RGU launches project to improve online safety for young people

Tuesday 07 February 2023

School pupil from Hazlehead Academy taking part in the 'Maddie is Online' project
Young people across the UK to benefit from a new project to tackle online safety – that supports national Safer Internet Day on 7 February - led by researchers from Robert Gordon University (RGU).

The project,  'Maddie is Online', includes online cartoon animations and storytelling resources, specially created for and with young people aged 9 – 12, that centre around the everyday life of a fictitious pre-teen girl called Maddie, who experiences troubles online.

‘Maddie is online’, has been rolled out to schools in Scotland and offers workshops on the ethics of online safety and security, ethical hacking and video gaming. The project is funded by the Scottish Government with over eleven thousand pounds funding (£11,086) and supported by the Digital Xtra Fund.

Project lead, Dr Konstantina Martzoukou, an Associate Professor from RGU’s School of Creative and Cultural Business, explains more: “We wanted to create resources to engage young people, particularly pre-teen children, to manage their digital lives. Unfortunately, many young people navigate daily challenges such as online bullying, personal security and managing their online reputation. Our resources empower young people so that they can develop technical and behavioural strategies to safeguard themselves online.”

A competition for school children in S1 & S2 has been created as part of the project, with young people asked to create a short story, of around 500 words, on the ‘Ethics of online safety and security’. Five stories have been short-listed for the final from three schools across Scotland and will be developed into animations for the ‘Maddie is Online’ series, with the winner announced in the spring.

The shortlist includes entries from Ellon Academy with a story entitled ‘Friend Finder’, two stories from Hazlehead Academy entitled ‘Lucy the Influencer’ and ‘Violet’ and two stories from St Andrew's and St Bride's High School in East Kilbride, entitled ‘The Yolo Classroom’ and ‘The Yphone Scam.’

Reflecting on the success of the project, Principal Teacher for Digital Learning at Ellon Academy, Ewan Armstrong, said: “Our pupils have really engaged with  ‘Maddie is online’ and put some fantastic thinking into the development of their story.  The story they chose is very mature in its contents whilst also unfortunately being very real for many children; befriending people online in apps/on websites who turn out to not be who they thought they were.  Our pupils have handled this in very sensitive ways, showing great maturity and creativity in their thinking.  They have fully engaged with the ethos of the topic and considered carefully how the character of Maddie could in fact represent many of their peers. 

“Our five amazing Ellon Academy pupils go away from this competition with greater digital resilience, increased confidence in digital/online safety & security, and with the knowledge that they have helped to promote online safety & security within the rural northeast of Scotland.”


Hazlehead Academy pupil, Yixin Jiang, who also took part in the project said: “It has been a very interesting experience to animate and see my story come to life. I enjoyed collaborating with my classmates and I think it’s important for more people to know how to stay safe online.”

S2 pupil, Liam Roe, from St Andrew's and St Bride's High School in East Kilbride, said: “This whole experience has taught me to think about what I do online and to learn more about Cyber Security in a fun way. I loved taking part and my teamwork skills have improved too.”

‘Maddie is online’ supports the Scottish Governments ‘Getting it Right for Every Child (GIFFEC) policy and the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It has been so successful that RGU plans to be the first university in Scotland to include online safety in its Nursing MSc Advancing Practice.

‘Maddie is online’ has also been endorsed by The Queen's Nursing Institute Scotland and the School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA).

Chief Executive Officer for the UK’s School and Public Health Nurses Association, Sharon White OBE said: “This is a much-needed resource for our school aged children who are subject to increasing online abuse and misinformation. Using animations and cartoons built on their self-identified needs is a fabulous example of co-production and, as such, much more likely to help empower them in making safer online decisions”

The current project aligns with the Scottish Government's ‘Building Trust in the Digital Era: Achieving Scotland’s Aspirations as an Ethical Digital Nation’. In an earlier project, funded by the Scottish Library & Information Council and RGU's Innovation Accelerator, the project team worked with children  to create resources centred around Online Resilience, Misinformation and Copyright, with the aim of improving young people’s understanding of online pitfalls.

Learn more:

Image shows secondary pupil from Hazlehead Academy exploring 'Maddie is Online'.

2nd image shows pupils from Ellon Academy including Adrijana Pavlovic, Cara Mallarkey, Chloe Lawrence, Ruaridh Gordon, Sam McBain.

3rd & 4th images include secondary pupils from St Andrew's and St Bride's High School in East Kilbride including Ava Hetherington, Aiden Kurdell, Rory Kyle, David McElwee, Gabrielle Quinn, Liam Roe, Liam Squire, Lena Thomas.

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