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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Laptops in school ok?

You've probably heard of school laptop programs, and some schools now expect students at least to have access to computers at home. But do you ever wonder how useful (or not) it is for high school students to take their laptops to school?

Marian Merritt, Symantec's Internet Safety Advocate and mother of an 8th-grader, wondered just that and put some good thinking about it down in her blog the other day. Marian also asked some colleagues, including me, if we'd seen any research on it, so I turned to my friend and tech educator Anne Bubnic with the California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP) for her experience with school laptop programs.

Anne pointed us to some meaty links (below) but, first, here's some of her personal experience with student laptops in school which I think you'll find as interesting as I did:

"I would have to say about laptops that bringing one to a school where the teachers are all on board with a structured method of incorporating them into studies is an entirely different beast than bringing one into a classroom just for note-taking, as Marian describes. A student doing so on her own would have to be a lot more self-disciplined.

"I filmed a group of math students. They talked about how the laptops have helped them become so much better organized. They never lose assignments or papers they are writing. They talked about being better organized again and again. It was amazing how confident that made them feel. They are learning real-world skills that will serve them well in the workplace!

"They record all of their notes on NoteTaker [software]. They record homework assignments and test dates on their electronic calendars. Even their books are electronic! The kids told us that their teachers post all of their homework assignments online and that they often do the homework before it is even due - can you imagine?

"They’ve learned how to juggle their busy sports schedules and social lives and homework in a way that works for them. But even more amazing, they are tackling math that may have not even been taught yet in the classroom! To watch these students using laptops is pure utopia. You wish you could wave a magic wand and every school district in the country would be there!"

Related links

  • Links from Anne Bubnic: "One of the leading experts is Saul Rockman, who also has served as CTAP's external evaluator for over 5 years," Anne wrote. "You can find some of the Rockman, et al, studies here. And here's more research from respected educator Gary Stager and the Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium. Apple Computers also has done a number of studies. Here's one on Del Mar Middle School" in Marin County, northern California. "You can also go to the Del Mar Middle School web site and find the latest student survey results," and Anne pointed to a laptop learning site at

  • Big-picture food for thought from PBS column "I, Cringely": "We've reached the point in our ... cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools. I came to this conclusion recently while attending Brainstorm 2008, a delightful conference for computer people in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin. They didn't hold breakout sessions on technology battles or tactics, but the idea was in the air. These people were under siege.... Kids can't go to school today without working on computers. But having said that, in the last five years more and more technical resources have been turned to how to keep technology OUT of our schools." See also "Beyond System Reform" in Education Week.

  • "Starting School Laptop Programs: Lessons Learned" by Andrew Zucker, Ed.D., Senior Research Scientist, The Concord Consortium - a few years old but substantive and on the opposite end of the US from Anne

  • "Study: Middle school laptop program leads to writing improvements" from the Associated Press, 10/07

  • "School drop laptop programs, but are they dropping the ball as well?" in Andy Carvin's education blog at, looking at a New York Times report last May

  • "School laptop debate heats up" in eSchool News, 9/06

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  • Staging fights for Web video-sharing

    It has become "an Internet rage for teens and young adults," the Chicago Tribune reports (story picked up by And - judging by the popularity of other negative adolescent uses of cellphones (see last week's feature on naked photo-sharing) - it could be true. The Trib leads with the account of five 8th-graders huddled around a camera phone watching "video of a fake fight they staged in a bathroom at Benjamin Middle School. They had filmed multiple rounds of a shoving match ... and planned to post it on YouTube." Some of the fights kids post aren't staged. The New York Times this week ran a tragic story about a long-term bullying victim. The online part of the bullying is on p. 2: "A couple of the same boys started a Facebook page called 'Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe.' It featured a photograph of Billy’s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: “There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.”

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    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    'Sex offender label problematic'

    That's the view of former FBI agent Ken Lanning, WAAY TV in Huntsville, Ala., reports. "Lanning spent 35 years as a special agent for the FBI. He now trains law enforcement officials across the United States on how to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. But even though he's seen and investigated some of the worst cases in the country, he doesn't like the title of sexual predator." Lanning "said the public shouldn't try to fit all [sex offenders] into the same category. Also, he said that not all people convicted of sex crimes should be required to wear electronic monitoring bracelets, and move 2,000 feet from schools or day cares, under laws like Jessica or Megan's Law." And the story doesn't even mention teen-aged convicted sex offenders, young people convicted for acts that may have been crimes, yes, but also possibly may have been huge mistakes made by adolescents who, by definition, don't yet have the impulse control of fully developed adult brains (see "Teenage Brain: A Work in Progress" at the National Institute of Mental Health ). [See also "Juvenile sex offenders & Net registries," "18-year-old registered sex offender," and "Teens to be sex offenders for life?"

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    Common social-networking hack

    We get a lot of questions in the ConnectSafely forum about people finding their profiles compromised in various ways. One way this can be done concerns social networkers' passwords - if they've either given their passwords to friends or their passwords have been stolen. A researcher colleague of mine in Portugal, Daniel Cardoso, sent me a heads-up about the latter. Here, a post in explains that there is free downloadable software on the Net that allows malicious hackers to steal users' passwords. Cain & Abel is "a password recovery tool for Microsoft Operating Systems. It allows easy recovery of various kind of passwords by sniffing the network, cracking encrypted passwords using Dictionary, Brute-Force and Cryptanalysis attacks, recording VoIP conversations, decoding scrambled passwords, recovering wireless network keys, revealing password boxes, uncovering cached passwords and analyzing routing protocols." In Slashdot, which Daniel linked me to, a young security expert posted: "If I were to run this attack on the computers at my high school, I could cripple a lot of kids' social lives (and get expelled when the admins see :) I see SO many of my classmates using proxies to get on MySpace at school (even though it's against school rules, which I don't blame after seeing some of my classmates' MySpace pages). They just don't understand how easily I could get their password (or whoever's, running the proxy, or even the admins). And it's worse when you wonder how many kids use the same user name and password for everything. Kids these days [note that he's talking about his peers] are just not educated enough on good security practices, or show a lack of common sense with this stuff." Parents, make sure your kids practice good computer security - choose hard-to-guess passwords, don't share them with friends, change them fairly often, and choose different ones for different sites and services. IT News in Australia reports that "criminal hackers now view social networking sites as their best target for attacks." It goes on to describe another vulnerability besides passwords, and IT Pro in the UK reports on a Facebook vulnerability involving users' private photos.

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    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Social Web for good, bad

    There are so many good things about social-networking, from the social activism it supports to the lives saved to the way far-flung friends can stay in touch. But there's a definite darkside, and JuicyCampus is a good example of a corner of it, reports my co-director Larry Magid in the San Jose Mercury News. "The site, which was reportedly founded by a 1995 Duke graduate, encourages students at selected colleges ranging from the Air Force Academy to Yale to anonymously post 'juicy' comments about other students. And some of these comments can be downright vicious. All of this is under the veil of anonymity." He added that a bit surfing of the site turned up cruel posts about people's sexual preferences, true or not.... One posting implied a certain named female student was available for sex with strangers and included her cell phone number and dorm information." What's sad is that the law protects the site better than it does the victims of defamation and cyberbullying in it. He quotes the CEO of as saying that, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, "a record company has a better chance of getting a judgment against a college student sharing music than a college student has against someone jeopardizing his or her reputation, privacy or even safety." [See also "Is Social Networking Good for Society?" at the New York Times.]

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    Monday, March 24, 2008

    On monitoring online kids

    Some parents continue to wonder how privacy they should allow their children, where online activity is concerned. Of course, there is no simple answer even in a single household. Even in a family we may have rules and values that apply to all, but in so many cases different ages require different rules, and each child is individual where rule compliance, maturity, and trust levels are concerned. Having said all that, though, I will add that no parent should hesitate to use monitoring software if s/he's concerned about a child's safety. If you feel your child's communicating a little obsessively online with someone you don't know and the child's otherwise acting a little strange (for example, spending too much time online or being secretive about his or her online "friends"), her privacy is simply not an issue; you're keeping her safe. But a commentator in the New York Times suggests there are other reasons to use monitoring software that make it perfectly justifiable, and he makes a compelling argument, but - again - I think it depends on the child. "Will your teenagers find other ways of communicating to their friends when they realize you may be watching? Yes. But text messages and cellphones don’t offer the anonymity and danger of the Internet. They are usually one-on-one with someone you know. It is far easier for a predator to troll chat rooms and MySpace and Facebook." I agree about the trolling that happens on the Web, but he's missing the fact that 1) young people can share phone numbers via chat, IM, and social-networking sites which can be used later to call them on their cellphones (see "Grooming by phone too"), and 2) 90% of child sexual-exploitation victims know the offender (see "Sex offenders on MySpace: Some context"). But, speaking of MySpace and Facebook, this other perspective on teen social networking might be helpful too: "Dispelling 2 social Web myths."

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