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My best lesson - Sway students' verdict on illegal downloading

"What was the last thing you downloaded?"

My information communications technology class reacts with amusement, as though this question is a clarion call for bragging.

"I download stuff all the time from these torrent websites - I'm not paying when I can get it for free," one student boasts. Within a minute, the entire class is animatedly showing off about their own illegal downloading habits.

"You have all broken the law," my next slide says. Uproar. There is an atmosphere of loud ambivalence fused with defensive justification. "So?" students say. "What does it matter, it's not like they need the money."

"Who are 'they'?" I reply. "If a song costs #163;1, and half that money is used to employ staff who work on an average salary of #163;20,000 per year, how many people's wages would be lost if you all downloaded it illegally? Or, let's say, if a million people downloaded it without paying?"

I am not aiming for subtlety. We look at the numbers and some eyebrows are raised.

One student wants to become a singer, so I move on to the issue of copyright. Wouldn't she be upset about not being paid for something she had created? The students suddenly see the issue from a different perspective.

However, I have saved the best bit of my lesson for last. We are transported to the courtroom, where each student is accused of committing a cybercrime and they have to prosecute or defend one another. In most cases, the defendants are found guilty by their peers. Some are surprised at the number of laws they have broken.

I take a risk and ask if anyone would consider behaving differently in the future when it comes to illegal downloads. Not one student raises their hand, but equally there is no rebellion and no backchat about downloader rights, which is the norm in these lessons. It's a start.

Shaun Furzer is leader of digital learning at Goffs School in Hertfordshire, England.

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