The two principal domains within which education policy and practice regarding digital technologies are formulated are ICT education and media education. The interests and approaches of these two in the UK do not necessarily coincide. ICT educational practice has seen digital technologies as tools to improve curriculum delivery, pedagogic practice, and effective learning. Media education (eg Buckingham 2003) has emphasised the cultural specificity of media such as television, video, computer games and the Internet.
The key agency for the development of ICTs in education is the British Educational and Communication Technologies Agency (BECTa). Relevant initiatives have been impact studies of the use of ICT generally, and of broadband connectivity in particular (Underwood et al. 2003), which found improvements in exam performance after broadband connection, but also increases in anxiety about content and a perceived need for filtering. Also BECTa have conducted a study of the value of computer games in education (McFarlane and Kirriemuir 2004); though it does not include online gaming. This study is broadly supportive of the use of games to support learning. BECTa have also commissioned a study of the use of PDAs in schools (Wright and Perry 2003). This looked at experimental use of PDAs by teachers and pupils in 30 schools in England. It found a wide variety of benefits, including general benefits of ICTs, but also specific benefits such as in-the-field learning. Its attitude to digital cultures was ambiguous: pupils mentioned their interest in portable gaming, for instance, but this area of interest was not developed by schools and teachers. Finally, BECTa has involved itself in the field of Internet safety by commissioning an audit of Internet safety practices in schools (2002). In brief, this found that 95% of schools had installed filtering systems; schools tended to rely heavily on supervised Internet access, with pupils only being allowed to visit websites recommended by the teacher. The report concluded that this could lead to a lack of awareness of 'good Internet Safety practice' when surfing the Internet outside school and 'a lack of emphasis on developing search and evaluation skills'.
This report has given an overview of previous studies relating to the project's focus on Internet safety. It has argued that young people's safety online is best ensured through the development of skills and competencies to inform their practice. Whilst guidelines issued by the Child Protection Agencies may help parents to try to situate their children's uses within safe frameworks, they are unlikely to develop children and young people's agency to safely navigate any potential risks they may encounter. The development of young people's media literacy skills is also likely to enhance their ability to draw on the positive opportunities afforded by the Internet for learning, leisure and communication. Whilst gaps in the research around safe Internet use do exist, particularly around children's uses of mobile technologies, it is likely that findings related to other media, will transfer to other 'new' media and inform the findings of the Mediappro project.