Q&A: Ask the Expert
Focusing on Cyber Safety
Jeanne McCann, the managing editor of edweek.org, recently did an interview for Digital Directions with Ron Teixeira, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, a group of private and public organizations that provides information and tools to improve cyber safety. Mr. Teixeira was part of a panel discussion at South by Southwest, a music, film, and interactive media festival held March 7-11 in Austin, Texas. She asked him about cyber-safety issues related to schools.
DD: Schools already have so much that they are mandated to teach. How can they find time to focus on cyber safety?
Teixeira: One analogy I use is that when I took chemistry, the first thing I learned is how to use a Bunsen burner properly, to wear safety glasses, because when you mix chemicals there may be some spray that hits you in the eyes. So why aren’t we doing the same thing when it comes to teaching kids how to use the Internet?
DD: What are the real threats to students? Many schools restrict Internet access, which affects teachers and students. Are they overreacting?
Teixeira: So you have children who learn how to use the Internet in a school where everything is filtered, which is a safe place to use a computer, but you’re not providing them the tools when they come home and do their homework. We don’t know what type of filtering systems or parental controls they have at home, so we have to assume that we need to provide these children with the tools and knowledge to protect themselves.
DD: So would you say that filters at school are not the way to go?
Teixeira: No. Each locality needs to figure out what works best for them. What I’m saying is that just because you filter things in school doesn’t mean that you don’t need to teach kids how to stay safe and secure on the Internet. The University of Michigan does a report every year about what parents think the top threats are to children . And for the first time this year, Internet safety has cracked the top ten, above drugs in schools and violence in schools.
DD: Virginia is one of the only states that mandate that online safety be incorporated into the K-12 curriculum. Correct?
Teixeira: That’s correct. What Virginia did through their acceptable-use policy is to require all schools to teach an Internet-safety curriculum. The key was they didn’t insert themselves in the locality in telling them how to carry this out. We think that localities need to be given the flexibility to decide what is taught, but there needs to be something taught, and I think that’s what Virginia did.
DD: What’s your message to ed-tech coordinators about cyber safety?
Teixeira: As far as protecting their own systems, they do need to have some level of control in terms of what programs are run on different computers, to make sure that children don’t download things that they shouldn’t or go to sites that they shouldn’t. But again, all of this is important for the schools’ security, and to protect kids while they are in the school, but what do you do once those school doors close and the bell rings? I think we need innovative ways to teach this stuff. There are organizations that provide games to teach it. You put a child in a game scenario and you’re showing them exactly what it may look like, and you’re helping them recognize a pattern that may occur and teaching them how to avoid that situation.
DD: Any last words?
Teixeira: Again, it’s not necessarily about just what happens in the school. There is an expectation that schools are teaching children how to stay safe on the Internet, and that goes beyond just knowing how to avoid cyber predators. It’s also how to secure their information and secure their computer, as well as how they treat others online. Schools are not the only ones to take on this burden, but they play an important role just like parents.
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