Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Demand for Lessons in Cyber Civics Goes Global

Students in Ghana, Africa, To Benefit From U.S.-Based Digital Citizenship and Literacy Program

Cyber Civics™, the innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program currently being taught at schools in 20 U.S. states, just added students in Ghana, Africa, to its growing list of young people who are learning how to become thoughtful, ethical, and competent digital citizens.

Awo Aidam Amenyah, Executive Director of the J Initiative (JI), an organization that seeks to improve the lives of youth through education in Africa, says she found Cyber Civics while searching for a program to "inform children and young people about what impact their online actions can have on themselves and others, both online and offline, in order for them to get the most out of technology." With the help of a donation from Millicom Foundation, JI was able to enroll for the Cyber Civics program that will benefit children and families throughout the African country of Ghana. 

Students in 20 U.S. states already participate in this three year, in-school program comprised of weekly lessons in Digital Citizenship, Information Literacy, and Media Literacy for Positive Participation. Founded at a public charter Waldorf school (Journey School) in Aliso Viejo, CA, in 2010, Cyber Civics was designed to meet the urgent and growing need to equip students with digital life skills. The program includes lessons on how to use the Internet safely and responsibly, how to search effectively, avoid plagiarism, understand copyright, critically evaluate media messages, plus lessons on the productive and positive use of media tools. 

Available to all schools and organizations at www.cybercivics.com, the Cyber Civics program has spread quickly, due in part to recent legislation calling for lessons in media literacy and digital citizenship. 

"The need for these kind of lessons has gone global," says Cyber Civic's Founder Diana Graber, "there are no international borders online." Liz Repking who represents Cyber Civics in the Central and Eastern regions of the U.S. concurs, "All kids need to learn safe and appropriate digital behavior, and how to develop the critical and ethical thinking skills that are applicable to all areas of their lives."

At a recent forum on "Internet Rights for Women and Children in Ghana," Amenyah said that her country "does not have a clear provisions focusing on the protection of children online, no legislation that criminalizes online grooming or cyberbullying." There is also no legislation criminalizing access or visualization of child pornography, which are among the critical challenges confronting children who use the Internet.

Amenyah is counting on lessons in Cyber Civics to help her and her team meet these global challenges.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Cyber Civics Lesson on Sexting

By Liz Repking

Students today use technology as easily as previous generations used a pencil. But technology is much more powerful than a pen or pencil, and it amplifies opportunities for both help and harm. Kids know how to use phones and computers—often more adeptly than adults. The issue for many educators is teaching them to use these tools wisely. Many schools address that challenge by implementing “digital citizenship” into their curriculum.

How can schools do this? What are the costs, both financial and time, to implementing such curriculum? What are the benefits of building this into the students’ educational experience? These are all very difficult questions to address in an already overcrowded educational landscape.

I recently had the opportunity to observe one class session of Diana Graber’s Cyber Civics curriculum, a cutting edge digital citizenship curriculum. At The Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, I sat in on the 8th grade class that Diana led on the topic of sexting. This is a critical topic for students at this age for two reasons:

  • First, this is a social-emotional issue for teens. Apart from technology, they are trying to navigate relationships with their peers, and they become hyper-aware of the opposite sex and attracting their attention. A teen’s relational world can be a place where alliances shift quickly, crushes hit hard, emotions run high, and drama is normal, even without technology to amplify everything.
  • Second, from a technology perspective, teens need to understand the implications of using technology to communicate with friends or people they date. They need to understand that any image or words shared digitally are permanent. You can’t delete what someone else has already received.

In my work with students and parents about cyber safety, I’ve heard hundreds of stories about the unexpected and long-ranging impact that sharing images (especially sexual ones) has on people’s lives, especially when they’re shared far beyond the intended audience (and they almost always are shared much more than a student expects).

Students need to understand the nature of their romantic relationships. The reality is that these relationships end, and the trust and intention that exists at one moment can quickly be violated. These are challenging issues for us as a society, but they are especially difficult for young teenagers who are attempting to navigate the intersection of relationships with a world of technology.

In other words, the crush or relationship may not last forever, but any words or images you share will.

Cyber Civics builds on a foundation that challenges students to think at a broader level about ethical behavior. This foundation was critical for Diana to lead the discussion on the topic of sexting.

The success of the session is in the sequential delivery of the content. First, sexting was clearly defined. It was apparent that most students had an incomplete definition of sexting. Second, sexting was discussed and analyzed through the use of a recent current event of sexting in a high school. This allowed Diana to challenge the students to make the connection from the definition to the consequences of the action, both personally and legally. There appeared to be a disconnect for the students on this point. Most students did not realize that the consequences could range from school disciplinary action to legal charges resulting in a criminal record.

The next step in Diana’s session was to allow students a forum where they could examine this issue from an ethical perspective. This was the portion of the class that truly engaged the students and where the quality learning occurred. They discussed the fairness of sending and receiving sexts by thinking through various scenarios of how they could be involved in such situations. They incorporated many of the tenants of Cyber Civics that are the common threads of the entire program: judgment, stereotyping of people, leadership in their communities, especially their online community, and making ethical decisions.

The final step of the session was to lead the students in developing some possible solutions and responses if they find themselves receiving sext messages. The students continually came back to the idea of going to a trusted adult as a first line of defense.  Additionally, they suggested the actions of blocking the sender, taking screen shots of the evidence and establishing agreements with friends to not engage in the activity to begin with.

Near the end of the session, one student posed the question "What do I do if someone asks me for nudes?" Great, simple question! Clearly Cyber Civics does an excellent job of moving through topics in an effective, pragmatic way. However, one of the greatest outcomes of implementing the curriculum is that it provides students a safe environment to ask these types of questions as they try to navigate the intersection of ethical, appropriate behavior with access to powerful technology. Cyber Civics provides a venue to tie the characteristics and actions of good citizenship to the digital landscape.

Find these lessons on Sexting in Cyber Civics: Year 3. 
Ask us for a sample lesson.

Liz Repking is  the  mother of 3 children, ranging in age from elementary school to high school. Entering the workforce over 20 years ago, she has spent the majority of her career working as a technology consultant, developing and delivering a variety of training courses for clients.

Five years ago, Liz became acutely aware of the dangers the Internet posed to children like her own. It was apparent that while many parents recognize these dangers, they are uncomfortable and even intimidated by the depth and breadth of the technology our children use. This awareness and recognition led Liz to create Cyber Safety Consulting with the goal to educate parents, children and school educators on both the dangers of the Internet as well as tangible solutions for these issues. 

As the Founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, Liz’s technology and training experience is perfectly paired with her passion for the online safety of our children.  She believes that every parent has the ability and knowledge to understand the technology and social networking sites that our children are frequenting.  Her mission is to help parents and children create an ongoing conversation around appropriate and safe  online behavior.  Parents need to increase their comfort and confidence in order to keep their children safe by being involved in their online life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Learning How to Make (and Remember) GREAT Passwords

While there are lots of ways to protect your personal information online, your first line of defense is a a GREAT password. Unfortunately, many of us have outsourced the work of making a great password to Apple, who just prompts us with an impossible to remember string of symbols and letters. Then we further outsource the job of remembering these passwords to third parties, like LastPass …the password-storage company that got famously hacked last year. Yep, you read that right. Somehow hackers were able to get at the email addresses and encrypted master passwords, as well as the reminder words and phrases that users stored with LastPass to help users remember their master passwords.

Unfortunate events like these remind us how important it is for digital citizens to know how to make (and remember) their own GREAT passwords.

I teach students how to do this in Year 2 of Cyber Civics, at the end of a unit on "Privacy and Personal Information." They learn that a GREAT password should:

               Be at least 8 characters long.
               Include upper and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers.
               Never include personal information.
               Never include the name of family members, friends, or pets.
               Never include sequences (such as abcde or 12345).
               Never include a dictionary word (unless letters are changed to a number or symbol).
               Be changed regularly (every six months).

But how do you remember the actual password?

This is where many of us struggle because, holy cow, who can remember even a master password? So students are taught to use "mnemonic," or memory device for this task. It works best if it's something they like. For example, one girl chose her favorite artist, Taylor Swift, as her mnemonic. With Swift in mind, she came up with this password:

This password uses the first letter of each word of Swift's hit song, "Shake It Off" (employing both upper and lowercase letters), includes an exclamation point (because it's a great song), and ends with the album title (1989). So by thinking of Swift, this student came up with a GREAT password that successfully incorporates all seven rules, plus it should be easy for her to remember. Additionally, she will be encouraged to change it in six months when she has a new favorite artist, and well before any hacker can figure out what her GREAT password is.

I recently conducted this lesson again, and students came up with these 3 GREAT passwords. The rest of the class had to try to guess who each student's “mnemonic” (or famous person) was and, believe it or not, they were incredibly adept at this activity. Can you guess what famous person inspired these three passwords? (Find answers at bottom).

Today the only password manager we keep can safely rely on lies between our ears, in an unhackable vault that's free to use. Lets teach students how to put it to work.

Password Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, October 30, 2015

Media Literacy is C.R.A.P.


That’s what students see on the board at the start of their 8th grade Cyber Civics “Media Literacy” lessons. It gets their attention. Believe me.

I learned this handy acronym in the book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online (2012) by Stanford University Professor, Howard Rheingold.  At the beginning of “Chapter 2: Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide if its True,” Rheingold quotes Hemingway,

Every man should have built-in automatic 
crap detector operating inside him.
-Ernest Hemingway, 1965

This is the essence (if you can actually consider CRAP an essence) of "media literacy." Like its sister terms—digital literacy, digital citizenship, information literacy--“media literacy” isn’t well understood. You’ll find a detailed definition and description of this 21st century skill on the NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Education) website. On CyberWise, our Media Literacy Hub provides a load of “media literacy” resources and information, as well as our short definition,

Media Literacy is knowing how to critically 
consume and produce media messages.

But boring terms and definitions aside, how can we make “media literacy” matter to kids? Tell them it’s C.R.A.P.!

Kids today are bombarded with media messages, via their smartphones, computers, tablets, television, and more. In this newly networked world, anyone, anywhere can produce and publish just about anything and thus be viewed as an instant expert. It’s hard to cut through the, well, crap. That’s where Rheingold’s handy acronym comes in. It helps, no actually it is ESSENTIAL, to give kids the tools to accurately assess online information. That’s why I teach them to give online information Rheingold’s four-part test:

Currency -
          -How recent is this information?
          -How recently has the website been updated?

          -What kind of information is included in the resource?
          -Does the creator provide references or sources for data? Or quotations?

          -Who is the creator or author? What are their credentials?
          -Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable? 
Purpose/Point of View -
          - Is this fact or opinion? Is it biased?
          - Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

-Howard Rheingold, "Net Smart: How To Thrive Online"

In Cyber Civics we treat this as a two-part lesson, applying C.R.A.P. Detection skills to a host of websites that students are asked to evaluate using the four points above. We revisit the C.R.A.P. test throughout the year, applying it to all the media messages we evaluate-- from gender and race stereotypes, to political campaigns (a wealth of crap there), to doctored photos, and much more.  

Last year I even overheard one student recommending to her mother to use the C.R.A.P. test to evaluate a questionable email she'd received from a banker in Nigeria.

So in honor of this week--National Media Literacy Week--let's all start talking about C.R.A.P. Because sometimes it takes a scatological reference to make media literacy matter. Thank you Rheingold!

In celebration of Media Literacy Week please download the lessons above and try them in your classroom (or share with a teacher!).

And don't forget to visit the CyberWise Media Literacy Hub to learn more!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Participating in the First-Ever Digital Citizenship Summit

Earlier this month the first-ever Digital Citizenship Summit took place in West Hartford, CT. It was an awesome gathering of digital citizenship educators (yes there is such a thing), supporters, and advocates. These are people who work tirelessly to make the Internet a kinder and safer place for our children. 

I was honored to participate as a presenter, sharing stories from the Cyber Civics classroom. Although it's not quite engaging without audio or a chance to participate in the actual activities, here is a copy of my presentation. 

Stay tuned for an exciting announcement about next year's conference!

Monday, August 31, 2015

When Schools Use Tech, They Need a Plan

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest school district, initiated a $1-billion plan to equip students with iPads. Within weeks, the program made headlines when hundreds of students started accessing social media sites, among other things. School official quickly recalled most of the devices and the debacle contributed to the departure of the superintendent and other top staff and led to an ongoing FBI investigation. 

We took this story to heart when designing the second year of Cyber Civics. Although, like the first year of the program, CyberCivics: Year 2 can be taught entirely without technology, many schools (like ours), use iPads for some of these “information literacy” lessons.

Therefore, the very first activity of Year 2 is the establishment of classroom agreements on the use of technology.

This is important, because today’s students spend a lot of time online, most of it away from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers. So any “rules” we set for them aren’t nearly as effective as “agreements” they make together. Kids like being the architects of the norms that rule their digital spaces.

I introduce this activity in my classes by talking to students about what happened in LAUSD; I tell them how the kids in L.A. “hacked” their iPads in only 10 days. The first question?

“What took them so long?”

Then we take a look at the Online Safety Cards offered by Good Digital Parenting. These cards set some terrific ground rules and are a great place to start. To solicit students’ input and, more importantly, their buy-in, we use these cards as a template to craft our own agreement between the students and the school. 

Working together in small groups, students suggest changes/additions to these “rules.” You'd be surprised, as I am every year, by the “what-if” scenarios students imagine. For example, my students want to know:

  • What if a device is broken or a screen is cracked? Who pays for it?
  • What about passwords? Security settings? Shouldn't the class set these up together as a learning activity?
  • Should there be rules about taking/posting photos of other students? What about privacy?
  • Should they open a class email account?
  • What about educational apps? Could there be an approval process for possible downloads?
  • What if/when a device goes home? Whose "rules" apply then?

And on and on.

The point is that while kids know an awful lot about how to get around our measures to “protect” them, they also know better than anyone else how to protect one another.

Last week an update on LAUSD’s technology “plan” ran in the L.A. Times. Here is an excerpt:
In that first year [of the iPad roll-out], students initially could have taken the iPads home; later, they couldn't. The next year, students were allowed to use the iPads only during a single class period, every other day. Last year, students didn't receive the devices until they were in the third month of school. 
Eventually, officials decided that schools need to demonstrate that they can make good use of the devices. Valley Academy was the first to get such a plan approved. As of last week, it was the only school with an approved plan, but other campuses are not far behind, said Bill Wherritt, a deputy director in the facilities division.

Hmmm, I’m thinking about lending some of our students out as consultants to LAUSD to help them with their plan. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Digital Literacy Classes Raise Other Scores

Dr. Jane Karwoski of the Social Network Show recently invited me to talk to her about Cyber Civics, the middle school digital literacy program that equips students to be ethical and competent users of technology. We talked about a lot of topics, including the actual lessons, three tips for parents, and how these classes raise test scores. You can read about it here or listen to the entire podcast here.