Taking a closer look at ProjectEVOLVE
Our partners South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) a not-for-profit charity launched the free digital toolkit ProjectEVOLVE last Autumn as part of their work in the UK Safer Internet Centre. ProjectEVOLVE aims to allow professionals to bring essential topics around online development and wellbeing into the classroom.
Since its launch the toolkit has had over 3000 organisations sign up, along with over 11,500 users proactively using the hundreds of free resources available to teach about the important steps in young people’s journey with technology.
Ken Corish (Online Safety Director for SWGfL and ProjectEVOLVE lead) talks about what ProjectEVOLVE is, how it supports professionals, the impact it is having, and the exciting new features that are on the horizon.
ProjectEVOLVE is a free online resource for any professional who works with children and young people. If they are tasked with educating, guiding, and supporting students through their use of technology in their online life, ProjectEVOLVE is there to support them along the way.
ProjectEVOLVE provides a range of resources that are pragmatic and non-moralizing[BC1] . They’re aimed at providing the right environments for discussion, provide children and young people with knowledge and facts, along with information to help form their own opinions around important topics. In itself, it has over 600 separate resources that cover age ranges from very young children, establishing some of the fundamental building blocks around online development, right the way through to 18 year olds.
We wanted to empower children and young people to see beyond common messages around online safety and development into something more sophisticated. We wanted to offer a journey, an educative journey that grows depending on individual stages of development. Context, age and developmental stage, are a really important component when talking about these essential topics.
“This isn’t a curriculum, it’s a set of competencies.” – How ProjectEVOLVE works
What we’re trying to achieve with ProjectEVOLVE is to guide anyone who’s using the toolkit to ensure that they work with the right set of resources for those children they work with.
Our content is based around a framework that we worked on with the UK Council for Internet Safety back in 2017. The framework’s called Education for a Connected World. This isn’t a curriculum, it’s a set of competencies. It’s a set of outcomes and focuses that you’d expect to reference when talking to children at various ages. We disassembled the whole online landscape and remapped it across specific age groups and eight strands that encompass every aspect of young people’s online life.
These strands don’t just focus on safety. They look at relationships, self-image and identity. They look at classical bullying, but also focus on privacy and security, copyright and ownership along with managing online information. They had to be very focused and granular because they’re such an important part of growing up.
We’ve tried to write the resources in such a way that they provide opportunities for dialogue. They’re not preachy, patronizing nor moralizing. We try to make them pragmatic and match specifically the age group to which they belong, but also to challenge current beliefs as well. We provide educators with sets of outcomes and questions to begin meaningful dialogues with their students. Getting a meaningful dialogue for children who you are working with is at the heart of all the resources. Not only that, to be able to understand where they are with these important topics or where their misconceptions lie. It also highlights where their knowledge gaps are and how secure they are in that knowledge. It’s vital.
The future of ProjectEVOLVE
We’re developing some innovative mechanisms to build knowledge maps into the toolkit. This will be a critical component and has always been at the heart of what ProjectEVOLVE is all about. So far we’ve developed the content and the resources.
We wanted to understand what children’s knowledge of a concept was before a teacher chose the resource to match that. That would help reduce their workload in navigating a huge amount of content within ProjectEVOLVE. It also makes sure that the resource that they’re choosing is appropriate for that group of children sat in front of them.
We want to get to a stage where somebody is secure in their understanding of a concept. They will say, “I know how to do this. I don’t have to think too much about it, but actually I can apply it to other situations.” That’s very appropriate for online development. You have to use what you already know to apply to a whole range of different situations, whether they’re technical or social.
To do this, we developed a concept cartoon generator. Concept cartoons are often used in other curriculum areas to analyse how students consider a central premise and usually are printed diagrams. However, I don’t think I have seen a concept cartoon generator before and this may very well be the first. This concept generator allows us not only to draw questions from the database and present them in a meaningful way to children and older students, but also reduces unconscious bias, because we can decide which avatars appear in different orders. So each time you look at a question, it looks different.
These things are put in front of children and they record their responses. They can do it online, or live in the classroom. All their answers are recorded back into the database, that then assists the educator in prioritising what those specific children need. It’ll show you what is secure, where they have misconceptions, where there are gaps in their knowledge and where there’s complete misunderstanding too. This then guides teachers to be able to choose the right elements of ProjectEVOLVE.