of, and they figure out what things they can do to protect themselves so they don’t need to be afraid.”