Archive for the ‘Common Sense Media’ Category

The Digital Gaffe

There is no shortage of resources to tap into to address and teach digital citizenship to students these days.  Not a day passes when a headline does not jump off the front pages of the news that stirs and disturbs the notion of safe, smart, and civil engagement online.

From UCLA student Alexandra Wallace’s ill-timed, insensitive rant on You Tube, in which she slammed Asian-American students for talking on their cell phones in the UCLA library, in the wake of the devastating news of the Japan earthquake, to the front page New York Times article about the viral cell phone picture of an 8th grade female student, to the Israeli government demanding that Facebook remove an incendiary Facebook group that fanned the flames of extremism, it is frankly not possible to escape the perils and challenges of living in the digital age.

As educators and parents, how are we to address this deluge with kids?

Well, we can’t turn the other way, and hope that the digital gaffe will disappear.  It won’t.

But where is the space where kids can wrestle with and talk through the complexity of these issues, without fear of reprisal and punishment?

First, parents need to create a safe space at home for open conversation to happen.  When confronted with digital missteps by their kids, parents need to remain calm, catch their breath, and avoid visceral responses.

Second, schools need to talk with kids about digital citizenship.

Schools need to make judicious use of Advisory programs, social and emotional learning, history, civics, and writing classes to provide opportunities for dialogue to occur in smaller settings with a genuine back and forth about the subtle and blatant problems that emerge with ill-advised technology use.  Kids also need to feel that adults will listen to and identify with the challenges kids face with media.

As these lessons and discussions take place, schools need to communicate with parents to help continue the conversation in the home.  This can happen through follow-up letters and resources sent home to parents, or through parent education evenings, where parents can share and strategize about how to handle the online environment at home.

Schools and parents need to work together to build and maintain an above ground culture with kids.  When an incident arises, schools need to approach the student and family to work with them to help resolve the situation, in partnership.  As we all know, particularly with technology, information travels with speed. It is critical to help kids figure out ways to reorient situations that start to arise.  Schools need to take the time to talk through scenarios and think out loud with kids the steps needed to reach successful outcomes. Kids cannot do this alone and need the help and guidance of teachers and parents.

As a response to Alexandra Wallace’s YouTube rant, Jimmy Wong, an Asian-American, flipped Wallace’s rant on its head with a catchy ditty “Ching Chong” that went viral and “leveled the playing field”, as writer Dave Pell shared on NPR. “Sometimes it’s about being smarter, funnier or more creative,” Pell writes.

Not every kid will have the tools to invert a digital gaffe, in the way Wong did, but every kid needs and deserves the space to voice and devise an antidote to digital gaffes. And the last thing parents and educators want is for kids to go underground, and have to do figure out solutions to the digital gaffe on their own.

In The New York Times, in an article titled, Erasing the Digital Past, Michael Fertik of Reputation.com, highlights the stakes of posting online:  “The Internet has become the go-to resources to destroy someone’s life online, which in turn means their offline life gets turned upside, too. We’ve reached a point where the Internet has become so complicated, vast and fast-paced, that people can’t control it by themselves anymore. They now need an army of technologists to back them up online.”

Kids don’t have the good fortune of having an “army of technologists to back them up online”, and they can’t pay services like Reputation.com to guard their online identities. But kids can expect that the adults in their lives are the go to people when they make or experience a digital gaffe.

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Check out my letter in The New York Times on children and social media.

From The New York Times:

LETTER: Children and Social Media

A response to an article about children creating fake identities online.

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Check out my letter in the New York Times, published last Sunday, December 12th. It’s in response to As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up.

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Check out my interview with Steve Hargadon on the Future of Education.

View the Elluminate Live! recording

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Read my guest article for Common Sense Media:  Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying in Schools.

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The decision of Duke University graduate Karen Owens to write a “mock” thesis, in which she analyzed the sexual performance of 13 student-athletes with whom she shared a sexual encounter, reveals poor decision-making, a lack of awareness of the viral nature of the Internet, and a failure to understand privacy.

In an article in the New York Times, Duke University student body president Mike Lefevre captures how confusing the issue of privacy is, as he explains his reaction to the decision of Karen Owens to post:  “Should we be more worried about the young woman’s privacy or worry about the individuals who were named? It’s not so clear to us who was the victim, and who we should reach out to.”

The Duke incident comes on the heels of the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death off of the George Washington Bridge, as a result of his private life being exposed through Twitter and Facebook.

There are growing concerns about privacy and whether young people (teens, college students, recent college graduates) understand the implications and repercussions of privacy.  These two recent events signal the need for serious work to be done in homes and schools.

In the same New York Times article, Lee Rainie, who heads the Pew Internet and American Life project, notes:

“All the world’s a stage in the Internet age. This is just the latest of a long list of examples of how things that are often meant for small, private audiences have innumerable opportunities to become public events, because once they have left the creators’ screen, they can be shared, forwarded and posted.”

Common Sense Media, a national non-profit based in San Francisco, just released a study about privacy, as part of its “Protect Our Privacy – Protect Our Kids” campaign.

Key findings include:

75% of parents said they would “rate the job that social networks are doing to protect children’s online privacy as negative” and,

“92 percent of parents are concerned that kids share too much information online, and 85 percent of parents say they’re more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago.”

It’s not the job of social networks to protect privacy, it’s the job of parents and schools to make sure kids understand the “public by default” nature of posting and sharing online.  Kids do share online, but, as Microsoft researcher danah boyd has documented, kids are more concerned about privacy than we might think.

Parents should be plugged in to privacy concerns, but the question is what are they to do about it.  Waiting until high school or late middle school is too late to initiate conversations about privacy.  These dialogues should start in elementary school so privacy discussions become part of the home.  Like with sex education, the last thing parents want is for someone else to be the first to have “the talk” with their kids.

Moments arise all the time to chip away at helping kids understand and think about privacy. Yes, it would be great if social networking companies got on board in thinking about kids and privacy, but it is the hard work of parents and schools to make sure a culture of open discussion and education exists. Parents and schools can’t let their kids go underground.

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Check out my op-ed for Education Week.  Averting Tragedy in a Digital World.

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Check out my interview about the book with Erin Reilly of New Media Literacies.


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Google has opened up its Family Center site, replete with tools for keeping kids safe and safeguarded from objectionable content.  There are video tips from parents, advice about how to protect children from cyberbullying and stranger danger, and safety tools to implement.  Advice from Google’s partners in the project – Common Sense Media, The Center for Media Literacy, and OnGuard Online, to name a few – focus on privacy, passwords, and parental controls, and what to do scenarios.  These are all valuable tools to have at your disposal as a parent, but there might be a different approach to take here.

Google could set up a fun family center with projects on how to introduce kids to the array of tools Google offers, from Picasa and photo sharing, to Google News Alerts, to Reader, to Gmail, to custom search engines, to chat.  Wouldn’t it be great if families started to use Google tools together to then have discussions about privacy and sharing?

By starting from a place of fear, Google sets up families to enter into use of its tools with a walled mindset.  As with any topic, it’s critical to place lessons in context, instead of set apart and out of context. And, it’s important to balance safety with excitment about learning how to use Google tools as smartly and efficiently as possible.

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Interesting article in The New York Times on the perils of plagiarism in the digital age and how hard it is to create and sustain a positive learning culture around intellectual ownership.  The whole concept of mash-ups blurs the lines for students, and the speed and ease with which they can pull information, music, and video clips complicates their ability to pause, reflect, and consider intellectual ownership before remixing.

It’s critical to establish the building blocks of intellectual ownership from an early age.  Common Sense Media will soon release another strand of its digital citizenship curriculum entitled, “Respecting Creative Work.”

As quoted in The New York Times, Notre Dame anthropologist Susan D. Blum frames the essential quandary for schools:  “Today’s students stand at the crossroads of a new way of conceiving texts and the people who create them and who quote them,” excerpted from her book My Word! Plagiarism and the College Culture.

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