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EdTech Update





Fear mongering

Cyber-safety expert, Nancy Willard posted this on LM_Net recently and has given me permission to post it on the Blue Skunk as well. Money in fear. Tell me it isn't so...

I just got back from a trip to the east coast. I presented a full day workshop on cyberbullying in Rochester NY (275+ folks) and then a briefing that was supposed to be for congressional staff in DC, but was attended by the DC policy wonks, not staff. Then two presentations at a conference in Maryland.

EVERY place I went there was evidence of incredible Internet fear mongering!

A lady in Rochester said a FBI agent presented on Internet safety in Buffalo and said social networking sites are so horrible no teen should be using these sites.

At the briefing, the Representative, Rep Bean, who has a pretty good bill pending, said that predators are tracking down teens from the personal information they are posting online and sneaking into their room at night. NO evidence this is occurring! Teens are going to meet with these guys – and need to address this situation. But we have to do so based on the facts. I have been involved in this field for over 12 years and I have never seen one news report of an Internet predator who has tracked down and abducted a teen. I will not say “never will happen” but there is no current evidence
that this is occurring. And the news WOULD report this if it were.

Maryland State Police told the audience folks that 1 in 7 young people are sexually solicited online and (horrors) they are not reporting this to adults! This is based on 2005 data. The study did not even ask about social networking sites. Most of the inappropriate contacts were in chat rooms, which are far more dangerous than social networking sites. 43% of the solicitations came from other teens and 30% came from folks who self-identified as 18 to 25, so you know damned well that this also included lots of teens. Only 9% from folks identified as adults over 25. Of concern! But what were the teens doing in these places in the first place. 16% of the sexual solicitations came from females and it appears that most of them were under 18. So more female teens soliciting sex online than dirty old men. Teens responded to the situations by leaving the site, blocking the person, telling the person to stop, or ignoring the person. Some are telling friends. Most are not telling adults. Why did they not tell adults? Because “it was not serious enough!” They had it under control.

The IKeepSafe who are now partnering with DARE – the “just say no” program that has been proven time and time again to be totally ineffective! - and have their cute little Faux Paws cat telling kids not to talk with or go to meet with online strangers. Well for one, these materials are aimed at elementary students and there is no evidence predators are targeting them. Second, if we have 8 year olds hopping a bus to meet an online stranger at the mall, there are some pretty significant family problems to begin with. But we do have 8 year olds waddling around Club Penguin in their little penguin avatars talking with online strangers. And they are perfectly SAFE! Stranger danger messages ARE NOT EFFECTIVE! We know this. We have to help ALL young people learn to recognize the signs of a dangerous stranger.

I presented on cyberbullying in both locations. Cyberbullying is causing more kids far more harm than sexual predation. Some kids are being emotionally devastated, can’t go to school, some are even committing suicide. But the last thing you are ever going to hear me say is “Social networking is bad. Young people are being cyberbullied on social networking sites and through instant messaging. Keep them off these technologies."

newbook.jpgWhat is the other major reason teens are not telling adults??? Because adults are running about screaming “the sky is falling - social networking is evil” and teens, most of whom are making pretty good choices online, think we are all nuts. But the even bigger problem is that sometimes they really do get into difficult situations and they really do need to share that something bad is happening online. And the fear mongering is getting in the way of this. They pretty much know that adults are being primed to overreact and will. They know adults do not understand and fear this environment - and they are pretty sure the adults will not know what to do or will make matters worse. Or that adults will restrict their access, like the FBI advises. Which for teens is akin to excommunication. So we are leaving them to deal with difficult situations on their own.

And do not get me started on the state AG’s plan to fix all of these problems by requiring sites to do age verification. AGH!!!

Be prepared. I am going to have to become more politically vocal on these issues. The fear mongering is undermining the kinds of relationships we need with kids to help them stay safe and learn to make safe and responsible choices. The biggest thing we have to fear about the Internet right now is the fear mongering itself. (roughly quoting someone ;-))

Oh, part of this is also financial. They all want money - federal $$ - to support their fear mongering programs.
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use

Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social
Aggression, Threats, and Distress (Research Press)

Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the
Internet Safely and Responsibly (Jossey-Bass)

Thanks, Nancy. Good stuff and keep up the good work. Watch for Nancy new guide to Cyberbulling for parents coming to her website soon. She sent me an advanced copy and it is very good.

Due diligence

Filter.jpgNot one of those who sigh or are critical of filtering decisions has their job on the line should Johnny access inappropriate content. Would those who are frustrated sit beside me in court or defend me in the court of public opinion? They certainly would not have to sit in the principal's office and explain to the sobbing mother who is clutching her book of faith. Kurt Paccio, Filtering Dilemma, Tech Ruminations.

I find Kurt's comment worrisome. (First, go read the entire post for context.) How many tech or IT directors have taken on the entire burden of making sure no student in their district finds anything disturbing on the Internet? I'll bet more than a few.

If schools are relying on filters (and tech staff) alone to protect students from inappropriate content, I hope the superintendent gets canned rather than the IT director. But both ought to know better. If Kurt has promised that his filter by itself keeps kids safe or if his administrator has the expectation that he will keep kids safe by filtering alone, both ought to find other work.

(Oh, my remarks are about public schools. I have no issues with religious or private schools in regard how or if  they choose to filter.)

Why you can't rely on filters:

1. Kids get around them. 

A 16-year old boy speedily found a way around a new porn filter provided by the Australian government's NetAlert internet safety initiative. Tom Wood, a student in a Melbourne private school, told media outlets that it took him just over 30 minutes to bypass the filter, either the Spanish Optenet product or the American Safe Eyes filter. His technique kept the filter's toolbar icon in place, fooling parents or teachers into thinking the software was still working. ... After NetAlert officials discovered the bypass, they installed an Australian-made filter called Integard, which Wood promptly disabled in another 40 minutes.American Libraries, October 2007, p 42.

This is not an unusual circumstance. Check out SchoolBoredom.dom. Look up old Playboy websites using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Students can circumvent filters by:
•    Disabling stand-alone software through simple keyboard combinations.
•    Using specialized software such as that available from Peacefire's website.
•    Changing a browser’s proxy to an unfiltered site.
•    Using an anonymizer like Akamai.
•    Logging into the filtering server using a default administrator’s password if not disabled

2. Filters are not 100%. Studies, like those of the Electronic Freedom Foundation (2003) that examined nearly a million web pages, should fuel Kurt's concern. The researchers found the following:

  • For every web page blocked as advertised, blocking software blocks one or more web pages inappropriately. 97-99% of the web pages blocked were done so using non-standard, discretionary, and potentially illegal criteria beyond what is required by CIPA.
  • Internet blocking software was not able to detect and protect students from access to many of the apparently pornographic sites that appeared in search results related to state-mandated curriculums.

Another study conducted by the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School (JAMA, 2002) examined how well seven Internet filters blocked health information for teens at settings from least restrictive to very restrictive.  They found that at the least restrictive setting only 1.4% of the health information sites were blocked and 87% of the pornography sites were blocked. At the most restrictive setting, 24% of the health information sites were blocked with still only 91% of the pornography sites blocked.

3. Kids have access to un-filtered Internet access outside of school. We are totally derelict if we don't tech kids how to navigate and discriminate sites that are not appropriate for them. There is wide-open access at the coffee shop, at the public library, at their buddies' homes, and through their cell phones that have data access.

As in so many areas of student safetly, I will practice due diligence. I will take what steps I can and that are reasonable to protect kids. But I cannot guarantee anyone will never see a nekk'd body on the web from a school computer. Bad things will happen to kids and teachers despite our best efforts. Any individual's control is limited. Do what you can and sleep well.

We make it very clear that filters will not keep kids completely out of harm's way and that teachers need to monitor kids' use just as diligently as if there were no filters at all. And we teach kids not to click on links that look suspicious. The responsibility is shared for appropriate use - as it well should be. You'd like the approach, Kurt. Give it a shot.

Oh, I wonder what "the sobbing mother who is clutching her book of faith" was sobbing about? Access to information about evolution, gay rights, family planning or the Wiccan religion? I have yet to see a kid harmed by simply reading or seeing anything on the Internet. And heaven forbid we expand their minds with different points of view.


Off to Orlando tomorrow to speak at the FAME conference and take my grandson (and his mom and my son) to DisneyWorld for a few days. As much as I would like to dislike DisneyWorld, my stupid grin starts the moment I walk through the gates and doesn't leave the entire time I am there. Yes, it does feel like a giant mouse picks one up by the ankles and shakes until it has one's very last nickel, but what the heck. I'm taking my camera so be warned!



Why I love tech-using kids

A recent note from one of our techs to her staff...

Many of you who have new computers have mentioned to me that strange messages [most of which were not very nice] are showing up when you are displaying from your computer to a smartboard or a screen.  This is occurring because your computer has a technology called Bluetooth active on the computer.  Students can then use their cell phones or PDAs or any technology with bluetooth on to send messages to your computer which are then displayed to your screen or smartboard.

To turn off Bluetooth:...

Reminds me of an incident from a few years ago when televisions in one of our schools at seemingly random intervals turned off and changed channels. We took them into the shop, called the electrician, etc. Eventually we discovered that a kid had a watch with a built in TV remote.

And all we had were spitwads.