Protecting Students with a Cybersafety Plan

A vast majority of teens are online on a daily basis with most of them using their mobile phones or tablets to access the Internet. Combine this with schools pushing out one-to-one initiatives at a rapid pace. It is no wonder cyberbullying and sexting are most often done through mobile technology with this amount of mobile technology in the hands of teens. While most cybersafety incidents happen outside of school, they often start in school. This means school districts and their schools need to create cybersafety programs to counter these threats to the learning process. 

For a cybersafety program to be effective a school districts must:

  • Survey students yearly using an instrument such as Hinduja & Patchin's Cyberbullying &Online Aggression Survey (2009). 
  • Select programs for individual schools based on data from the cybersafety surveys and input from the students it is supposed to help.
  • Provide professional development for faculty and staff on implementing cybersafety education programs.
  • Adequate budgeting for cybersafety programs.
  • Provide necessary materials to schools.
  • Provide instruction to parents on research-based methods on keeping their children safe online.
  • Appoint a cybersafety coordinator to assist schools with developing cybersafety education programs, develop appropriate consequences for cybersafety violations, train staff involved in cybersafety programs, research the latest trends in cybersafety issues, works with parents, law enforcement, and the media on cybersafety issues.

Schools should do the following for cybersafety effectiveness:

  • Insert cybersafety instruction into the most appropriate courses all students are mandated to participate in. Not all students may take technology courses every year.
  • Create a school cybersafety response team consisting of an administrator and guidance counselor specially trained to handle cybersafety incidents.
  • Ensure all faculty and staff understand how to handle cybersafety incidents and properly report them to the cybersafety response team.
  • Provide an annual presentation to parents and the community on cybersafety concerns based on survey data, explain the dangers of cybersafety violations, explain school cybersafety initiatives, and explain what can be done to promote cybersafety in the home.

If school districts and schools fail to develop comprehensive cybersafety plans they run the risk of having the education process disrupted due to fallout from cybersafety incidents. These incidents could also expose school districts and schools to legal accountability if the school does not adequately respond to cybersafety incidents. Finally, schools may lose E-Rate discounts if they do not provide cybersafety education stipulated in the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2012.

For more information on this plan to protect students from cybersafety incidents click the link below: 

 Comprehensive District Cybersafety Plan

What is a 12 Year Old to Do?

Is Anybody Home? Free Girl Looking in Window Creative Commonsphoto © 2006 D. Sharon Pruitt | more info (via: Wylio)
Earlier this week Miguel Guhlin shared on his blog this question: Is it ethical for a teacher to have a student lie about his or her age when signing up for a website? My first thought is why not? The 13 year old age restriction before being allowed to sign up for a site is almost the Internet version of removing a mattress tag or maybe following the 55 mile per hour speed limits on Interstate Highways. Yes, its the law but is it really strictly enforced? The age restriction was placed by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 otherwise known as COPA. This federal law says that websites cannot collect information on children under the age of 13 without parental consent. This law also says that children under the age of 13 cannot be marketed to via electronic means such as email. Instead of taking measures to protect children and obtain parental permission, most sites just forbid children under the age of 13 from signing up for a service as part of the terms of service. If a child is found to have violated the terms of service by signing up then the company will terminate the account. The purpose of the law was not to prevent children from signing up for websites or email, it was to prevent information to be collected and used to market to children. However, most people interpret the law that signing up a child without parent permission or violating the terms of service is illegal. Not true.

Now back to the original question, is it unethical for a teacher to get a child to lie about their age to sign up for a website? Yes. However, do we as teachers do unethical things to get our jobs done? All the time. One of my grad school professors said that "teachers need to be great thieves." We usually have to do unethical things all the time to get our job done. Is it ethical to ask parents to bring in tissues, hand sanitizer, and other items on a supply list because the school does not have the budget to provide those items? We would be upset if we went to have surgery and the surgeon told us that we needed to bring the surgical instruments? Still could we be held accountable and risk our professional career if we had a student sign up for a site against a parent's wishes? Yes again. This is why I always recommend that teachers inform parents about what they plan to do using the Internet. My students have to have an acceptable user policy (AUP) signed by themselves and their parents. If a parent does not wish for their child to participate in an activity then I have to find an alternative assignment. Does that cover me ethically? I think so because I made a reasonable effort to inform parents of my intentions but others may disagree. In may way of thinking, in order to teach students how to use the Internet safely, students need to use the Internet.

However, Miguel's post and discussions gave me pause and food for thought. Where are websites that are appropriate for children under 13 years old that can be used in schools for educational purposes. Sadly, I could not think of one so I created one but I need your help. I created a wiki called Sites for Younger Students where we can enter links to websites that are appropriate for younger children. Anyone can edit the page but I do ask that you enter the link and give a brief description of what the site does. Please make sure the sites are educational or can be used for an educational purposes. Also, please share the link to this wiki because I am sure there are many elementary and middle school teachers looking for sites that can be used in their classes. Thank you for helping out with this project because working together we can help all children.

Update: Miguel updated his discussion with some useful information. You can read it here.

Google+ School Equals?

Image from GoogleGoogle+ has captured the attention and curiosity of many people around the world. This is Google's latest attempt at creating a social network to compete with both Facebook and Twitter. Google+ is currently in a beta test right now and it is a real beta test because invitations are needed to create Google+ accounts at this time (we all know Google never releases a product out of beta). I was fortunate enough to receive an invite from an EdTech friend who likes to use me as her personal guinea pig which I usually don't mind. The concept is basically like both Facebook and Twitter, just enter whatever you want to share with your network. This can be links to articles to ever popular what you had for lunch on a given day. Right away the big difference is you can direct your message whatever group or circle you wish to see it. Circles are groups of friends, followers, or whatever you call the people you share your life with online. I like the circle concept Google uses because circles can be created for whatever purpose you need. For example, everyone has a everyone and public circle. Along with those circles I also have Acquaintances, Friends, Ed Tech, Family, and Work circles. Whenever you wish to add someone in Google+ you can just drop them into whatever circles you wish him or her to be in.. Then when you post a message just choose the circle who gets the message. Sounds like a social networking teacher's dream right?

Not so fast. While I do have segregated circles involving a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and teachers I work with, I don't think you will be seeing a student circle anytime soon in my group of circles. While the privacy settings on Google+ look a lot better and simpler than on Facebook, I am still not trusting Google totally yet. Also, While your messages might be delivered to select groups which would not include students, what about their messages? Until they learn about what information should be shared and to whom you will might get blasted with student messages including some inappropriate ones. Of course, you might let a message slip through as well. I still like that high wall that separates me from my students online and I don't think the circles are a high enough wall. Finally, what about turning-in assignments? Yes, you can chat on Google+. Yes, you can exchange links to website too. Yes, you can even post assignments on Google+. However, you really should not post a grade on it or discuss the work on the site and I would think having to search for each student to send a message would become tiresome. While schools and their media centers can use this effectively, I think teachers should stick to learning social networks such as Edmodo or Schoology for the time being.

Personally, I am excited about Google+ and the promise it has as a social network. It will be great for PLN's. Will it be the Facebook "killer"? Not anytime soon. However, Twitter is the social network that should worry. Google+ does not have the same restrictions Twitter has on space. You can insert a link and know where it is going which beats just looking at those URL shorteners which are handy but potentially dangerous since you don't really know where the link will take you or what it can do to your computer. Big pluses in my book. I also, hope some of the collaboration tools from the defunct Google Wave will make it to Google+ to turn a potentially great communication application into a great collaboration application as well. If you wish to join one of my circles just look me or up.

Tech Course for Everyone!

Dr. Dereck Rhoads, new principal of Bluffton Middle School, outlined his vision for a technology course to be offered to 6th and 7th graders of the South Carolina Lowcountry school. The reason Dr. Rhoads gives is "As technology revolutionizes our world, schools must seek ways to prepare and equip students with the skills to compete in an ever-demanding global economy."

Here are the features of Dr. Rhoads' vision that are extrodinary:

  • Every student at Bluffton Middle School will take this technology course and create a digital portfolio. 
  • This technology course will be based on ISTE NETS and the South Carolina Internet Safety Standards.
  • Wants students to use Web 2.0 applications to create assignments for core academic classes to demonstrate the practical application of the tools.
  • Students will learn how to evaluate information found on the Internet and use it appropriately. 
  • Wants students to understand what Media Literacy means and how to decode its messages.
  • Stress cyber safety to students as they use the technology. This will include how to use Social Networks, such as Facebook, properly and maintain privacy that will prevent problems later in students' lives.

I know there are other courses in technology that may incorporate some of the points above. However, I have never heard of a course that incorporates all these points. Whoever takes on the task of creating and teaching such a course will have a big job ahead of them. Dr. Rhoads will need to find someone creative enough to make his dream a reality. If anyone has any ideas on what should be included in this course please share them in the comments. 

Click here to read Dr. Rhoads' blog post on the technology course at Bluffton Middle School.

Moving to the Suburbs

Currently I am writing the curriculum for technology course for 6th and 7th graders. As I evaluate Web 2.0 applications to use I must walk a thin line between achieving educational objectives using Web 2.0 tools and ensuring student safety. This is a dilemma anyone involved in educational technology must deal with constantly. The questions asked not only include what applications to use but should students be allowed to use personal computers on school networks? What access should students have? How do we keep students from accessing inappropriate websites? Should students be allowed to have email accounts? The list is endless.

Why do we have to fight this battle? Leo Leporte summed it up nicely on his netcast TWIT when he compared computers connected to the Internet like going into a big city. You can find almost anything you want but you can also easily end up in places you should not be too. Leporte went on to claim devices like the iPad is like the suburbs. You don’t have as much choice but it is safer. Apple’s Steve Jobs echoed this sentiment recently claimed that PC’s are like trucks, which obviously have multiple roles, and tablets are like cars, serving a more specific purpose. Should schools move to the more suburban-like tablets because they are safer and easier to operate?

Tablets based on the iPhone OS, Android, or WebOS will only do certain functions. They are considered information consumption devices with a limited creation capabilities. Only apps approved are allowed on the devices (except maybe Android). I know from experience only certain apps will work if the network allows the app to work. Students could jail-break their devices or run off of wireless carriers but apps may not work as well as they could on a Wi-Fi network. Bingo, extra security. Apps for things like Measure of Academic Progress assessments or other testing can be made into apps and allowed to work on tablets. To me this seems like a better solution, especially for K-8 students, than allowing them into the Internet guarded with poor grade chicken wire. Should schools move to the technology version of the suburbs? What are your thoughts?

Adults Behaving Badly

Those who know me know that I am passionate about cybersafety, especially cyberbullying. I have gone all over the state of South Carolina discussing the topic to various groups of people. Usually the focus is on educating children on how to use the Internet and it's tools properly. With adults, it is protecting your identity and becareful of what gets posted about themselves. Never would I think I would have to have to children discussion with adults, especially administrators who should know better. WRONG! I guess I have to give the whole talk to all audiences. Administrators needs to start paying attention to what they are doing and get educated. One of your numbers may be going to jail!

What happened in Pennsylvania's the Lower Marion School District should be a wake-up call to those who pay lip-service to cybersafety. The fact this case even happened was downright frightening on several levels. First, why would someone create a security software that would activate a webcam remotely? Second, why would a school district place itself in potential harm by purchasing such software? Third, when instruction was given to administrators did anyone think to explain when the webcam should be activated and when it should not? Fourth, what was the vice-principal thinking when he or she operated the webcam? Fifth, what was the vice-principal thinking when attempting to discipline a student at home? Conspiracy theorists such as Adam Curry of No Agenda are probably going crazy talking about "big brother" spying on everybody.

The whole thing in Pennsylvania probably boils down to an over-zealous administrator doing what he or she thought was the right thing out of ignorance of the consequences. Not an excuse but probable. However, there was a public incident of cyberbullying by a group of people who should have known better. On Episode 238 (March 7, 2010) of the popular podcast, This Week in Tech (TWiT), host Leo Laporte and guests John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine and Meveo fame, Kevin Rose of Digg, and Clayton Morris of Fox and Friends decided to replicate a stunt done by Connan O'Brien and get the audience to follow a randomly chosen person on Twitter. Kevin Rose did a search and found someone based on the search of the term "hates technology." They settled on a New Zealand woman who tweeted "I hate technology." By the end of the show over 4,000 people where following her and the current count is over 24,000 followers. Laporte kept asking if what they were doing was illegal or unethical. Dvorak thought it was at least unethical but did nothing to stop it. Kevin Rose was cheering people on and Clayton Morris did nothing. Fortunately, the victim has a great sense of humor and is trying to cash in on this fifteen minutes of fame. Laporte promised to buy her a iPad for her troubles but also promised the same to a randomly chosen new follower to get the number up.

Can you imagine the shock and horror someone might have to open their e-mail and discover over 4,000 notices of new Twitter followers? All of these people who are strangers and you have no idea why they are filling up your e-mail box? Then you find out it is by a group of people who were doing it as a stunt on a podcast. All four should know better. There are many teenagers who follow TWiT every week and look up to the host and guests as role models. Clayton Morris should never be assigned any story involving incidents such as Web Cam Spying story or a cyberbullying incident resulting in a tragic death. I will still listen to TWiT but I have to say I am very disappointed in the actions of these leaders in the Tech World.