Bexley News

Schools Notebook

Safe navigation of cyber space starts with talking

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Students today live in a hyper-connected world. They are online, mobile and communicating with friends, family and acquaintances from across the world in real time. There is no delay; all are accessible and able to send and receive messages instantly.

Our job, as educators and parents, is to guide students through their cyber experiences, encouraging them to exert control where they can and think before they post, hit "Send" or click "I Agree."

First of all, not everything needs to be posted online nor does every app need to be installed. Students should carefully consider what items they post, as well as the types of services they use. Vast archiving and sophisticated search engines mean that an action taken today has a life that extends many years into the future and may bring about unintended consequences, exposing a student's personal data and online activity for others to use or manipulate down the road.

Students must be reminded that short-form communications such as tweets and texts are, by design, constrained. Much is left out and what remains can be misinterpreted. So, again, encourage them to pause and consider: "Does the posting benefit others? Can I defend the posting if I need to? How would I feel if this were posted on the front page of The Columbus Dispatch?"

Students should also be aware of what represents them online, how they are portrayed by others and what they have personally posted. Like business professionals do on a regular basis, students should Google themselves to discover what others are posting about them.

The implications of this are most apparent to students during the college admissions process. Of course, college officials receive a student's carefully constructed self-portrait via applications, essays and interviews, but they also confirm researching student applicants online. In 2012, Kaplan survey results found that "27 percent of admissions officers checked Google and 26 percent looked on Facebook as part of their applicant-review process. Thirty-five percent of those doing so ... found material that negatively impacted their view of a student."

Every app or service includes "Terms of Use" or a similar agreement that the user should review. Students should know what they are agreeing to when they check that box, "I Agree." And they should consider limiting access to their personal data. In many cases, individual data is aggregated into a larger dataset, but it may still be disaggregated to reveal personally identifiable details.

Pay attention to privacy settings. Facebook and Twitter, for example, each have a mechanism for privacy controls that can be set by the user.

A recommended starting point is for students and families to discuss the use of social media and define what is acceptable for the family. Family members should review topics such as methods of access; types of posting permitted; and family security needs. There are numerous technical mechanisms that can be used to enhance privacy, but often the best starting place is to have a family discussion about the use of technology and the type of information posted.

Students tell us that their interactions in the online world are the most difficult to navigate. They need our help and our guidance.

Educator/expert Denise Koebcke will be in Bexley on Aug. 12 to talk with parents about these very issues. Her program, "Pro-Social Parenting in a Cyber World" is set for 7 p.m. in Bexley High School's Schottenstein Theater. I hope you will join us to learn more.

Paul Ross is the technology director for Bexley City Schools.

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