Saturday, January 20, 2007

Keeping Children Safe On Line

I work in a relatively small district where the families and, to be frank, the district is on the losing end of the ever expanding digital divide. The disadvantages of this situation are numerous and appalling. On the other hand, being slow to adopt technology means that the district has never really been confronted with the issues related to the read-write web (Web 2.0). Where other districts have had to struggle with censorship and myspace my district has simply blocked the site and moved on (we know that web filtering is rarely successful in blocking sites and does not develop digital discipline among kids). As I mentioned in a post earlier this week we recently ran into a problem when it was discovered that our new web filtering system was removing really relevant and appropriate web sites. As a result we called a group together to review our protocol and examine best practice from both a technical and instructional approach.

When I was stuck in traffic in downtown Denver Friday night I heard a story on NPR about Club Penguin, an online social networking site for tweens. That's right, students/children from the age of say 8 to 12, 13, or older might participate in this virtual world. What was really compelling about the story and the site is the lengths they go to to ensure that it is a safe place for children to "play" with their "friends". In fact, Club Penguin says it is proud to be one of the few sites that has ever qualified for the Better Business Bureau - Kid’s Privacy Seal of Approval. They monitor the discussion online, they screen for key words, prevent children from entering personal information, and use paid memberships to identify all community members.

The Club Penguin model made me think of the presentations I have seen (online) by Dick Hardt who speaks of Identity 2.0. You can see Dick's presentation here (even if you don't care about identity, Dick Hardt is probably one of the best presenters so watch it). Dick Hardt is leading the technology community to think and work on the next frontier for web identity...verifying that you are who you are and that you deserve to be treated special. Dick Hardt is leading the effort to ensure that identity is portable and can be authenticated.

Now back to be original discussion piece...internet filtering and ensuring student safety. First, we have an obligation to filter the internet for inappropriate material as required under the child internet protection act (CIPA). Second, we have an obligation to teach students, families, and the community to be disciplined in the digital world. There are threats and we cannot "block" them from our children. We need to encourage responsibility. Finally, the model put forth by Club Penguin and the work of Dick Hardt and others encourages me that world of Web 2.0 is evolving and could get increasingly safe.

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