Juliet’s parents didn’t want her to marry Romeo, but what can you do? Parents and educators have a natural inclination to protect and nurture the children and students that are our future. But here’s an age-old question that must be applied to a new age of technology-enabled openness: How much protecting is too much? And, going further, if our students are completely isolated from the benefits of the information age, how will they ever learn?
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the internet isn’t just a near-ubiquitous technology in the lives of American teens—it’s also their primary tool for conducting school research. Ninety-four percent of teens use the internet at least occasionally to do research for their school writing assignments and nearly half (48%) do so once a week or more (“Writing, Technology and Teens,” 2008). They also surpass older groups in internet use—93% go online to use the internet or email and 63% do so daily (“Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults,” 2010).
What’s more, they continue to be avid users of social media networking sites. As of September 2009, 73% of online American teens (ages 12–17) used an online social networking site, a statistic that continues to climb upward from 55% (November 2006) to 65% (February 2008). But here’s the real kicker: Nearly half (49%) of social networking teens use these sites to make new friends. That is to say, they connect with people they do not currently know in person (“Teens and Online Stranger Contact,” 2007). How, then, can our students stay safe and secure while simultaneously getting access to rich learning resources—and continue to fall in love with learning?
A Robust Network Solution—Lightspeed Systems
Sometimes the best security is a strong fortress. With many districts feeling a stranglehold on their budgets, getting a single, safe network solution with multiple features is a very attractive prospect. Lightspeed Systems, with its tagline, “Network solutions for safe online learning,” offers network security and management software as well as hardware for schools and districts. Its Total Traffic Control software offers a full range of network security and management features including antivirus, spam-blocking, web filtering, mobile filtering, and bandwidth management. The cost-effectiveness of a single, consolidated solution with a single price per workstation trumps many other partial solutions out there. The company has an established team of industry veterans with deep experience in technology and education, and they have been around in these areas for much longer than the 10 years since this company was founded. Their software is used in more than 1,000 school districts protecting more than 5 million students and has been recognized on the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing private companies.
A True Learning Environment—ePals LearningSpace
ePals LearningSpace is a controlled, flexible online workspace providing administrators with the ability to manage and monitor social media use throughout their school system. The service provides teachers, media specialists, and administrators with visibility and control over how their blogs, wikis, digital lockers, and forums are used. It also enables the use of best-of-breed security technologies including monitoring, language filtering, and role-based permissions tools. ePals has a global community of about 600,000 educators and their students in more than 200 countries and territories. Its LearningSpace helps students and teachers to create, share, manage, and collaborate on educational content in a purposeful, project-based, and controlled learning environment. Educators can create and manage groups and subgroups with role-based permissions on one centralized platform. All of this is intuitive and requires minimal training, if any. Digital lockers are safe online storage areas for personal school files such as documents, photos, video, and audio that can be designated as private for personal reference and editing or public for sharing, commenting, or collaborative editing. Students can upload homework assignments to work on at home, school, or in the library—wherever there’s connection to the internet.
For a real nuts-and-bolts service for schools working to comply with safety training, drilling, and other OSHA regulations, as well as for monitoring and tracking student behavior issues, PublicSchoolWORKS’ offerings are tops. Designed by president and CEO Steve Temming, a 22-year veteran of working in or for public schools, as well as a team of school administrators actively employed in nearly a dozen school districts, PublicSchoolWORKS programs combine powerful, web-based administrative software tools, content, and support services to implement, manage, and sustain any or all of a school district’s staff and student health, safety compliance, and behavior programs. Think safety, employees, workers’ compensation, OSHA, risk management, and even suicide prevention. PublicSchoolWORKS offers two key suites: EmployeeSafe and StudentWatch. Its EmployeeSafe Suite assists with all training and professional development needs; no longer is there a need for professional development days to be set aside as the EmployeeSafe Suite takes all training online. The StudentWatch Suite automates such teacher burdens as recording of referrals and incident documentation; it reinforces positive behavior and generates reports, analysis, tracking, and communication of behavioral data. It might sound strangely futuristic until you experience it for yourself. As with any easy-to-use system, it frees up time- and attention-consuming paperwork activity better spent on issues that truly matter—maintaining a safe environment so that teachers and students can focus on academic learning. For a short video (2 minutes and 24 seconds) on how StudentWatch works, go to http://corp.publicschoolworks.com/student_behavior_management.html.
The Search Is Over—netTrekker
If ever there were a Google specifically for education, it’s netTrekker, an educational search tool developed over the course of the last decade by Randy Wilhelm, a CEO and father of five. But calling it a “Google for education” would be selling it way short. It’s not just that the content that comes up is safe, educational, and classroom-relevant. Some of the tools surrounding the interface are just plain cool. For example, for students wanting more than a reading experience, or needing it (due to learning challenges, dyslexia, illiteracy, etc.), there is a read-aloud function; for students stumped on a certain word, there is a definitions and translations tool. The list of features goes on and on, and it’s quite addictive. In its safe, relevant, and simple format, netTrekker delivers rich K–12 educational content that, on a very raw and direct level, helps students learn because it makes learning so easy to do. It’s relevant for teachers too: The company was among the first to market a standards-based educational search tool. One of, if not the top educational search tool for K-12 schools, netTrekker is used throughout thousands of schools across the country, is often recognized as a best-education solution, and is one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. according to the Inc. 500 list. The company has been around since 1999 (you may know it from its early days as Thinkronize) and serves millions of students worldwide. For an informative, somewhat brief introductory video on how the system works (the 9 minutes fly by), visit www.nettrekker.com/us/overview.
Internet Safety Resources
There are dozens of great sites that offer educational activities, games, and general information on issues surrounding internet safety and students. For starters, there’s NetSmartzKids (www.netsmartzkids.org), a very kid-friendly site (colorful homepage with talking robots and mechanical dogs presented in a mixed cartoon and live action video format) aimed at promoting safe online practices in younger children—a very well-done site with high production values. Another great site, albeit for an older crowd, is SafeKids.Com (www.safekids.com), one of the oldest sites you’ll find regarding internet safety. It includes such topics as cell phone safety tips and social web safety tips for teens. On that note, the FBI has some interesting tips to be found on its website FBI Kids (www.fbi.gov/kids/k5th/safety2.htm) that is but one stop on a larger educational field trip covering some of the activities involved in working for the FBI. From a health-related angle, there’s an article on the KidsHealth from Nemours (a pediatric health system/provider) site (http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/net_safety.html), where parents, kids, and teens can find out more about internet safety laws, online protection tools such as parental controls, filters, and blocks, as well as some basic rules, cautions, and warning signs of a child being targeted by an online predator. Another smart site is GetNetWise (http://kids.getnetwise.org/tools), an excellent resource with links to an interesting set of additional filtering, monitoring, blocking, and even limiting tools (yes, there is a way to actually limit the amount of time your child spends online; some tools block out times of the day when a child can or can’t go online). At bNetS@vvy (http://bnetsavvy.org; tagline: Tools for Adults to Help Kids Connect Safely), you can browse articles, get the latest updates and other helpful information covering social networking, mobile devices, gaming, cyberbullying, safety, and privacy. At i-SAFE (http://isafe.org), an internet safety education nonprofit billing itself as “The Leader in e-Safety Education,” there are resources for kids and teens, educators, parents, law enforcement, and others .
Victor Rivero is a contributing writer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools. He is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Reach him by email at victor@VictorRivero.com.
Extra Credit: Atomic Learning’s Internet Safety and Social Networking Classroom Project
From Atomic Learning, a subscription-based educational content service for schools, comes a new course in internet safety that couldn’t be more timely. Internet Safety and Social Networking Classroom Project is the name you’ll find it under—it’s currently featured on the homepage. The project promotes communication and collaboration through an exploration of issues related to social networking. Where personal safety and privacy are an issue, this course addresses online communication tools, what constitutes safe or unsafe online behavior, “friending” issues, and uncomfortable situations. The featured movie tutorials demonstrate how to use popular social networking services (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) and discuss issues related to online safety. Interesting as they are, the emphasis in these videos is on education over entertainment (the voice over speaks in a slow, easy-to-understand tone) and in this regard, they are immensely helpful. Questions, rubrics, and other resources are available for download from the project. Atomic Learning was founded by a group of technology educators and serves more than 8 million people in 40 countries. Atomic Learning online training resources provide short how-to clips that make professional development a true pleasure, engaging as they are. Visit www.atomiclearning.com.