Google is launching an educational program designed to teach kids about phishing, internet harassment, passwords, and other internet safety issues. Called “Be Internet Awesome,” it includes a classroom curriculum and a video game called Interland. It was developed with help from teachers, YouTube videographers, and internet safety and literacy organizations, and resources are available online for free.
Be Internet Awesome tackles topics that are relevant to all ages, though it’s seemingly aimed at younger children. It includes sections on how to limit sharing personal information with people online, avoid falling for scams or phishing attacks, creating strong passwords, and avoiding negative behavior online. (It includes a “Be Internet Awesome Pledge” that students can sign.) Google says the program is compliant with International Society for Technology in Education standards, awarded to programs that promote a range of tech-savvy skills.
In this case, that happens through a range of quizzes, role-playing activities, and other abstract exercises. For the “Share with Care” module, students look at a made-up social media profile and cross out information that a parent, employer, or future self might look poorly upon. In “Don’t Fall for Fake,” they decide whether a series of webpages and emails look real or fake. And “It’s Cool to be Kind” urges kids to avoid responding or reacting to hurtful messages, as well as block and report bullies.
Interland, the accompanying video game, seems less like a training tool and more like a sweetener that could get students interested in the material. “Mindful Mountain,” for example, turns the process of sharing specific posts with the right people into a spatial puzzle. (It also works as a grim commentary on how opaque social network privacy settings can be, although that’s never mentioned.) Players promote positivity in a platforming game by tossing out friendly emoticons and hitting the “block” button to trap trolls. The password security game is a Temple Run-style endless runner about collecting letters and symbols.
This is only the latest in Google’s string of educational programs, which range from promoting Chromebooks in the classroom to offering virtual reality field trips through Google Cardboard. (Interland also uses a low-poly aesthetic that will be familiar to Daydream VR users.)
As someone who’s not a trained educator, I can’t pass judgment on this curriculum. Everybody could stand to be a little more cautious about phishing, but anti-bullying programs, of which “Cool to be Kind” is a subset, vary in effectiveness. Even if this is effective for teaching students the basic principles of internet use, we don’t know how well it will translate into real-world social media use. But at the very least, it’s a non-alarmist take on internet safety — even if I might rather teach my kid about hacking with the Mr. Robot game.