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Monthly Archive for December, 2006

iSafe Pros and Cons

It is a requirement to teach an iSafe component for any edtech course we offer. I think it is wise and important to include an internet safety component for our courses, but I find some issues with the choice of iSafe as the sole program for delivering this instruction. Recently I took the personal safety course, which is the prerequisite for teaching about the iSafe program. I found many positive things and also some things that didn’t agree with me.

As far as the positive, the course teaches about internet saftety tips, predators, cyberbullying, and cyber-citizenship. ISafe does a good job of teaching about these issues and making teachers aware of what they need to teach their students. There is also an exemplary online, standards driven, interactive component for students - Grades K-12. This is excellent in many respects.
However, there are several components of the iSafe program with which I really don’t agree.

First, their explanation of blogs is lacking in breadth and depth. They define blogs as personal journals and mention nothing about how they can be used in an educational setting to engage students in meaningful, authentic conversations about what they are learning. Rather, they encourage educators to think only of their use as personal diaries. While many students use them this way, wouldn’t it be better to mention that they can be used to teach students another use of blogs - as a learning tool to engage in reading and writing in an authentic learning environment? If they are teaching about internet safety, then I think it is imperative that they also teach that using these tools in an educational setting can encourage deep thinking, reflection, and digital citizenship and ethics - main components in any educational setting. My main roadblock in getting teachers to even think about using edublogs in the classroom is this perceived notion that they are merely trivial diaries that reveal personal secrets about the writer. There are many alternative, outstanding examples of how teachers are using blogs to engage students, for instance - the Edublog Award nominees, high school students in Darren Kuropatwa’s high school math classes, Clarence Fisher’s middle school blog, and Mark Ahlness’s elementary school blog, just to name a few.

Another component I find fault with is their incomplete and outdated view of copyright. Although they explain copyright issues very well, they don’t mention the alternative copyright choice that educators and other content creators are using called Creative Commons. If their content is truly to be used by all, including educators, students, parents, and the community, why is there such a strict copyright attached to their content? It is their right to do this, but doesn’t the new way of sharing content at least deserve mention? The very first video in the series of lessons on personal internet safety features James Greenleaf, a retired FBI assistant director, and chairman of the Board of ISafe, warning all participants that iSafe material is copyrighted and that unauthorized used is “strictly against the law”. They recently issued a report on internet trends as they relate to internet safety, data they obtained from those they encouraged to take their “free” courses. As Wesley Fryer mentions in his post, Charging for that report? I’ll pass, the report costs almost $50! Why aren’t they allowing open access to this report? In the changing nature of content creation and open access to materials, this type of behavior is outdated. Also, where does their funding come from? Is part of it related to the RIAA? They certainly offer a fair amount of content on issues associated with piracy of music and other content. Where is the discussion about how others are sharing content legitimately? I recently read an intriguing book called, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, by Christopher Harris of Wired Magazine (which I learned about from reading blogs in the edublogoshphere). He states that the growing availability of choice offered by internet resources is giving rise to an ever growing niche market. Isn’t it then worthy of mentioning that traditional copyright isn’t the only avenue for content creation?
There are other sources that teach about internet safety, some better than others. I think it is important to use a variety of sources when teaching about anything. I no longer trust the authority of only one source. We also need to teach our students to be prudent in always finding more than one source of information. Alternate viewpoints encourage critical thinking. That is what I have learned from being a responsible internet citizen.

So when I teach about internet safety, I will certainly use iSafe as one very valuable resource, but it will not be the only resource I use.

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Will Richarson recently posted a compelling example of how to use RSS in the classroom in his thoughtful Pageflakes example of the crisis in Darfur. Pageflakesis a tool for pulling RSS feeds from many different sources into one place. Read how Will pulled al the feeds together in his blog post entitled, “Using Pageflakes as a Student Portal”. I used this page to learn about the crisis in Darfur, about which I knew very little. What makes this page about Darfur relevant and real is that it changes everyday, as new information is posted. I was able to learn about what the news agencies have to say here and also in Sudan, but also what conversation is going on about Darfur, with pictures and video. Because of this learning, I noticed that the iTunes Music Store had a free download from the NBC special, Crisis in Durfur with Ann Curry. The only thing I would wish could be added in Will’s Pageflakes presentation would be to include the RSS feed to Google Video’s coverage of Darfur, because many districts allow Google Video, but block YouTube. (Will put the YouTube feed because there is no “Page Flake” to display Google Video.)

I can’t help make a connection to the upcoming InfoTech student competition for elementary and middle school students, or even high school students in the student showcase. Our elementary and middle school competition involves telling a digital story about heroes. I think the crisis in Darfur could initiate some deep thinking about today’s heroes working in places like Darfur. How about a story on the Doctors without Borders?

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I came across this video that explains Creative Commons so well, I had to link to it. I’ve seen other videos from the site, but the Wanna Work Together? video is the best yet I’ve seen for teachers and students who want to work collaboratively. Great ideas for on guidelines for our upcoming “Our Heroes” digital storytelling project.

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