Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Who's Job Is It?

Parry received a letter after being quoted in an article in Parade magazine. She Cc.ed me and I had to add my own response. Here's the letter and my response.

Dear Parry,

As a school district technology coordinator, I was disappointed in the misguided advice you present related to the Facebook bullying scenario. While we go to great lengths to educate our students on cyber-bullying, what happens on Facebook does not fall under the coverage of school policies. Obviously, if a page is brought to a teacher or administrator's attention, it will be dealt with appropriately, meaning the parents will be contacted. But expecting schools to police what all of their students do outside of the buildings on their own devices is not reasonable or legal. Would you ask a teacher to intervene in a fight between two neighborhood children that happens at 7:00 at night? Of course not. Unless the bullying happens at school, on school computers or causes a disruption in the educational process, the parents, or police, should be handling this. Your advice is unfortunate because it is another example of basic parental responsibilities being shifted to the school's (already full) list of duties.

John Doe (Name changed by me)


Dear John,

I’ve been an educator for 35 years. I first came across cyberbullying in 1981. No, I’m not crazy. I know the Internet wasn’t even around then, but dial up computer bulletin board systems were, and our school had the state’s first school sponsored BBS. I’ve learned quite a bit since then. One of the things I learned is that kids who are being bullied online are usually also being bullied in school. I’ve also learned that teachers and administrators can’t police students anywhere near as effectively as students can.

I don’t think Parry expects schools to police Facebook, but the fact of the matter is that if an incident on Facebook is brought to the attention of the school, it is probably for good reason. I would be willing to bet my pay check that the bullying that is taking place there, is just an off shoot of bullying that takes place in school.

You ask if we would expect a teacher to intervene between two neighborhood kids who have a fight outside of school at 7:00 at night. Well, the obvious answer is, of course not, but there is also a not so obvious answer. I would expect the teacher to intervene if they had knowledge during the school day that the fight would take place. How about, if the fight at 7:00 were to continue or escalate during school time the next day?

There is an alarming practice that is starting to show up more and more in schools. It is gang related instigation of fights. Gangs will use cyberbullying tactics to instigate fights between students. These incident are usually initiated online and designed to create a fight that takes place in school where there is an audience.

The simple fact is that there is almost ALWAYS an in-school component to cyberbullying. While no one expects schools to police Facebook (heck, Facebook has a hard enough time doing that), it isn’t unreasonable to expect schools to look into incidents that are reported to them, because they probably do have an in school component. Whether or not they meet the legal test for action, is something that has to be considered carefully before any punitive action is taken. However, even if substantial disruption is likely, punitive action isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Each case has to be judged on its own merits.

The landscape is changing rapidly and the distinction between in-school and out-of-school is being blurred. Policing and punishing is never an acceptable substitute for education and empowering students to do the right thing.

The school district in which I taught was called Southern Regional. In 1998, three students created a website called SouthernRegionalSucks.com . It was done outside of school, with their own computers. It quickly because popular. There was actually some decent parody, but some of the forums were ugly and hateful. It was obvious that we could make a case for substantial disruption and take action, but that wasn’t my recommendation. I simply asked that they administration allow me to see what I could do.

What I did was engage the students in dialog right on their own site. I offered to find them a teacher sponsor to help them develop quality parody. I gave constructive criticism on the sites layout and design. I pointed out typos and spelling errors. I was teaching Internet Basics and my approach was to develop civic responsibility and empower students to make a difference in their world. As part of the class, we visited the site and discussed it. Some of my students added to the parodies and others stuck up for those who were being bullied. By not reacting the way the students expected and by making their attempt at disruption, a part of the mainstream, interest in the site died within two weeks and the site disappeared entirely not much later.

We developed a school community that was based on dialog, education, and youth empowerment. The positives that came out of that were nothing short of amazing. Of course there were cases where punishment was necessary. One student was arrested for credit card fraud and we even had a cyberbullying incident that involved a visit from the Secret Service, but we found those incidents few and far between. For the most part, we empowered students to make a difference and taught them the power of positive online social action.

Oh, incidentally, the visit from the Secret Service was prompted by action a student took online from his own computer at night and didn’t even involve another student in our school. He was attempting to use cyberbullying by proxy to bully a student in another school.

If we wait until there is substantial disruption to act, we are forever in reactionary mode. We need to be proactive. We have to educate, model good online citizenship, promote positive online social activities, and empower students to take responsibility for making their online and off-line world a better place.

Best Regards,

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posted by Art @ 8:23 AM   4 comments

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Some People Just Don't Get It!

I recently read a comment to the effect that WiredSafety was nothing more than Parry Aftab and an annual summit in Washington, D.C. It wasn't the first time I heard it and won't be the last, but every time I hear it, I can't help but chuckle. Aside from being untrue, it just goes to illustrate just how little some people understand about the power of online collaboration.

To those who say it and don't really believe it, I simply say, "Shame on you."

To those who say it and actually believe it, I simply say, "Let me teach you!"

In 1995, I had the extreme good fortune of being a mentor in a 16 week summer project called the Online Internet Institute. It was the vision of Bonnie Bracey and Ferdi Serium. With some seed money from the NSF, the OII set out to come up with a way to scale up Internet professional development of educators.

After the 1995 National Education Computing convention, Bonnie and Ferdi gather a group of roughly 20 education luminaries to plan the project. They in turn gathered additional educators from around the world participated. We used an online database to form working teams based around the common needs and interests .

Our school district had just gotten Internet. I was charged with writing the curriculum and doing much of the professional development. I decided to gather a team to build a website that would be a Internet tutorial and the center of our professional development and curriculum for students. When it was over, not only would team members have access to the project, it would be made available to educators all over the world at no charge.

Had it not been for the OII and Internet, I would have been developing everything myself. As it turned out Susan Meyer, then of Princeton Regional HS, was in much the same boat as I. She became my partner in crime. We were joined by five other amazing educators from around the country. We also had commentary and critiques from leaders of other groups, such as Al Rogers, Andy Carvin, Margaret Honey, Jason Ravitz, Ferdi Serim, Bonnie Bracey, Hilarie Davis, Yvonne Andres, Kay Abernathy, Celia Einhorn, Betsy Frederick and others. If you don't know those names, just head on over to Google and check them out.

It was the most amazing 16 weeks I have ever spent. By the time school rolled around in September, our team had completed the web site and curriculum that would have been impossible for any individual to complete in such a short time.

It was truly greater than the sum of it's parts. We made the site downloadable and offered it to educators around the world. It was downloaded hundreds of times and over the next three years it was kept updated and distributed on about 2.5 million CDs. An archive of the site still exists at http://oii.org/cyberu/ .

So why am I telling you this and what does it have to do with WiredSafety? Well it's simple. Through online collaboration, we were able to assemble and tap into a quantity and quality of FREE talent that would have been impossible to assemble face to face, AT ANY PRICE, for 16 days, let alone 16 weeks.

That, my friends, is what online collaboration is all about, and that is what WiredSafety is all about! I've been a volunteer with WiredSafety since 1996. During that time, I've had the pleasure and the honor of working with some of the most dedicated, selfless, caring people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. We have built content and provided support, training, and assistance to tens of thousands of people at a cost that is equal to a drop in the bucket compared to other similar organizations who have done far less.

Some worked together on curriculum. Some built online learning. Some monitored chat rooms. Some provided one-to-one assistance. Others worked with law enforcement. Some present to schools and community groups.

We do is all from home. We work online. While I'm sleeping, Tim in the UK or Mary in Abu Dhabi are working. (Yes, they are real people!) We have people working 24-7-365, not for money, not for advancement, not for recognition, but for a cause we all believe in.

I won't kid you. It isn't always organized, it isn't always fun, and it isn't always easy, but it is always worth it.

I have worked with hundreds of the volunteers and probably thousand of teens. Most I have never met face-to-face. So when I hear folks saying that WiredSafety is little more than Parry Aftab and a once a year summit in D.C., I chuckle, because they just don't get it.

I started out with 16 weeks of OII as a model of excellence that testifies to the power of online collaboration and in a few month, I will have been with WiredSafety for 16 years of online collaboration that is equal testimony to what passionate dedicated people can do with a budget that wouldn't sustain a face to face operation for 16 days.

Parry is our symbol. Her vision, her dedication, and her energy inspire us and her once a year summit in D.C. is a peek at the work we are doing behind the scenes. See what these kids do and knowing that we've made a difference is all the reward or recognition we need. Most of us like it fine that way!

That my friends, is the power of online collaboration, and these are some shots I took two days ago at our once a year WiredKids Summit at the Russell Senate building.

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posted by Art @ 7:43 PM   2 comments

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Bullying and Rethinking the Human Narrative

Sir Ken Rogers is one of the world's leading proponents for changing the way schools educate. I've seen dozens of his videos and never cease to be inspired and motivated to continue the work I've undertaken for the past 40 years, namely to change schools. Today, thanks to him, new research on empathy and two animations from the Royal Society of the Arts, I came away with a significantly different view of a subject bullying, something that I have been struggling with for years.

I've often put a lot of blame on schools for the frequency of bullying, but that blame has been because I felt that schools lacked a systemic approach to the problem. Today, after viewing these two animations, I believe it is not simply because we lack a systemic approach to dealing with bullying. I believe that our entire system of education is largely to blame and if we were to change it based on Sir Ken's model, there would be a significant drop in bullying without doing anything different to directly address the issue.

The first animation I watched, thanks to zefrank.com. dealt with new brain research on things called mirror neurons and their function. Like some of the great leaps in science, the cells and their functions were discovered accidentally. Watch it yourself and think about the kind of light this research throws on bullying.

After you watch that, watch the animation of Sir Ken making his case for school change. Keeping the previous animation in your mind as you watch, ask yourself how the first animation can inform us on how to make the changes Sir Ken outline. Envison the end product of that process and ask, "How we get there from here?"

Royal Society for the Arts Animation - Empathetic Civilisation

Sir Ken Rogers - Changing Education Paradigms

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posted by Art @ 2:37 PM   2 comments

Friday, December 10, 2010

Empowering Youth to Make a Difference

Since 1995, WiredSafety has been empowering youth to make a difference. The Teenangels program trains teens over a two year period to become experts in cybersafety. They do original research and make presentations to schools, community, media, and industry to educate and inform. Last night at Dean College in Franklin, MA, the program took it’s next logical step with the help of WiredSafety Teenangel Mentors, Lisa Keohane, Sharon Jackson, and Linda Rondeau.

In early days of Teenangels, the teens received face to face training from Parry Aftab, local law enforcement, the FBI and industry experts, but that model wasn’t scalable and a few years ago we added Moodle as a way of providing lessons and resources to the growing chapters.

Teens learned about Cyberbullying, Social Networking, Sexual Predators, Netiquette, Privacy and Security, Cyberlaw, and how to present to others. With input from mentors and teens the program improved and grew and in 2009, Lisa Keohane, a parent and technology instructor from Dean College, after getting support from principals, administrators and the Franklin Community Health Council came to Parry with the idea of a community-wide chapter of Teenangels that spanned all of the schools in the district.

The chapter grew and a significant number of other students expressed a desire to become part of the program, but the two year commitment to training and research was not something that all the students could do. In order to accommodate these students, a new Moodle was created with condensed training and the first chapter of WiredTeens was formed.

Last night the 17 Teenangels collaborated with 65 WiredTeens to conduct a Town Meeting on the topic of Cyberbullying. The two hour program was written and conducted almost entirely by the teens.

Teenangel Booke, began the program with the welcome, some background on the Teenangels and an overview of resources on the tables, which included instructions on how to log into the college network and access resource they has placed on the taskforce web site. Many of the documents were at the Franklin Cyberbullying Taskforce site.

Next Kate introduced MA Legislature Majority Leader Representative, James Vallee, who has been a long time child advocate and supporter of Massachusetts Cyberbullying legislagtion, and Parry Aftab, founder of WiredSafety.

From there, it was time for the teens to do their thing. Allie and Maddie gave the audience an overview of cyberbullying and then quizzed the adults to make sure they understood the definition.

Tara, Eric, and Justin presents the stories of cyberbullying victims in the news, including Ally Pfeiffer, who made news this week, but tracking down and assisting law enforcement officials in identifying and arresting teens who had been cyberbullying her. Ally will be working with the teens in the coming weeks to help promote WiredSafety’s Don’t Stand By, Stand Up campaign.

They sold white bracelets with the slogan engraved in it. They then told the audience that each time they do something to stop or prevent bullying, they should color in a letter.

Students from the Annie Sullivan Middle School chapter of WiredTeens presented a series of skits they wrote about cyberbullying and how to deal with it.

Then Laura and Natalie presented an overview of the technology used by cyberbullies and the ways they use them.

Though WiredTeens don’t do in depth research project, the teens from Remington Middle School conducted a technology survey. Particularly interesting was the differences in texting between grades 6 and 8. Eight percent of 6th graders sent 100+ texts per day, but 32% of 8th graders sent 100+ messages and 60%

Probably the most interesting statistic came from the Franklin Teenangels survey of 730 middle school students in reply to the question, If someone asked you in person if you had been cyberbullied, would you be honest? While 45% said yes, about 6% said they weren’t sure, 9% said no and 40% said it depends on who was asking.

After the teen presentations there was a Q&A where the audience asked questions of the teens and Parry. The night ended with a challenge to the audience to help them in planning and funding their next goal. They want to rent a bus and spend a week traveling around the state making presentations to schools and communities.

For me, the most important comment was made during the preprogram preparation where Parry asked the teens the most interesting or exciting thing they learned or did since starting Teenangels. Of course many of the pointed to their presentation at the Summit in DC, but they all agreed with Brooke when she said she was amazed that they could really make a difference and help stop cyberbullying.

That’s empowerment!

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posted by Art @ 1:07 PM   0 comments

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cyber Safety in the Age of Aquarius

Last night I attended a Second Life education event billed as the Digital Age of Aquarius. It was a 60's style presentation by Kevin Honeycutt (In-world:Kevinski Braveheart) It was sponsored by ISTE on Hippy Island , a fun place to explore and find hidden professional development resources.

I've been on SL for two years, but consider myself a newbie, because I never got into building or costumes. I just walked around in my standard jeans and t-shirt, which is probably more like real life than Second Life for me.

For this event you were encouraged to dress in 60's style. Fortunately, I was using the new client which offers a variety of optional clothing choices. There really wasn't anything 60's in the choices, but in the 60's I was a huge Peter, Paul, and Mary fan and my kids were raise on me playing Puff the Magic Dragon on the guitar. So I figured this choice was very dragonish, and it was as close as I would get to a 60's costume.

If you have never seen or heard Kevin before, you have to make it a point. If we could clone him, our education system would soar. His presentation was all about empowering teachers and children to use Web 2.0. Not only does he make a case for breaking down the firewalls, he does it well, by providing powerful examples of students making a difference in the world. He shows how to model and teach good cyber citizenship even if you are behind a firewall that prevents it. There are analog ways of teaching students digital skill, such as using a bulletin board, paper and pencil to simulate Twitter in the classroom. He offers good solid suggestions for professional development that empowers teachers to become digital leaders, and he even writes songs about it.

Archimedes said, "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." On his site, Kevin says, "I am a veteran teacher and a current educational technology specialist who gets up every day on a mission to help educators improve education by leveraging 21st century tools!"

First, listen to an audio file of his presentation and then visit his website. If it's a fulcrum, we can all be part of the lever that helps move the education world in the right direction.

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posted by Art @ 7:51 AM   0 comments

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More on ChatRoulette

Hopefully, by now that you have all digested the initial announcement of the appearance of the new video chat stranger danger. Let's take a step or two back and put this in perspective.

Many times in the past, I've said that for the most part, kids are safe and want to be safe. Indeed, the research backs up my contention. However, the research also points out that there is a small part of the teen population that is at risk. These are the same kids who would be at risk even if the Internet didn't exist.

Beth Martin of Everest Middle School had a talk with her 16 year-old daughter and her friend. She said, "They didn't seem fazed by it. They told me that fact that I was shocked showed how naive I was about the web. Their response was that kids should be smart enough to know not to do that. Wow! That shocked me too. I think they are right about a lot of kids but I think kids on the fringe would try this."

The fact is that when sites like this come along, not only the kids on the fringe, but many mainstream kids will check it out. Curiosity is natural. For most, their curiosity will be quenched and it will quickly fade. However, it is still important to talk to kids about it, but do so by recognizing that most are safe. We have to begin to build a culture based on trust that treats kid as intelligent beings. We have to get them to help each other and held us help the few who might be in danger.

Let them know you realize that only a small group of individuals will be endangered by this kind of site and that THEY know who these kids are. They are the ones in the best position to help. Ask them to be alert to friends who might be hurt by using sites like this. Ask them to help their friends avoid trouble. Ask them to contact a trusted adult if they think someone might be endangering themselves.

It may or may not be effective, but it WILL start building a community of trust and perhaps it will result in at at least one tragedy being avoided. Let's treat our teens as online partners, not naive sheep.

Incidentally, when I went online to check this out. This is what the people on the other end saw. My web camera software does face movement tracking and allows me to overlay (wear) hats, wigs, masks, and distort my face numerous ways.

When kids saw this, one of three things happened.
1) They clicked off immediately
2) They called me a pedophile
3) They gave me a thumbs up.

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posted by Art @ 4:54 PM   1 comments

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Chat Roulette: A Gamble We Can Live Without!

When I first started giving Internet workshops in 1995, there were a few
sites that I used to give people a snapshot of what the web was all about.

The most popular of these sites was called WebRoulette. You would click a button and be taken to a random web site.

But this post is not about WebRoulette. These sites still exist though WebRoulette has long since been bought by a casino site. Random web site generators still exist, but be careful. Some harbor spyware, but this post is not about spyware. It's about the 21st century version iteration of this phenomenon, Random Video Chats.

You read that right. If you go to chatroulette.com and click the start button, your web camera will start up in one window and you will be face to face with a random stranger in another.

I first heard about it in a Facebook post from Kerstein Creative that said, "The most unusual, intriguing, weird, frightening concept in social networking I've read about yet. (Can't say I've seen it, because I'm a little freaked out by it.)" and pointed to this article in the New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/news/media/63663/

After reading the article, I had to check it our for myself. The results were very much as described in the article. Here's a snapshot of what I saw. It really reflects the part of my block description that says "with great latitude given in the definition of human."

In a four minute period I saw 66 males and 7 females mostly in the teens and 20's. There were 22 connections that had their cameras blacked out and 6 "others". Others were cameras pointing at signs, walls, or other object.

The disturbing part was that of the 66 males, 6 were X-rated. There was one set of breasts displayed and unquestionably the most bizarre connection was this one.

Do I even have to say it? A web camera in the hands of an unsupervised teen, is an invitation to trouble. I understand that they might use it to talk to grandma or aunt Tillie, but do you want them talking to this guy? If your child has a web camera, at the very least, have a long talk with them!

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posted by Art @ 9:27 AM   7 comments