Category Archives: cybersafety

Character education for the digital age


As we prepare for the return of students to our classrooms, many teachers and schools will be considering the implications of their BYOD programmes and increased wireless access meaning more kids using digital devices in school. With such privilege comes responsibility, and a key focus for teachers, leaders and school policy makers must be on thinking through the implications of such decisions, and how this all contributes to the overall academic and personal development of our students. 

Jason Ohler has written extensively on using technology effectively, creatively and wisely, and is known to many NZ teachers through his keynotes and workshops at ULearn and other conferences here.  A couple of years ago he wrote an article in Educational Leadership magazine that summarises the dilemma very well. He writes..

Our challenge is to find ways to teach our children how to navigate the rapidly moving digital present, consciously and reflectively. How we meet this challenge depends on how we address the following fundamental question about teaching our digital-age children: Should we teach our children as though they have two lives, or one?

The article goes on to offer lots of food for thought and practical advice that could be useful to you at the beginning of this school year. For those with responsibility for creating school policies and procedures regarding the use of digital devices and the development of digital literacy, here are just a few of the issues that Ohler suggests a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum  should address:

  1. Balance. Understanding past, present, and possible future effects of technology. Cultivating a sense of balance that considers opportunity as well as responsibility, empowerment as well as caution, personal fulfillment as well as community and global well-being. 
  2. Safety and security. Understanding how online actions might lead to harm to yourself or others. Includes protecting your own privacy, respecting that of others, and recognizing inappropriate online communications and sites (such as sexual material and other resources intended for adults).
  3. Cyberbullying. Understanding the potentially devastating effects of cyberbullying and how it violates ethical principles of personal integrity, compassion, and responsible behavior.
  4. Sexting. Understanding the negative consequences of using a cell phone to take and transmit pictures of a sexual nature of oneself or others.
  5. Copyright and plagiarism. Respecting others' intellectual property rights and reflecting on the legality and ethics of using online materials without permission (a complex and murky area of the law, bounded by "fair use" guidelines).

Information Literacy development

I've just been browsing a report recently published by Ofcom titled "Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report." [PDF]. Much of my work in schools and with teachers involves discussions about the sorts of skills and dispositions young people need to be considered 'literate' in an increasingly digital world. The research carried out by Ofcom reveals some useful data to help inform how schools think about a response, including…

  • an increase since 2010 in the number of children aged between 5-15 who have a PC or a laptop
  • an increase from 93% from 88% of children aged between 12-15 year olds use the Internet from home
  • children say that they would likely to miss their mobile or the Internet rather than TV
  • 33% believe that the information on a website must be truthful
  • only 23% of parents are concerned with what their kids see on the Internet
  • 49% of parents state that their children know more than them
  • 88% of the kids feel confident and know how to stay safe on the Internet

A quick scan down this list reveals some key areas of potential 'disconnect' between what many adults (incl. teachers) and students think is the case, and what is reality. Of particular note is the final statistic, revealing a very high percentage of young people who consider themselves to be responsible and safe online. The questions raised for me are; "who is helping our kids navigate this complex world of the WWW?, How are they learning to feel confident and safe?" As a parent of school-aged students I'm not convinced this would be accurate in practice (- which is why I spend time with them talking about and modelling responsible online behaviour). 

Understanding digital literacy is a complex issue, largely because of the way the thinking about it is evolving. There's certainly no shortage of useful links and article son the topic online.

These, and the many other posts and reports, convince me that all schools need to be placing a high priority on developing programmes addressing the information literacy needs of students. Failure to do so will be as significant in their lives as if my teachers had failed to ensure I could read and write when I went through school. 

YouTube and digital citizenship

The use of YouTube by students is a hot topic in many schools I visit and work in. I am the parent of a couple of young people still at school who regularly use YouTube clips as a source of entertainment, information and education (my son taught himself how to program in JAVA last Christmas from viewing YouTube clips). I am all too aware of the vaguaries of what can be accessed and viewed, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and speak with them regularly about appropriate viewing behaviour etc. – all part of being responsible as a parent in helping them develop as digital citizens, (as opposed to instigating a ban on such behaviour, for instance).

Concerns about what can be viewed on YouTube are not mine alone, of course. I am confronted by similar questions in most schools I visit and in discussions with other parents. The message is obviously something that the good folks at Google Education have taken on board, where they have devised an interactive curriculum aimed at supporting teachers of secondary students (approximately ages 13-17). The curriculum helps educate students on topics including:

  • YouTube’s policies
  • How to report content on YouTube
  • How to protect their privacy online
  • How to be responsible YouTube community members
  • How to be responsible digital citizens

These cyber citizenship video lessons complement a range of other resources produced by the team at Google Education, aimed at promoting responsible use and behaviour online. 

They'd be a useful resource to be used in conjunction with the Digital Citizenship Guidelines for Teachers developed collaboratively by a group of NZ educators and made available on WikiEducator.

Managing your online reputation

We often hear complaints about what students say and do online, but we often neglect to look into educators helping them manage their online reputation. With the rise of use of social media among teachers, both personally and professionally, there is a growing need for educators to be engaging in thinking about the implications for our online reputation in terms of what we post, how we post, and in what forums we post etc.

This info-graphic on Lisa Nielson's blog provides a useful summary of key points for consideration that could be used as the focal point of a staff discussion, or modified to use with students as well. 

This info-graphic could be used effectively to stimulate discussion to support what is presented in the recently released social media guidelines for teachers by the NZ Teachers Council.

As the year draws to a close and planning is underway for 2013, I'd be encouraging all school leaders to be planning to incorporate some discussions around this topic in staff meetings and PD events. 

Social Media Guidelines for Teachers

On the Thursday evening at ULearn I attended the launch of the Teachers and Social Media website, developed by the NZ Teachers Council. Illustrated at right are Alison McAlpine (Chair of the Teachers Council) addressing the group, and TC director, Dr Peter Lind.

I've had the privilege of working with this group over the past 6 months as the guidelines were put together, and am very pleased with the result. As the use of social media is increasing among both students and staff in schools, it has become abundantly clear that such guidelines are required. The challenge has been in balancing the two perspectives on their use. On the one hand, there has been a lot of inappropriate use reported both privately and publicly, leading some to want to focus more on the 'don'ts' and rules. On the other hand there are many examples of where social media, used appropriately, is re-shaping the experiences of many in terms of making and maintaining connections with others in ways that support learning. 

In the end I believe we've come up with the right balance in the guidlelines, aligning them strongly with the Teachers Council Code of Ethics for teachers, and so emphasising the matter of responsible and ethical use, rather than a set of concrete rules or guidelines. 

In each of the sections there is a short animated movie that has been created to be used as a starter for discussions with teachers (and students) – such as the one below from the section on commitment to learners. These videos illustrate the approach advocated by these guidelines – that is, one of dialogue and community-driven decision making. I look forward to seeing how they are used in schools around the country. 

Commitment to Learners from New Zealand Teachers Council on Vimeo.



Digital Citizenship Guidelines for Teachers

On Wednesday afternoon at ULearn I had the privilege of attending the launch of a set of guidelines for teachers on Digital Citizenship. The launch was held, very appropriately, at the National Library's Auckland Service Centre, a wonderfully 'future-focused' building reflecting how libraries and learning should be approaching the 21st century!

The story of how these guidelines were created was recounted by project initiator, Claire Amos (centre above), currently (but not for long) the eLearning director at Epsom Girl's Grammar School. Claire spoke about how she, in her role as eLearning director, felt she needed to have such a set of guidelines in place for her staff, but that on her own, and within the limit of her own resources, wasn't able to fully bring them together.

That's when the idea of initiating a 'community' approach to developing the guidelines was initiated – with an email sent around a mailing list subscribed to by many like-minded people. The initial idea was to co-create the guidelines using a simple Google-doc and Google-sites, but after a strong push by one of the key contributors, Mark Osborne (pictured left above) to ensure that the guidelines were developed in an 'open source' manner and available to all from the outset, the decision was made to development in Wikieducator, under a Creative Commons license. 

The result is an impressively useful and practical set of guidelines that is organised into sections for primary, intermediate and secondary teachers, and contains everything from simple definitions to practical advice and guidance that has been borne out of the experience of those working in schools with students. 

I applaud this initiative and recommend the guidelines to every school/teacher. 

Critical thinking about conspiracy theories

It's always useful to find resources that can be used to promote a combination of critical thinking, cyber-citizenship, research and history (to name a few). The following resource came to me via Learning Times, and provides some material that I'm sure could be used very creatively in classrooms: 

Conspiracy Theories in Aerospace History
A lesson in Critical Thinking for the Internet Age

You can't believe everything you read on the Internet. How do you evaluate the reliability of online information?

Check out the conference archives from this National Air and Space Museum interactive online conference developed especially for teachers and secondary students. Historians and educators from the Museum, and guests from the Department of the Navy and National History Day, demonstrate critical thinking skills they use to evaluate information.

Four major events in aerospace history that have captured people's imagination and given rise to speculation and conspiracy theories were discussed:

  1. Thinking Critically – Apollo Moon Landings
  2. Thinking Critically – Amelia Earhart‚s Disappearance
  3. Thinking Critically – UFOs
  4. Thinking Critically – Attack on Pearl Harbor

Find the exciting FREE conference recordings here.

Who are the millenials?

I’m always interested in some of the trends and perspectives shared by those who are researching the  characteristics of the emerging generations – amid the positioning and argument, there are areas of agreement that the youngsters of today are growing up in quite a different world to what existed for my generation, and as a consequence, there are likely to be things that differentiate the way they think and act, reflecting a different set of values, expectations and aspirations among this group.

The term ‘millennials‘ (also known as Generation Y) has been coined to broadly describe those who are growing as the young adults as we enter the 21st century – and co-incidentally, includes all 5 five of my children! The infographic posted by Ethan Bloch of Flowtown shown on the left provides a very easy way to access information about the characteristics of this group – and the emerging understandings we have about their demographic from an international perspective. The section on Millennials and technology, including the data on attitudes to technology, and sources of news and information provide an indication of where some of these differences are.

On the same topic, Pew Internet have released a new report titled Millennials will Make Online Sharing in Networks a Lifelong Habit, in which their researchers have interviewed a number of experts who say that the advantages Millennials see in personal disclosure will outweigh their concerns about their privacy. The experts interviewed generally believe that today’s tech-savvy young people, who are known for enthusiastically embracing social networking, will retain their willingness to share personal information online even as they get older and take on more responsibilities. You can read the report here. (PDF download)

Youth and safety online

Online safety and issues of Cyber-citizenship are big issues in almost every discussion I participate in at the moment. Concerns about the behaviour of young people in open, social networking environments arise at every level – from early childhood through to tertiary.

Too often the responses made come from a position of fear and ignorance, with a dependence on rigid filtering and regimes of blocking sites considered inappropriate. While such actions are not necessarily inappropriate, they will achieve little in the long run without a comprehensive educative approach, focusing on the development of understandings and competencies that will ultimately equip the young people in our charge with the dispositions they require to make informed and appropriate choices for themselves – rather than depending on ‘someone else’ to make the decisions for them.

With this in mind I was interested today to read Adam Thierer’s post about the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG) who have just released a final report to Congress entitled, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet.”

Thierer was a member of the 30-person working group, and says in his post…

Generally speaking, we concluded that there is no silver-bullet technical solution to online child safety concerns. Instead – and again in agreement with previous research and task force reports – we have concluded that a diverse toolbox and a “layered approach” must be brought to bear on these problems and concerns. Here’s how we put it in the report:

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all, once-and-for-all solution to providing children with every aspect of online child safety. Rather, it takes a comprehensive “toolbox” from which parents, educators, and other safety providers can choose tools appropriate to children’s developmental stages and life circumstances, as they grow. That toolbox needs to include safety education, “parental control” technologies such as filtering and monitoring, safety features on connected devices and in online services, media ratings, family and school policy, and government policy. In essence, any solution to online safety must be holistic in nature and multi-dimensional in breadth.
  • To youth, social media and technologies are not something extra added on to their lives; they’re embedded in their lives. Their offline and online lives have converged into one life. They are socializing in various environments, using various digital and real-life “tools,” from face-to-face gatherings to cell phones to social network sites, to name just a few.
  • Because the Internet is increasingly user-driven, with its “content” changing in real-time, users are increasingly stakeholders in their own well-being online. Their own behavior online can lead to a full range of experiences, from positive ones to victimization, pointing to the increasingly important role of safety education for children as well as their caregivers. The focus of future task forces therefore needs to be as much on protective education as on protective technology.
  • The Internet is, in effect, a “living thing,” its content a constantly changing reflection not only of a constantly changing humanity but also its individual and collective publications, productions, thoughts, behaviors, and sociality.

The whole report is worth a read. It includes a useful definition of youth online safety that includes four areas of focus;

  • Physical safety – freedom from physical harm
  • Psychological safety – freedom from cruelty, harassment, and exposure to potentially
    disturbing material
  • Reputational and legal safety – freedom from unwanted social, academic,
    professional, and legal consequences that could affect users for a lifetime
  • Identity, property, and community safety – freedom from theft of identity & property

The reports from the individual sub-committees provide an interesting insight into each of these, and an overview of the sorts of things we ought to be considering – rather than simply finding ourselves “reacting” to particular events or concerns.

The answer lies in education – with the appropriate use of preventative strategies where necessary.

Online identity and our digital footprint

The blogosphere and discussion lists have been running hot in recent weeks as people have begun grappling with the implications of Facebook’s sweeping new privacy policies and their controversial new default and permanent settings. The concerns appear to have had some effect, with a recent statement from Facebook’s Public Policy Director that the company will release simple privacy settings in the coming weeks.

The argument is between those (like Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg) who assert that the world has changed, that it’s become more public and less private – and others who believe that privacy is still important. It’s a debate that will no doubt continue for some time yet, but certainly has enormous implications for schools, where student privacy is an everyday concern for a whole variety of reasons.

When it comes to online privacy concerns there are a number of things schools can do from a technology perspective (such as filtering, blocking, monitoring etc.), however, the best approach is to do what they do best and EDUCATE students about the issues involved, and MODEL and TEACH appropriate ways of dealing with this.

This sounds straight forward, but isn’t as easy as it sounds, as it would appear from the evidence in a recent PEW internet report that the worst offenders in terms of managing their online identity are those in the age group that are teaching our young people – not the students themselves. The PEW report is based on the findings of a daily tracking survey on Americans’ use of the Internet, with data from telephone interviews conducted among a sample of 2,253 adults, 18 and older.

Those ages 18-29 are more likely than older adults to say:

  • They take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online — 44% of young adult internet users say this, compared with 33% of internet users between ages 30-49, 25% of those ages 50-64 and 20% of those age 65 and older.
  • They change privacy settings — 71% of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. By comparison, just 55% of SNS users ages 50-64 have changed the default settings.
  • They delete unwanted comments — 47% social networking users ages 18-29 have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29% of those ages 30-49 and 26% of those ages 50-64.
  • They remove their name from photos — 41% of social networking users ages 18-29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged to identify them, compared with just 24% of SNS users ages 30-49 and only 18% of those ages 50-64.

Seems we’ve got our work cut out for us if we’re to truly embrace the concept of cyber-citizenship in our schools, as  key competency/disposition for our students when they leave our schools. The PEW report is a useful reminder that it becomes difficult to teach what we don’t know, and that in the case of online privacy, the things we teach should be congruent with the behaviours we practice and model. I think there’s a strong case for a concerted professional development approach here, with support at a strategic and policy level. Problem here is that our policy makers are in that same age category.

The full PEW Internet report is available here (PDF download)