Whatever you think of the current debate over news that the US Government may have been monitoring the online activity of not only its own citizens but those of other countries too, you have to admit one thing. It provides a great opportunity for ICT teachers everywhere to bring some real-world issues into their lessons, in a very newsy (ie current) way.
- Find out: what are the plain facts. Or at least, as far as we know them. The thing is, we don't actually know all the facts, and that is a major part of the problem. So, perhaps a better question to research might be...
- What are the issues being discussed?
- How did the news/information become known?
Think about how the results of this research might be presented:
- A timeline depicting the events unfolding. Students could do this in a spreadsheet, in the form of a graph.
- Or how about a more visually appealing approach, using an application like Prezi, which has the merit of showing all the slides on the page (albeit in miniature)?
- You can bring some programming into this, using PowerPoint. In a low-level way, students can automate the presentation so that each slide appears after a set interval. At a slightly higher level, they could use hyperlinks. For example, the first or second slide could have a series of labesl, like "Prism", "Whistleblower" and so on. Clicking on each of them would take the viewer to another slide, a video, or a website where more information is presented. They could make their presentation even more sophisticated by using Visual Basic for Applications.
- They could create a website, and code it so that it's not just a static page or series of pages.
- They could summarise the events in a series of tweets.
- They could write a blog post about it.
- They could make a (one minute) video.
Think about how the issue(s) could be made easy for young pupils to understand. Why not have some older pupils create a video or simple animation (or even an interactive game) to explain the issues to younger pupils?
There is scope also for how the research findings are used, and some of this could bring in colleagues from other subjects. For example:
- Have some students make a video for a left-leaning organisation, while others make a video for a right-leaning organisation -- using the same basic information.
- We have known for a long time that GCHQ in the UK, and other Government agencies in other countries, monitor web and email traffic for keywords. How about getting students to write a simple computer program to simulate the process? You will probably need to provide them with a set of acceptable keywords, or some (especially boys!) will try out every swear word they know. Discuss: is the program useful? Why/why not?
Finally, there are the legal and ethical issues.
- If the USA is trawling through our data, where does that leave our assumed guarantees under EU Data Protection law?
- Does it matter anyway? Is there merit in the view that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about?
- How come this is news anyway? Boris Johnson has argued that ever since the web was invented you should have assumed that as soon as you do anything like send an email to someone, which goes to a server, or request information from a website (which resides on another server), anyone can read it. On the other hand, not everyone takes the same pragmatic view.
That last point raises another interesting issue: do your students know what happens when they send and email or do a Google search? There's another good lesson there too.
Any advances on these ideas?