Panelists at the NIU College of Education’s Fall 2019 Community Learning Series on cybersecurity could not have been clearer.
We are under constant attack, to the tune of 1,500 malicious acts every minute. The attackers are well-financed, heavily resourced and, unfortunately, always ahead of the good guys. If anything seems weird, question it.
And – please, please, please – choose strong passwords, keep them private and, if you do nothing else, change them!
Michael Chahino, Michael Espinos, Joe Jaruseski, James O’Hagan and the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment’s Jason Rhode provided the Nov. 5 audience with a vivid picture of the state of play along with tips on how to stay safe.
Jaruseski, director of IT Infrastructure for Naperville School District 203, said parents of K-12 students should know their rights for student online data protection as indicated in regulations such as CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) and COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act).
A new Illinois Act called SOPPA (Student Online Personal Protection Act) regulates the collection and use of student data by schools, the Illinois State Board of Education and education technology vendors, he said.
Parents also should know what websites their children are visiting at school and at home, he added, and accepting some level of responsibility to monitor their Internet activity:
“A student’s online presence is their digital portrait, so make sure it reflects what they want it to be as they enter college, career, military, etc.,” Jaruseski said. “Be involved in your child’s social media presence. Ask your children, ‘Do you really need to be on Twitter? Do you really need to be on Facebook? Do you really need to be on TikTok?’ ”
Keeping an eye on a child’s technology use also can expose online bullying, added Chahino, chief information officer at Elgin Community College, and work to mitigate its devastating effects.
O’Hagan, however, encouraged parents not to monitor but mentor – “even,” said the director of Digital and Virtual Learning for the Racine United School District, “if you don’t understand what your kids are doing.”
Schools also must “do a better job,” he added.
Educators initially wanted “nothing to do with social media” and reflexively blocked access to it, O’Hagan said, leaving students to plunge blindly and alone into those turbulent waters and then to foster “a ‘Lord of the Flies’ environment” as they tried to stay afloat without adult guidance.
Children already have lost the ability to interact constructively on the playground thanks to accountability measures such as No Child Left Behind that have restricted time available for recess, he said. Schools need to “honor the importance of play” again, he added, and can do so through esports and video games that promote good mental and physical health.
Digital Citizenship programs offer a good road to that outcome, the panelists said, because they teach that the Internet comes with rules and regulations as well as consequences for misbehavior: Try to imagine a driver’s ed class, Jaruseski said, that instructs teens in the operation of a motor vehicle but fails to warn them about speeding and the traffic citations that can result.
Not all of the evening’s conversation focused on the negative side of the cyber world, however.
Learners interested in taking advantage of online learning to better themselves, grow their knowledge and earn professional credentials should explore their options, he said, and ask to actually speak to a human being who can provide more information.
Meanwhile, O’Hagan told the audience that access to technology is simply the latest “boogeyman” that worries older generations about the state of youth.
In the 1930s, he said, the boogeyman was radio. Twenty years later, it was comic books and TV. By the 1980s, it was “Dungeons and Dragons” and heavy metal music. In the ’90s, it was video games.
Finally, Espinos said, the unlimited possibilities of instructional technology can change the way people think about school. It can challenge and empower teachers to do things never done before. It can “flip classrooms” to spur dialogues rather than lectures.
“Technology,” he said, “is the biggest and brightest tool to allow students to rise to their potential.”