Nothing Pokey When Pokémon Teaches Internet Safety

from Educators' eZine

As busy adults, we sometimes forget how monotonous school could be on occasions—how that one particular teacher could always lull us into a daydream, or worse, an actual dream. Those moments, however, are part of what motivates us, as educators, to find innovative ways to capture each student's attention.

Over the last few years, technology has made it much easier to use entertainment to enhance learning. What happens, though, when you're teaching a sensitive subject like Internet safety? That question led me to a unique collaboration with Pokémon USA.

Internet Safety in Virginia

In 2006, the Commonwealth of Virginia became the first state in the nation to require the integration of Internet safety into all instructional programs. It was my staff's responsibility to develop a guidance document for school divisions across the state and help educators integrate Internet safety as effectively as possible. We felt strongly that Internet safety must be approached from several angles, addressing a comprehensive set of objectives:

  • Public-private collaboration is essential.
  • The responsibility must be shared among school personnel, students and families.
  • Teachers must integrate Internet safety into the curriculum daily.
  • The effectiveness of the resources must be assessed and continually adapted.

Although many quality Internet safety resources existed, none seemed to address the problem comprehensively. With this thought lingering in the back of my mind, I viewed a demonstration of Pokémon Learning League at the NECC 2007, the National Educational Computing Conference. The product was described as an “online suite of standards-based animated, interactive lessons in language arts, math, science, and life skills.†I wondered if this could be the right outlet for teaching Internet safety from an entertaining and age-appropriate perspective.

Pokémon Learning League

Clearly, Pokémon could grab the attention of young children. The big question was whether it could tackle a serious concept like Internet safety. The Pokémon Learning League team agreed to give it a try if the Virginia Department of Education would offer guidance on the content. The Pokémon Learning League staff developed the storylines and storyboards, and the Department edited the content and recommended specific points about Internet safety. This process of collaborative design produced the Web-based Pokémon Learning League Internet Safety Unit.

The unit includes three lessons featuring an animated film, guided practice and a quiz. Each lesson addresses a distinct aspect of Internet safety. For example, in one episode, a mysterious “training coordinator†e-mails everyone on the Pokémon Contest message board. The Pokémon characters debate the potential threats of the e-mails. During a clandestine meeting, the “training coordinator†captures Piplup and Buneary—two of the Pokémon—forcing the characters to rescue them. This episode underscores a key point about Internet safety—individuals on the Internet are not always who they seem to be.

Other sections of the Web site suggest additional resources for teachers and parents. Each lesson is aligned with Virginia's Guidelines and Resources for Internet Safety in Schools, which encourages teachers to integrate the program into their curricula. To determine the program's quality and effectiveness, the Department has developed an evaluation component, consisting of pre- and post-surveys and a follow-up survey that tests retention.

More than 4,000 Virginia fourth graders are taking part in the pilot launch. The evaluation findings—to be completed in fall 2008—will help the Virginia Department of Education track the students' understanding of Internet safety issues and determine whether they are demonstrating more responsible online behavior. The results also will be shared with the Pokémon Learning League team to assist with improving the educational unit.

Challenge of Internet Safety Education

The program has been a perfect fit for Virginia elementary schools, but it's not an end unto itself. While Pokémon has an ideal appeal for young learners, we need to find engaging ways to educate older students. Additionally, Internet safety is a continuously evolving problem that requires novel solutions.

One of our greatest challenges today is how to reinvent Internet safety education on a regular basis. We need to keep up with emerging threats while developing engaging age-appropriate resources that capture students' attention. The often delicate subject matter associated with Internet safety forces us to walk a fine line between communicating serious issues to and entertaining our students. The goal is to identify or develop resources like the Pokémon Learning League Internet Safety Unit that are age appropriate, engaging and flexible enough to address new threats posed by the Internet on a daily basis.

The bottom line is that complex problems increasingly require collaborative solutions—in this instance, merging the knowledge and experience of educators with the creative forces of Pokémon.

Email:Tammy McGraw