Category Archives: Online Security

More Internet Safety

Further reading on the issue of Internet safety has lead me to a transcript of a panel discussion at the Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization – Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths conference.

One panelist, Dr. Michele Ybarra, president of the Internet Solutions for Kids, states:

We assumed that if young people are posting and sending personal information to other people, this must place them at greater risk for victimization.

The data suggest that the vast majority of young people who are meeting adults online are not deceived and instead, knowingly, at least as knowingly as a young person can, consent to this relationship. And we’re learning that it’s not the sending and posting of personal information that increases one’s risk for victimization online…

This highlights to me the misconception that we do have in our society. That is, by posting personal information, even as simple as a student photo captioned with their name, will lead on to negative and inappropriate consequences. It doesn’t.

Let me reinforce that I am not saying that the Internet is a safe place that students can post information and surf without reservation or concern.

What I am saying is that in the context of a school web site or an ePortfolio, opening these up to the local (and global) Internet audiences will not have associated risks. The research clearly shows this is not how Internet predators operate.

More discussion on Dr Ybarra’s research can be found here.

Parents, if you would like more information about what to do and talk about with your children regarding Internet safety, please go to netsafe.org.nz or Hector’s World where you will find a wealth of information and practical ideas and activities for children.

Internet Safety

The first report that I have read, Internet-initiated sex crimes against minors: implications for prevention based on findings from a national study, is a comprehensive study designed to examine internet-initiated sex offenses of persons aged 17 and younger in the USA. The data was collected from surveying a random sample of law enforcement agencies in 2001 and 2002.

The results:

Victims in these crimes were primarily 13- through 15-year-old teenage girls (75%) who met adult offenders (76% older than 25) in Internet chat rooms. Most offenders did not deceive victims about the fact that they were adults who were interested in sexual relationships. Most victims met and had sex with the adults on more than one occasion. Half of the victims were described as being in love with or feeling close bonds with the offenders. Almost all cases with male victims involved male offenders. Offenders used violence in 5% of the episodes.

The conclusion of the study reinforced the all the concepts we already know. Acknowledging that these online relationships exist and having frank discussions about inappropriate relationships and the detrimental effects of these to developing youth.

While this does not address my original question, Will opening up student ePortfolios to a global audience increase the chances of inappropriate contact? It does demonstrate, in this study at least, that no child under 12 had any internet-initiated crime committed against them. 91% of crimes were initiated in chat rooms, instant messaging or email.

Of further interest to me was that prevention messages that are commonly publicised often do not take into account what is actually happening with youth social life and Internet practice. Simply telling them not to do it is not enough, the question is why are they doing it?

 At the same time, one study has demonstrated that youth were more likely to form online friendships or romances if they were troubled or, depending on gender, had high levels of conflict or low levels of communication with parents. Adolescents with these sorts of problems may be more vulnerable to online victimization.

So the question still remains, will our students be at risk if their portfolios are open to all? Data from this study would suggest that that would not be the case.

A walled garden or not?

There is an understanding amongst most teachers and parents that by opening up student web sites to be accessed by all, that we are putting them at risk of being noticed by certain members of society that we would not want to associate with. In this instance we are referring to displaying images or movies of a student on a web site with their name or some identifiable information, we are allowing them to be identified and then approached by ‘internet pedophiles’.

I agree wholeheartedly that child safety should always come first, we don’t want to put any child at risk of being a victim of any inappropriate behaviour – but are our fears justified? What are we basing our fear on? Are we overreacting? Do we need to shut the gate and control access to the sharing of student learning?

I have started to look more closely at this issue simply because I believe that opening up student learning to a global audience has the potential to engage and motivate the learner to a higher level. In a scenario, a student has openly posted a new podcast on their ePortfolio, this is then made available for the global internet audience to view and comment upon. The student receives comments from all over the world, and in different languages and even video responses. This leads on to more sharing and even collaborative projects with other learners across the globe…

This already happens of course to a certain extent, one just needs to look at You Tube to see how sharing movies is done so effectively. Also many portfolio solutions allow for public and private views of artifacts. There will always be some information that is not for public viewing. But should all shared learning be anonymous or hidden behind passwords?

So are our fears justified? What does the research and data tell us? To begin with I have been reading numerous recent studies, reports and surveys on Internet safety. These have been accessed at Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths. The information is very interesting and highlights the potential and real dangers of Internet use but also many misconceptions. What does this mean for the security of the students’ portfolios?

So my two key questions are really:

  1. Will opening up student ePortfolios to a global audience increase the chances of inappropriate contact?
  2. Will opening up student ePortfolios to a global audience lead to improved student learning?

I will add further posts as I finish reading all reports!