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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Into the Zone--Media Literacy and Security

By Victor Rivero - Posted Mar 1, 2012
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Saturation. Immersion. Totally into it. Kids these days. They’re in the zone. Forget about attention deficit. Just have a look around. These iPod-listenin’, Black Ops-shootin’, YouTube-surfin’, Flip Cam-filmin’, cellphone-textin’, DSL-playin’, Facebook-clickin’, Netflix-watchin’, tablet-tappin’, Kindle-clutchin’, iPad-pinchin’ little minds are running rampant all over the place! They’re in our schools, libraries, grocery stores, and, most evenings, in our homes. You better watch out—but not for your own safety.

You, as a parent, an educator, or some other concerned person in and around education who has a stake in making things right for future generations, should have a pretty good handle on the bigger picture; the one you can only see when your head is backed up from all those devices so that a wider view is possible—the unimmersed view. This is the one that younger students don’t often have. They’re still kids, after all. As tech-savvy as they are, they could still use some parental guidance. Can you make sense of it all, evaluate what is important and what is not, and apply critical thinking and analytical thought to such a wide, dynamic flow of messages from all manner of media in this digital age? If not, there are certainly quite a few tools out there that can help.

Websense, Inc.:  The web is full of unknowns—Facebook, YouTube, and search, search, search. You’re on the web so much it feels like home. But just around the corner, one or two clicks away, real danger lies in wait. And that’s where Websense’s security solutions come in. Some kids use it as a verb (“I’ve been websensed!”) out of their frustration with being blocked. But with 2 billion YouTube views, 65 million Twitter tweets, and half a billion people now on Facebook, there are definitely enough cybercriminals out there that this solution makes perfect web sense.

ePals Learning-Space:  Teachers and students use Web 2.0 technology, document and rich media sharing and storage—all within LearningSpace’s school-safe, “gated learning community.” One superintendent of schools who is happily using LearningSpace in his district says, “Insulated from the chaos and hazards of the rest of the internet, this is a new kind of learning community.”

Gaggle.Net, Inc.:  Although vaguely similar to the word Google, this tool was originally created for teachers who needed an easy way to watch over their “gaggle” of students. Since its start as an email provider, the company has grown to accommodate communication and collaboration features within a safe, filtered, and controlled online environment, including digital lockers, message boards, chat rooms, blogs, profile pages, homework dropboxes, calendars, a social wall, and Gaggle Tube, even filtered texting and Zoho docs.

Discovery Education:  Engage, transform, and achieve are the watchwords with this massive and superb-quality resource. There are so many useful tools for administrators, teachers, parents, and students coming from Discovery Education that you really have to see it for yourself. One of the great things about a familiar resource is the safety factor. Here, there’s no guesswork as to what sort of disturbing content students might run into on their own. For the most part, its content is at least as good as what you’d expect from the recognized brand.

Edmodo:  Connecting more than 5 million teachers and students globally and used by roughly 60,000 education institutions, the whole idea of a Facebook for education is built upon the belief that school environments need to evolve to reflect the connected world in which we live and to provide a safe, secure, and trusted online environment in which to do so. Post messages, discuss academic topics, assign and grade classwork, share content—it does all this, but you’d need to try it out to really get the hang of it.

PBS LearningMedia: When we talk of media literacy, this site is a great example of how to get there. From 3D movable books to a Pulitzer Prize-winning violin concerto, educators can bring art into their classrooms, culture into their schools, and easy, instant access to thousands of class-ready, digital resources: videos, interactives for the whiteboard, audio, photos—really, all manner of media. Search, save, and share. It’s all there, and it’s free for educators. 

SonicWALL, Inc.: As technology transforms K–12 education, students, teachers, and administrators are bringing tools to the classroom, and this company is committed to delivering solutions that will enable K–12 school districts to realize the promise of these technologies in a safe, secure environment. From security architecture for wireless networks to funding solutions, network security, and remote access security, SonicWALL provides firewall and unified threat management in the background from all that everyday traffic.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills:  This organization has long advocated media literacy for 21st-century students. It has pushed for schools to emphasize and for students to adopt critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, communication, and collaboration skills and to help creativity and innovation flourish in environments where technology has taken over. Being media literate today means bridging a skills gap between what students are getting in school and what they’ll encounter in the workplace. It’s worth a good look.

M86 Security:  This company secures your learning environment in real time. What does that mean? It ensures age-appropriate content while safeguarding students and staff members from malware attacks, data theft, cyberbullying, and inappropriate material. It also enables schools to be more efficient and to save costs through a centrally managed system.

Symantec Corp.:  Schools have server platforms, run VMware, and use Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X servers. But how do they stay protected and efficiently manage, secure, and troubleshoot their systems with ease? By automating time-consuming, redundant tasks and minimizing efforts and costs associated with deploying, patching, and supporting client systems and software. Sound complicated? Perhaps, but that’s what this company does. 

McAfee, Inc.’s Web Security: A name synonymous with security, McAfee helps school districts overcome spyware problems to speed security software and bring precious school bandwidth back to speeds that don’t frustrate users. If a district has, say, 5,000 machines and only eight technicians (as is often the case), how can a school manage? That’s why they turn to these guys.

Lightspeed Systems, Inc.: How do you empower IT and transform education at the same time? Well, you can’t simply block everything. Learning, after all, is about seeking out and finding new content. How do you do this when, in the world of the internet, there is so much content that is inappropriate? Filtering, securing, managing, and monitoring; it all could be a nightmare. Or it could be easy, fast, mobile, and safe. The world is changing, education is changing, and web filters need to change too. Here’s a company that really caters to education, and yet, it makes learning possible.

In today’s classrooms, because technology is no longer an IT-only area, the needs of IT and of educators must remain balanced. Managing issues such as safety, security, Children’s Internet Protection Act requirements, liability, bandwidth, acceptable use policies, viruses, spyware, and malware must be considered in light of content, collaboration, blended learning, assessment, classroom management, and social learning networks. These days, being tech-savvy means that critical and analytical thinking must accompany our quest for a safe, secure online environment.

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