Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Verdict in Megan Meier case
In the cyberbullying case against Lori Drew, the Missouri mother involved in the creation of a fake MySpace profile that led to Megan Meier's suicide, "a federal jury delivered a mixed verdict," the Los Angeles Times reports. She was convicted of misdemeanor charges involving unlawful computer access, but the jury "rejected more serious felony charges." It was also "deadlocked on a conspiracy count." The L.A. Times added that Drew "faces anywhere from probation to three years in prison." For details on what happened, see my first post on the story a little over a year ago.
Digital backchannel for the classroom
I love it! A teacher subverting the formal classroom experience and making the informal result a learning experience! He's doing so by turning the classroom "backchannel" into a teaching tool (the backchannel is that age-old back-o'-the-classroom multi-directional chat the digital version of which looks like an instant-messaging window on the screen). Author and college instructor Ira Socol uses Today'sMeet (a software tool created by his son), which bring the backchannel forward - public - for all to see, he says in his blog. He checks it every few minutes to see if he needs to "adjust" the class discussion. "In a big class it gave me real access to far more students than I can possibly get by watching for raised hands. And it let me - and the class - hear from many who never raise their hands. Honestly, I could even judge, much more clearly than usual, what was connecting and what was missing. As an instructor - I loved it." Here's the coolest part (for reflexive critics who might wonder, "Why add another distraction from the lecture to all that those multitasking students have on their plates?"): The backchannel tech "began to overwhelm Facebook and email use in the room [amazing in itself]. The distraction technology became engagement technology [emphasis mine]." Atlanta-area high school teacher Vicki Davis, who I follow in Twitter, blogged about Socol's blog post, with photos. She picked up on 2 big pluses: The first in Socol's words, quoted in her post: "the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who'd rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it." The second plus is hers: "It is also important to point out that archived backchannels give students the ability to take group notes and have the information later."
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
2008 videogame 'Report Card'
The National Institute on Media & the Family (NIMF) released its 13th-annual videogame report card this week
, and the "grades" are better, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "In the past, the report has criticized video-gamemakers and given grades - often low - on how their products affect children. But this year, the grades are up and the tone is conciliatory." The reason, says the Institute, is that most of its past policy recommendations have been implemented by the gaming industry - for example, parental controls for the three main consoles and more accurate game ratings. The NIMF also warns parents against game addiction in this year's report, Gamasutra reports (see also "Don't just take away the Xbox: Psychiatrist's view"). Further NIMF coverage in the Washington Post leads with the year's worst game content.
Cellphone cos. & cyberbullying
It was a microcosm of the dynamic between government and industry where cyberbullying's concerned. The industry - in this case mobile-phone companies in Ireland - saying there is no technology that can stop phone-based bullying and lawmakers saying, "You could do more." Both are right, really. Bullying is a reality of growing up that long predates communications technology, but there's always something more companies can do. The dynamic was played out this time in an Irish parliamentary committee. Members had recently heard from a Singapore-based phone parental-controls vendor and called in the Irish Republic's four main cellphone operators to explain why they weren't using its "KidSafe" technology, the Irish Times reports. The phone companies said they'd considered KidSafe but the technology didn't work. "It did not prevent bullies from leaving voicemails, it rebooted when somebody who was not authorised tried to get through, it did not stop multimedia messaging service (MMS) which was used to send pictures, [and] ... it worked only on Samsung handsets which made up a small percentage of the market in Ireland." Maybe technology that actually does what it claims exists, maybe not. Maybe the phone companies should help develop said. But everybody also needs to look beyond technology for both prevention and cure, including phone companies. Besides citizenship and empathy training in schools, there is always room for more cooperation between companies and consumers and schools, not just law enforcement (e.g., UK mobile operator O2's 100+ customer service staff people dedicated to children's phone-based behavioral issues, especially cyberbullying, as described to me by a UK colleague - see "What mobile carriers need to do for kids").
Regular, micro & now 'slow blogging'
First there was fast food, then slow food. Now, instead of mere blogging, there's slow blogging, the New York Times reports - more reflective blogging. Clearly, blogging is a maturing medium. It's diversifying. "Some slow bloggers like to push the envelope of their readers’ attention," not unlike just about all bloggers, who start out with enthusiastic high-frequency posting that they later find hard to sustain. What's even harder to sustain when the frequency goes down is "stickiness" - when posts aren't daily, readers get out of the habit of checking in. Which may be one explanation for the popularity of the Huffington Post: "With about 50 new posts a day," it's more like a daily newspaper - high frequency and a little something for everyone. Besides the maturing of the technology itself, another factor is tech segmentation. There are new technologies for "fast blogging" or "micro blogging," e.g. Twitter, in which you can link to longer posts in a blog, but you're under no obligation to say much. And Twitter has secondary technologies such as Twitter news feeds that automatically announce to your Twitter followers when you've posted. This layer is like a blend of blogging and instant messaging. I know, I know. You might be asking, "Where does it stop?" Maybe nowhere. ;-) BTW, there's fresh thinking too, now, on a similar movement: fast (global) retail to slow (more local) retail. [See also "30 Days to Being a Better Blogger."]
Monday, November 24, 2008
'High School Musical' malware
This is a computer-security problem more likely to affect families with kids and tweens - especially young file-sharers (high school students are a bit old for "High School Musical"). If fans of Disney's High School Musical series uses P2P networks such as eMule or eDonkey, they need to be especially alert, CNET reports. It cites a report from Panda Security that warns of Trojan software called VB.ADQ or Agent.KGR, as well as "the adware Koolbar, that's circulating around those file-sharing networks. Pay attention to the file extension before you download any file that looks like a tune or clip from the series. "Many of the malicious files have the extension '.exe'," which is "rarely the case with a legitimate music or video file," CNET reports.
Teen's tragic, very public suicide
The tragedy of 19-year-old Abraham Biggs's suicide last week was compounded by the fact that hundreds of people watched as he streamed his death live on the Web. [The Hollywood, Fla., college student died after taking a combination of opiates and the drugs he'd been prescribed for his bipolar disorder, USATODAY reported.] Some viewers "expressed shock, while others laughed or encouraged Biggs to die. Some members uncovered Biggs' identity, phone number, and address, and at least one online community member called police," InformationWeek reported. By the time the police arrived, Abraham was dead. Investigators told InformationWeek that "some users told them they did not take Biggs seriously because he had threatened suicide on the site before," but they are "investigating the role of Web site moderators and discussion board members," InformationWeek adds. They have a tough job. The Montreal Gazette editorialized that online suicides can't be stopped. "Live video feeds ... have become part of modern life. Most live-streaming and video sites have policies that prohibit the webcasting of violent or disturbing content. But technically, the problem with sites such as YouTube or Justin.tv ... is that with millions of videos uploaded, it's just not possible for administrators to know what is being shown." But, more important, what about the human factor? USATODAY talked to Texas Christian University sociology professor Keith Whitworth, who said that the anonymity of the Internet may cause some users to behave in ways they wouldn't in person. It has a dehumanizing effect by putting distance between viewers and the person in trouble, allowing viewers to feel absolved of personal responsibility (sound like a factor in bullying?). Whitworth told USATODAY they are "'absolutely not'" absolved, but "they also cannot be held accountable." He also told the paper that "Biggs' act is similar to suicide pacts in Japan and school shootings in the USA that end with suicide: All are well planned by people seeking fame." He worries about copycat suicides amid national - and now international - news coverage (choose from 1,300+ more stories here).