Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 10

Schools are focusing more than ever on internet safety education.
Schools are focusing more than ever on internet safety education.

In November, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules stating that schools and libraries receiving federal e-Rate funding would have to submit proof they’ve implemented web-safety education programs along with their applications.

The new rules came in response to legislation passed late last year requiring schools to teach their students about safe and responsible internet use. But many schools didn’t wait for the FCC’s action, instead taking a proactive approach to compliance with the new law.

Judi Westberg Warren, president of the internet safety-education group Web Wise Kids, said earlier this year that her organization has seen an increased number of schools reaching out to Web Wise Kids for guidance on how to properly educate students and teachers about internet safety.…Read More

FTC: Virtual worlds pose real threat to minors

Virtual worlds like Second Life offer educational benefits, but also adult content.
Virtual worlds like Second Life offer educational benefits, but also adult content.

Minors are able to access explicit content in virtual worlds without much difficulty, and the operators of those virtual worlds should take steps to keep that content away from children and teenagers, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks,” also urges parents to familiarize themselves with the virtual worlds their children visit.

According to the findings, although little explicit content appears in child-oriented virtual worlds, virtual worlds aimed at teenagers and adults contained a moderate to heavy amount of explicit content.…Read More

Student’s beating might be tied to Facebook posting

Authorities say a 12-year-old boy assaulted by a group of middle school classmates in Southern California might have been targeted after an internet posting urged students to beat up redheads, reports the Associated Press. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Richard Erickson says the boy, who is redheaded, was kicked and hit in two incidents on Nov. 20. As many as 14 students participated in the attacks. Erickson says the attackers might have been motivated by a Facebook message announcing that Friday was "Kick a Ginger Day." The posting is believed to have been inspired by an episode of the television show "South Park." The boy was not seriously hurt, but Erickson says there might be other victims as well…

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Utah, video-gaming industry launch web safety initiative

On Nov. 18, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, announced the availability of a free program — Wired With Wisdom — aimed at addressing internet threats to children through improved parental education, reports the Deseret News. The online tutorial, created by the nonprofit organization Web Wise Kids, is designed to teach adults how to keep children safe from actual and virtual harm online. Issues addressed include eMail safety, the creation of personal web sites, the use of social media sites like MySpace and Facebook, and cyber bullying. The web-based program is designed so that "even the least internet-savvy parent can understand these topics that our e-generation is now so eagerly embracing," Gallagher said. Utah joins five other states–Arizona, California, Florida, Virginia, and Washington–in adopting Wired With Wisdom. Shurtleff said he views the program as a vital component of the state’s ongoing fight against cyber predators who target children…

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Prince George’s schools to salvage computer system

An investigation by Prince George’s County, Md., school officials found the SchoolMax scheduling system that snarled the first days of the new school year had significant shortcomings that required repeated repairs. But it also determined that replacing the system would be more costly and time-consuming than fixing it, reports the Washington Post. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said that many of the problems with SchoolMax, a computer system chosen in 2005 to help Prince George’s County comply with federal requirements for keeping track of data, had been ironed out, and that it would be easier to get SchoolMax working correctly than to build a system from scratch. "We have a significant investment" in SchoolMax, said Hite. He also outlined a series of changes that had improved results and were intended to prevent a repeat of the confusion that plagued the district in late August, when the new school year began (see “SchoolMax cited in back-to-school nightmare”) …

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Treating kids on the web in a new way

San Jose Mercury News columnist Larry Magid spent part of last week in Washington, D.C., attending a gathering that turned out to be a "watershed moment in the 16-year history of online safety education," he writes. The third annual conference of the Family Online Safety Institute drew about 400 internet-safety advocates from 15 countries. This year’s conference was different from previous years, Magid writes, "in that young people were viewed less as potential victims of online crimes and more as participants in a global online community." That’s not to say that conference participants didn’t worry about child online safety, but "instead of focusing on real and imagined dangers, we focused on how adults can work with young people to encourage both ethical and self-protective behavior. It’s all about media literacy, digital citizenship, and critical thinking," he writes. "This was a big change from just a couple of years ago, when internet safety gatherings typically focused on ways adults could put up walls to protect children against predators, pornography, and other dangers." While online pornography continues to be a concern, the "predator panic" that was rampant a few years ago has largely been put to rest, he writes, as studies show the odds of a child being sexually molested by an online stranger are extremely low, especially when compared with children who are harmed by family members and others they know from the real world…

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Judge: District’s visitor ID system is OK

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Judge rules Texas school district's use of an electronic background-check system constitutional.

A federal judge ruled Aug. 18 that a computerized background-check system made by Raptor Technologies does not violate the constitutional rights of parents and other school visitors who undergo the checks.

Visitors to schools in the Lake Travis Independent School District (LTISD) in Texas are required to produce government-issued identification that is scanned and, through Raptor’s V-soft visitor management technology, screened for possible sex-offender status, custody disputes, restraining orders, and trespassing orders.

Yvonne and Larry Meadows, the parents of three LTISD elementary school students, had sued the district last year, arguing that providing that information was a violation of a number of constitutional rights, including freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and the right to privacy, according to court documents.…Read More

Feds issue more guidance on swine flu

During an Aug. 24 school visit, Duncan outlined education's response to the swine flu.
During an Aug. 24 school visit, Duncan outlined education's response to the swine flu.

Schools and colleges should be ready with hard-copy packets and online lessons to keep learning going even if swine flu sickens large numbers of students this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Aug. 24.

Speaking at an elementary school on the first day of classes in Washington, D.C., Duncan released recommendations on how educators can ensure that instruction continues should the virus cause high absenteeism or school closings.

“As the school year begins, I’m concerned that the H1N1 virus might disrupt learning in some schools across the country,” he said.…Read More

Schools gear up for swine flu shots

Schools will be the site of swine flu vaccinations this fall.
Schools will be the site of swine flu vaccinations this fall.

Hundreds of schools are heeding the government’s call to set up flu-shot clinics this fall, preparing for what could be the most widespread school vaccinations since the days of polio.

An Associated Press review of swine flu planning suggests there are nearly 3 million students in districts where officials want to offer the vaccine once federal health officials begin shipping it in mid-October.

Many more may get involved: The National Schools Boards Association said three-quarters of the districts in a recent survey agreed to allow vaccinations in school buildings.…Read More

Study: Campuses unprepared for catastrophe

Thirty-nine percent of campuses have evacuation plans, according to the study.
Thirty-nine percent of campuses have evacuation plans, according to the study.

Most colleges and universities are prepared to respond to bomb threats, hazardous material spills, and severe weather, but only a small fraction of campuses have policies that would protect faculty and students during a mass-casualty event like the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, according to a newly published study.

Tammy Curtis, an assistant professor of radiologic sciences at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, developed the study, which examined 28 university safety policies and was published in the peer-reviewed journal American Society of Radiologic Technologists. Five of the 28 campuses — or 18 percent — had adequate policies that addressed suspicious people in college buildings, lockdowns that are common when a gunman is seen on campus, orderly and efficient evacuations, crisis management, and post-crisis counseling for students, staff, and faculty members.

Curtis’s study showed that six (21 percent) universities included in the research had protocols for biological agent emergencies — such as toxic lab spills — and 11 campuses (39 percent) had evacuation plans in place. Five campuses (18 percent) had crisis-management teams and two universities (7 percent) had “post-crisis psychological distress counseling procedures.”…Read More