Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are You Teaching Cybersafety?

Remember “To Catch a Predator” -- the Dateline NBC reality show that dragged purported pedophiles out of the woodwork (or the Web-world) and exposed them to the television-watching world through hidden camera confrontations at what the predators thought were going to be assignations with willing Lolitas? Remember the nearly nightly news shows and articles and special reports warning parents, teachers, and young people of the legions of pedophiles who were lurking online and conspiring to meet our vulnerable young people in real time? Whatever happened to those constant clamoring warnings?

Have the predators all been prosecuted? Have our young people become invulnerable? Have we lost interest? Has cybersafety become a non-issue? Or have we simply abandoned sensationalism for realistic and sensible cyber-education in our schools and in our homes?

One might hope that the latter is true. A report on Internet safety instruction in K-12 schools recently released by the National Computer Security Alliance brings that hope into question, however. The 2010 State of K-12 Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum in the U.S. Survey found that “more than three quarters of U.S. teachers have spent fewer than six hours on any type of professional development education related to cyberethics, cybersafety, and cybersecurity within the last 12 months; more than 50 percent of teachers reported their school districts do not require these subjects as curriculum; and only 35 percent taught proper online conduct.” In addition, “only 27 percent of teachers taught about the safe use of social networks, only 18 percent taught about scams, fraud, and social engineering, and only 19 percent taught about safe passwords in the past 12 months. Additionally, 32 percent of teachers indicated they had not taught cyberethics, and 44 percent had not taught cybersafety or cybersecurity.”

In short, the survey found that most of our young people aren’t receiving the instruction they need to use digital technology responsibly and to navigate cyberspace safely, and that most teachers are not trained to address those subjects.

If you’re one of those teachers -- or parents -- interested in teaching cybersafety to your kids, but unsure where to find the resources you need, check out some of these sites:

Safe Kids, operated by technology journalist Larry Magid, is one of the Web’s oldest digital safety sites, providing lots and lots of teacher-friendly information about Internet safety, sexting, cell phones safety, cyber bullying, social networking, and more. Also check out Larry’s Safe Teens (where “teens and their parents learn safe, civil and responsible use of the Internet”), and Connect Safely (for social-media safety resources for parents, educators, and teens).

The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, operated by Nancy Willard, is another venerable site, that provides a great deal of free cyber-safety information for educators. In addition, Nancy will be making available throughout 2010 a set of (reasonably priced) professional resources in the form of downloadable video presentations and associated handouts on cyber-safety for professional development and classroom instruction.

Cyber Smart, another veteran in the world of digital education, addresses online safety from a clear educational perspective – “fostering 21st century skills to increase student engagement and prepare students to achieve in today's digital society.” Resources include online workshops, a student curriculum, and an educator’s toolbar.

Common Sense Media offers a great deal of media information, reviews, and resources to help families and educators make good choices for kids. Check out their article on Facebook Alternatives for Kids, for example.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection provides several useful sites, including Text.ed, an interactive Web site designed to teach teens and ‘tweens how to be safe and responsible users of texting technologies; Kids in the Know, and Respect Yourself.

OnGuard Online provides practical tips on online safety from federal and technology industry sources. Be sure to check out Netcetera, a free cybersafety publication for parents and teachers.

Online Safety is a list of six online safety rules from FEMA for Kids.

A Thin Line is a digital safety education resource from MTV.

Project Pro, from AT&T and the American School Counselor Association, offers tutorials and a curriculum matrix for digital citizenship.

Have I missed any? If so, please click Comment to add your favorites to the list.

There are real dangers online -- just as there are real dangers offline. And the kids who are vulnerable are the kids who are unprepared to deal with those dangers. Don’t let those be your kids.

Need an excuse to get started? March 7-13 is Teen Tech Week -- a national initiative sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association. The purpose of the initiative is to ensure that teens are competent and ethical users of technologies, especially those that are offered through libraries. Let’s celebrate by giving our kids the tools they need to stay safe digitally.

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