‘Maddie is Online’ is an educational video cartoon series for schoolchildren (9-12 years old) which aims to illustrate the dangers of online connectivity and to teach preteen children online information, digital and media literacy through animation. The series has been created using the cartoon animation application Plotagon and real voice over actors. The series offers parents, teachers and librarians a tool that helps to draw young children’s attention on critical issues of online connectivity in a way that is fun and engaging, and linking to their own online experiences within everyday life.

Maddie Is Online

The educational resource was developed with a focus on information, media and digital literacy as well as the concept of ‘digital citizenship’ that has emerged in both academic research and government policy agendas. This highlights the need to develop not only the technical skills required in today’s digital online environment but also the ability to find, understand, use and share information as well as create media and communications in diverse online contexts, following responsible and ethical behaviour.

The 2017 Children’s and Parents’ Media Use and Attitudes report (part of Ofcom’s media literacy research programme) provides evidence on young children’s media use, attitudes and understanding (aged 5-15) as well as the views of parents. It highlights a wealth of interesting findings with evidence that more and more younger age children are exposed to the world of online social media connectivity and the effects of online misinformation. For example, the research study found that almost a quarter of children between 8-11 years and three-quarters of children between 12-15 years have a social media profile. At the same time, more parents are concerned about their children’s use of online social networks and media, and more are taking direct action to educate and guide their children. However, as the applications that children use change, parents and teachers find it more difficult to keep up.

What is also of interest, on the basis of online information behaviour specifically, is that, according to the study, “around a quarter of 8-11s and 12-15s believe that Google provides some kind of authenticating role, in that if a website is listed by the search engine then it can be trusted”, raising issues around the education of young children on what is good information and how it can be evaluated. Therefore, we need to turn to educating children on issues that have to do with judging the credibility of online information, using effective internet searching approaches and developing digital resilience and safety skills. As children transfer into their learning environments self-taught behaviours, learned via experiences in the home setting, educators and librarians have an important role to play in helping children develop into digital citizens, who have mastered essential digital competencies. Schools and libraries are constantly working to incorporate digital citizenship aspects into classrooms and educational environments, however the emphasis usually lies on teen children rather than the emerging younger users of social media and online information.  

‘Maddie is Online’ draws attention to the younger online media and information users and provides a tool that can be used with pre-teen children. It can be incorporated into subjects to create engaging and creative learning resources for children in both primary and secondary school level. Using cartoon storylines is an authentic pedagogical tool, suitable for diverse educational purposes, and as a method for attracting the attention of young people, stimulating critical thinking and discussion.  ‘Maddie is Online’ has its own blog space available via https://maddiesonline.blogspot.com/. It is aimed at teachers, librarians and parents and it offers direct access to the video material together with instructions and ideas that complement the series. 

Currently, there are two available series. Series 1 Online Resilience focuses on online resilience and safety and consists of 8 short episodes which askchildren to choose the best scenario for dealing with issues of online connectivity, safety and resilience. Maddie is a ten-year-old girl, who is social media active and uses a range of applications via her own smart phone. She particularly enjoys lip-syncing to music and sharing videos of yourself with friends from school. Maddie’s phone is not just a tool she uses, it is a way to express herself, become creative and connect with her friends online. However, Maddie spends too much time on her phone and is getting increasingly anxious.

Maddie is Online

Series 2 Misinformation consists of 11 longer episodes and aims to teach children the importance of information evaluation on the Internet. The story, which is a combination of reality and fantasy, begins with Maddie discussing with her friend a school assignment, which involves searching for information on an unfamiliar country for a class presentation. In her quest to find good quality information, Maddie asks many different people for information, including the Computer Class Teaching Assistant, who has just started her new role at the school, a travel agent, a scientist, a librarian, a teenager and a journalist. Maddie finds out some interesting and useful facts about the country but also some controversial and confusing information. The story ends with the importance of evaluation criteria such as currency, authority, point of view, and highlights the ‘How to spot fake news’ infographic, developed by the  International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

Maddie is Online

‘Maddie is Online’ has been developed by Dr Konstantina (Dina) Martzoukou, Teaching Excellence Fellow at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. If you are interested in using the series in your school or library please get in touch directly with Dina via k.martzoukou@rgu.ac.uk . You can also find ‘Maddie is Online’ via Twitter @MaddiesOnline 

If you have already used the resource, please consider filling in this short anonymous evaluation questionnaire  that will help us to understand whether the tool was useful and to design new episodes of interest.