So often Department of Education online teaching resources fall on the wrong side of cute. Aimed a generation who play Minecraft and get information from Youtube channels they fail to engage in any meaningful way. Largely, I would argue, because they are created by an earlier generation who have a different view of computers, don’t play computer games themselves and often don’t have kids of their own. The line between cute and useful is a thin one and walking that tightrope isn’t always easy: RUA Cyber Detective successfully manages not only to balance, but also to do a couple of little tricks along the way.
RUA Cyber Detective takes kids through a detective story where they must think about what makes a good password, how to look for clues that someone is trying to mislead you online, what you should and shouldn’t reveal to others. The story is engaging enough to hold the kids’ interest especially as it is explicitly aimed to take only 10-20 minutes. The ‘gameplay’ is simple, which is not unexpected, but not really the main point of what the creators are trying to achieve. The inclusion of a points system and a timer drove my sample audience to play it a couple of times in an effort to get better scores.
There are some good lessons in the program and even to the extent an adult might debate what they are saying they are thought-provoking and give good hooks for further discussion. An example we used was reading terms and conditions: The program deducts points if you don’t read them, but really who does? It’s useful, though, to draw out the lesson about the implications of not reading them.
So what makes this work? First and foremost it takes itself seriously and doesn’t dumb down the information it is trying to convey. Secondly it doesn’t confuse cute with engaging – the characters are not furry animals with big eyes and names ending in the letter ‘y’. And finally it neatly does a single thing within tight boundaries – it doesn’t expect the teacher to spend their life setting up the system or devote hours of valuable lesson time to this.
All-in-all RUA Cyber Detective is a great resource and well worth ten minutes of your child’s time. If nothing else they may walk away realising that using your dog’s name for a password is a pretty poor idea.
Image: © Commonwealth of Australia through the State of New South Wales by its Department of Education and Communities, 2012.