Monday, January 15, 2007

Follow Up #2

Here's the original story.

As you are probably aware, this case is getting huge amount of press and coverage in the education world. Just do a search for Julie Amero and you'll get the story.

The education world feels that she has been railroaded and that the school district is to blame for the whole incident. My initial reaction was the same, but I felt that there was a lot I didn't know, especially since I was involved in investigating a similar incidents where the teachers were obviously guilty. The difference was in our case was that the school district's actions and procedures were exemplary.

Initially I hesitated to make any judgement, because when we made our investigation, it was based on firewall log files as well as content on the computer which painted a clear picture of the teacher's actions and activities leaving no room for arguments of accidents. In this case it appears that no such strong evidence existed.

This case seems to rest primarily on the existance of pornography on the computer. I have found no reference to activity log files that would paint a clear picture of the teacher's actions. Such logs that would include time spent on each page, a sequence of action, links followed and more would easily prove either the prosecution or the defence's contentions.

My feeling here is that the school district was obviously in the wrong in any number of areas, including being in violation of CIPA. The defence was incompetent, the prosecution was misguided, the forensics were sloppy, and the judge's actions were questionable.

The case has the potential of really making teachers think twice about having their kids use technology if they are going to be held responsible for accidents created by spyware and school district lack of support.

I'm sure that the appeal will find her innocent.


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posted by Art @ 12:40 PM   2 comments

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Teacher Found Guilty Follow Up 1

More information is flooding in about Julie Amero, the substitute teacher found guilty of accessing pornography in the classroom.

In my previous post, I reserved judgement until more fact were in, but in all honesty my gut reaction was that the teacher is innocent. It also appeared that the school district had woefully poor technology protection and protocols in place.

While I will still adopt a wait and see attitude and sift through more information as it becomes available, I feel that the trend appears to suggest a less than thorough forensics and less than adequate technology expertise on the part of the defence.

If the case was made primarily on the basis of simply finding pornographic images on the computer, rather than a careful interpretation of the log activity in conjunction with the images, it could very well be a serious miscarriage of justice.

If I were to make accusations about students and teachers accessing pornography based solely on the fact that images were downloaded to the computer when they were using it, I would be accusing a lot of innocent people.

Let's see what unfolds...

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posted by Art @ 9:42 PM   0 comments

Teacher Found Guilty of Accessing Porn

Here's a snip and a link to an article that appeared in the Norwich Bulletin this week.

Teacher guilty in Norwich porn case
Norwich Bulletin

NORWICH -- State Prosecutor David Smith said he wondered why Julie Amero didn't just pull the plug on her classroom computer.

The six-person jury Friday may have been wondering the same thing when they convicted Amero, 40, of Windham of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child.

As you may know, I was a classroom teacher for 30 year, 15 of them as a computer teacher. I'm a member of a number of educational listserves populated by thousands of teachers. Opinion on this lists is generally one of outrage and if the articles you read are accurate representations of the facts, they would probably be justified in their outrage, but I will neither rush to praise nor condemn this conviction.

While this may well be an outrage, it may also be a valid conviction. The problem is that there seems to be a great deal of information missing. I'd really like to see the trial transcript to see what kind of evidence was introduced by the prosecution, including log files and testimony of students.

Regardless, I'd like to weigh in with some additional perspective. As one who has been on the technical side of forensic investigations of teacher access to pornography, I know that in order to take action against a teacher even at the district level, there has to be a compelling amount of evidence in terms of log files that will prove any accusations.

(One of the many part-time jobs I had as I went though my teaching career, was that of store detective for a large department store chain. We had a strict standard about making stops. We had to be 100% sure the person took an item and we had to have had them in our sight from the time of the theft to the time of the stop. I applied that same kind of standard to any accusations I might have to make against a teacher or a student.)

I also work with police computer forensic experts and know the kind of evidence trail they require before taking legal action. That standard is just as high.

When I use to check logs, it wasn't unusual to find access to porn sites by both teachers and students. However, in almost every case it was evident from the log entries whether the access was accidental or intentional (or accidental followed by intentional).

Even in the case of a loop as described in the article, it would be easy to determine what actions were taken by the teacher and whether the access was a case of accidental access followed by "panic" or more intentional access.

The amount of time spent at each link and the activity undertaken at the sites accessed is all right there. Looking at a log file, an expert can picture the activity that took place during an incident almost as well as if they were sitting over the shoulder of the person.

The prosecution's contention that the person had to have clicked on links on the pages to get to some of the sites, seem to be the telling part to me and might point to some of the information not being detailed.

If one is caught in a loop, one might panic as they try to close one window and another opens, but they will find it difficult to explain why pages came up that could only be accessed by clicking on links within pages they had accessed. Then if the time spend on each page shows a pattern of viewing, the log evidence become even more compelling.

Again, I'll stress that I have not formed any opinion about the guilt or innocence of this particular teacher. I'm simply offering a perspective that isn't necessarily obvious to everyone. There is a lot of information not being offered by the media concerning this particular case, but there are some sad facts that we have to face. Some teachers DO access porn and some DO take sexual advantage of students. We should neither rush to judgement or defence of ANYONE accused of sexual misconduct.

I will add an additional piece of food for thought. In many cases where teachers are found by a school district to be participating in inappropriate sexual activities online or even face to face, the teacher is often given the opportunity to resign quietly and then moves on somewhere else and continues the activity.

Take it for what it's worth...


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posted by Art @ 3:15 PM   3 comments

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Violent and Viral Videos on the Web

Hi Folks,

I was on the Today show this morning for a short segment that was prompted by the accidental deaths of a 6 and a 9 year-old boy both of whom were imitating what they saw on the Saddam Hussein hanging on the web. The lengthy discussion I had with the producer the day before covered a lot of territory, but I knew that the segment would only be 5 minutes. The segment began with a news report that covered the hangings and the Jackass type viral videos that kids are imitating with sometimes tragic results. The segment did little more than raise a million question, a few of which I would like to pose here.

To my mind, kids who are doing what we are witnessing are in most cases just being kids. Kids do dumb things. I remember jumping off the roof with a sheet as a parachute, I was about 14, not 6 and I had done some pre-testing. I first made sure I could survive the jump without the parachute. OK, now that we have established the stupidity of youth, what impact is the web having on brining that stupidity to the forefront? Certainly, there was no web when I made my jump, but I got the idea from somewhere. If the web was there, would I have jumped from greater heights or would I have researched parachutes first and found the futility of my efforts before I put myself in danger. One could argue either way.

So what is the effect of viral and violent videos the proliferate on the web? Is it the availability that is the problem, is it something else, or a combination of factors? I feel it is definitely a combination of factors, but will hold off on elaborating except for one line of thought.

We all know about the technology gap that exists between adults and children, but we are not really that aware of the increased isolation between adults and children or the causes. That isolation began with the creation of public education. Prior to that, children were integrated into adult society at an early age. By the time they hit puberty, they were interacting regularly with adults who served as their role models and mentors. As soon as school came along, children were segregated from the adult world and peer influence was a much greater contributor to their behavior. It almost immediately gave rise to "coolness". As money found its way in the hands of the youth, Madison Ave. jumped on the cool factor and further defined the lines between youth and adult and in fact contributed to a "class structure" within the youth society.

As technology progressed TV became the next big isolating factor. We tend to think about families huddled around the TV in the 50's & 60's, but by the 70's TVs began appearing in kids' rooms and today 77% of them have TVs in their bedrooms. Add to that the isolation created by the technology gap, and compound it with computers moving into kids' rooms and we have problems. Oh let's not forget the increase in single parent homes and latch key kids.

So two immediate questions come to mind.

1) What if anything, can be done to reconnect kids with adults?
2) Considering that this isolation started with schools, what should the role of schools be?

I've sent this post to members of the WWWEdu mailing list (about 1800 educators around the world) and will write about their responses after they come in.


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posted by Art @ 12:14 PM   2 comments