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September 28, 2001

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Here's our lineup for this final week of September:

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Family Tech: Civil liberties; Home networks; e-virus protection; alternative news sources

In "Don't surrender your civil liberties",'s Larry Magid advises that, in these post-September 11 days, "we must be extra careful not to give up some of the very freedoms that have made us the envy of people around the world and the enemy of the forces of evil that would resort to terrorism." He looks at issues behind the reports we linked to last week in "Privacy a casualty?".

Once there were only WANs and LANs (wide- and local-area networks). Now there are FANs (family area networks), a fun acronym Larry uses in a recent Family Tech column about the in's, out's, and how-to's of networking home computers. Another great resource for online families Larry recently prepared is "Protect Yourself From Viruses", at his other site: The page has links to free virus-removal tools, including one for the latest nasty that's been going around, the Nimda worm. For students, researchers, or anyone seeking many perspectives on post-Sept. 11 developments, visit Larry's page with links to English-language news sources in the Middle East and South Asia.

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CIPA & online safety: What schools really need (Part 1)

Not many parents or even educators have thought about the Children's Internet Protection Act quite as much as Nancy Willard has. She - a mother, educator, CIPA expert, and director of the "Responsible Netizen" project at the University of Oregon - has written "A CIPA Planning Guide" for schools. It's a tool to help them (and fellow parents!) "help all students learn to use the Internet in an enriching, safe, ethical, and legal manner." CIPA is the US federal law, passed in late 2000, that requires schools receiving federal e-rate funding to have filtering or blocking software on their Net-connected computers (libraries, too, but their part of the law is being challenged in the courts).

The deadline for schools to certify that they're taking steps toward compliance is October 27 (full compliance is required by next July), so now is a good time for parents to participate in the discussion of what online safety in school really entails - beyond the disclaimers or acceptable-use policies we sign every year, and now beyond CIPA. This is Part 1. Next week: a simple framework of acceptable-use measures - human and technical - for elementary, middle, and high school.

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CIPA "is not a slam-dunk," Nancy told us in a recent phone interview. She said she worries that mandated filtering in schools will give parents and educators a false sense of security about kids' use of the Internet in school.

"I keep seeing an analogy between filtering/blocking software and a missile defense system - reliance on a totally inadequate technology 'fix' to address a human concern," Nancy said. Regardless of one's views on missile defense, the metaphor sharpens the contrast: There's technology, and then there's a more holistic approach that blends technology with the planning, monitoring, filtering, and teaching that trained educators do best. To Nancy, CIPA compliance is useful as a catalyst for careful planning. Here are some basic talking points for schools - and parents who want to support this process in their school districts:

  1. Net not recess. Use of the Internet in school should be limited to educational activities - classwork, research, career development - not "Internet recess," Nancy said. "The Net is not in schools as a public-access system; it's not for goofing off." A first step toward appropriate school use, she suggests, is proper professional development for teachers. "They need guidance on what appropriate, safe, responsible Net activity is."

  2. "White lists" for the youngest students. "It's critical that more work be done on the development of educational portals, by educators, for educators," Nancy said, referring to collections of links to Web sites individually reviewed by educators for age and academic appropriateness. "It's especially important to keep elementary-school kids in those fenced environments."

  3. Safety and responsible-use training. "We need to develop a comprehensive set of instructional objectives for students, educators, and parents," she suggests, "and we need a better understanding of how to address issues when they come up [e.g., a child happening upon inappropriate content], because preaching to kids that they're going to get caught and punished is not going to work."

  4. Human monitoring essential. Nancy said that, "in the school environment, we need essentially to eliminate the perspective [kids may have] that they're invisible when they're using the Net.... All the evidence indicates that when adults are hands-on, kids don't engage in risky behavior, and that's true on the Internet too." She recommends both teacher/librarian supervision and some sort of technical monitoring.

  5. The right to access. This point, Nancy said, is not just aimed at US parents and educators. It's also "vitally important in countries engaged in censorship: We have to reaffirm our basic freedoms. One is the right of access to information and ideas. Students have that right. The major problem with many of the technical protection methods is that they over-block and prevent access to perfectly appropriate material." Plus, relying solely on technology encourages under-blocking, because every school has tech-skilled students who can set up ways to get around the technology - "any blocking technology you want!" Nancy said.

  6. Critical thinking. "Recognizing that inevitably all children will - somewhere, sometime - have unsupervised, unfiltered access to the Net, we must focus our greatest efforts on helping young people develop effective filtering and blocking systems that reside in the hardware that rests upon their shoulders!" Nancy said. "We need to help them use critical judgment. 'Filtering' is actually the technique of how I'm exercising my judgment. 'Blocking' is where my values come in - I'm blocking that because it's not in sync with my values, with who I am."

  7. The control issue. We all need to think about where control and authority (over students' online experience) belong, Nancy suggests. "Our teachers and especially media specialists have far greater professional experience ... in determining the appropriateness of material for students than either the artificial intelligence of a technology tool or the staff of a filtering/blocking company." She suggested that schools create a "rapid-response" capability that "may be a function of the school library. As long as there are regular reports back to the system administrator, we need to empower teachers and media specialists to make these decisions."

Parents and teachers, we'd love to hear your views on how the Internet should be used in school - as well as your experiences with CIPA and other acceptable-use planning. Do email us!

Relevant links:

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Web News Briefs

  1. FTC to fight 'mousetrapping'

    The Federal Trade Commission is about to start legal action against hundreds of Web sites that mire Web users in endless popup ads, usually for sex and gambling sites. According to, the FTC's campaign starts October 1, and it's aimed at site operators who use misspelled variants of legitimate domain names to pull unsuspecting surfers, including children, into their advertising "mousetraps." The FTC's also going after "pagejackers" - Web operators that copy Web pages, alter their html code, and submit them to the major search engines. "The altered pages contain hidden code that redirects users to an entirely different site," the Post explains, "usually one laden with explicit adult images."

  2. Colleges blocking classroom access

    Bentley and Babson Colleges in Massachusetts were among the first US post-secondary schools to wire their classrooms. Now, according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo News), "they're spending tens of thousands of dollars on software and hardware that lets professors block some Internet access in classrooms with network connections." A Bentley official said professors had been finding students surfing, IM-ing, and even "looking at porn" in freshman classes. Besides removing access, another deterrent Bentley uses in some classrooms is "technology that allows teachers to capture a student's emails or instant messages and display them on a large screen for the whole class to see."

  3. 'can't stop porn image-swapping'

    One of the most popular image-swapping services,, says it can't stop the trading of illegal images and videos and it can't play the role of censor in its community of some 7 million users. Music City was responding to complaints that it had become a haven for child pornographers, reports, adding that the community's users themselves say that Music City's file-swapping software, Morpheus, "has lately become a favorite tool for traders of pornography, including illegal images involving children." The Post says that - though the service posts a policy statement on its site saying it doesn't tolerate child pornography and urging users to report any instances of it - it has not acted on the nearly two dozen complaints it has received so far. But Music City has added a "family filter" to the latest version of Morpheus. For background, here's our coverage of a congressional report in July about this challenge for parents of online kids, and here's our first report on the subject after one of you emailed us about this problem at her house.

  4. Portals criticized for hosting porn

    In a related story that looks at other online "hosts" to pornography, and Microsoft are under increasing fire for making it too accessible on their networks. According to the Los Angeles Times, "tens of millions of Internet users have transformed the club and community sections of Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN networks into havens for swapping hard-core images." The portals say their role is not Internet "morality police" but have reportedly tried to make the porn clubs less visible to the general public. However, the Times reports, "consumers who frequent the adult clubs say Microsoft and Yahoo have made it easier for the more than 100 million people worldwide who use their sites each month to find porn images for free." Ironically, the portals are not only getting opposition from civic and religious groups (the American Family is organizing a boycott and a petition), but also from the adult-entertainment industry, which says it's concerned that all the free image trading on those portals is eating into its profits.

  5. Rumor-mongering on the Net

    Unmediated news and information on the Internet is a challenge not unfamiliar to educators and librarians! The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times ran interesting treatments of this phenomenon, as seen in email in-boxes and personal Web pages Net-wide since September 11. In New York it was about "The Search for Intelligent Life on the Internet", and L.A. looked at "Terrorism's Electronic Fallout".

  6. Collaborative learning looks at "Washington2Washington," a project that connects junior high students in DC and Washington State. The two-classroom, year-long project sponsored by Microsoft and Dell Computers combines "lessons from traditional science and civics classes" in a curriculum based on the idea of building an imaginary country from scratch," the Post reports. Students work in teams over the Net using presentation software, online-meeting tools, email, and Web-publishing programs.

  7. Plagiarist expelled

    We're late in getting to this August 9 story, but it shows that the growing problem of Net-using plagiarism is being successfully dealt with in some cases. According to Wired News, one student has been expelled and more than 100 other cases of plagiarism are under review at the University of Virginia "after a physics professor used a computer program to catch students who turned in duplicate papers, or portions of papers that appeared to have been copied." Prof. Louis Bloomfield actually wrote the software program himself after hearing rumors that old physics papers had been plagiarized by students. An earlier Wired News piece took a thorough look at the problem, including some of the tools teachers use to combat it.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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