Internet Safety - Teachable Moments Before "It's Already Out There"

Internet Safety aImage by paul.klintworth via Flickr
Yesterday, I participated in a panel titled "Does My Teenager Need Help?" Since I was representing the technology side of things, my first thought as to how parents and teachers would answer that question was "No, my child/student knows more about technology than I do." Although that may be the case for discussing the latest trends in gadgets and gaming, Rushton Hurley astutely pointed out in his keynote at ICE, "students simply do a better job of hiding what they don't know."

So let's take a look at areas where our students may indeed be lacking in knowledge.  These areas may include digital citizenship, Internet etiquette (or "netiquette"), cyber-bullying, and plagiarism. Together, teachers and parents can identify teachable moments in and out of the classroom. For example, teachers may use the popular site to discuss, reveal, and check for plagiarism. Parents can discuss the dangers of sexting by referencing current events when a certain quarterback named Brett Favre got himself into trouble during the season. We can all play a part in developing our students and since the digital arena is constantly evolving, it is imperative that we make sure our students can adapt to the changing rules as well.

Of course, for many students, the first site that they will likely visit is Facebook (when they're not texting each other). Facebook certainly has its benefits, and it may be a losing battle to try to prevent students from using the site. However, teachers and parents can still strive to discuss some of the inherent issues when dealing with a social networking site that can quickly make mountains out of molehills. Students often don't hesitate to trust their Facebook friends, and a viewing of the film Catfish may help convince them to be a bit more critical of who they meet and how they interact with their Facebook friends.

There is a double-edged sword when using sites such as Facebook. On one hand, we encourage our students to be contributors to the Internet. The idea of Web 2.0 is that users interact - we become active learners, sharing and collaborating - as opposed to passive consumers of static content. We want students to build online portfolios, craft well designed resumes and create mashups and media samples on sites such as Animoto. However, we also need to warn and educate students about the possible dangers of having all of this information out there for public consumption. We need to stress that students are aware of what is being said and shared about them. TIP #1: Google yourself. What is being written about you? What images are posted of you without your consent. TIP #2: Want to be notified of when something is written about you? Set up a Google Alert.

I ended my contribution with a mention of a scene from the film When Harry Met Sally. After Harry's unsuccessful attempt to ask Sally out, he suggests that he retract his comments and they simply move past it. To which she says, "You can't take it back. It's already out there." The same statement applies with any sort of online interaction nowadays.  The moment I press the Publish Post button for this entry, all of the words written here will be "out there." Regardless of if I delete it a minute later, there is a chance (slim, I know) that someone read it and has copy/pasted, forwarded, downloaded, Tweeted, and quoted it somewhere else.  It's already out there.

For more grade specific resources on Internet Safety, there are several useful links and handouts available from the Illinois Attorney General's site.

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