Friday, March 21, 2014

Student Safety on the Internet: A Guide

The Internet can be an amazing resource for everyone to explore and learn, to communicate with others far away, to buy things and pay our bills, and much more! But, it also contains dangers and annoyances, which we should do our best to avoid.
As the Internet continues to develop and change, so do these problems. We cannot, and never will be immunized to all problems all the time, so it is our responsibility, and to our advantage to learn about what these problems might be, and how to effectively use the Internet, so our “surfing” experience is free of dangerous waves…
Roblyer & Doering (2012) outline potential problems related to the use of Internet. Here are a few of them. For your convenience, I also added some solutions and tips for dealing with each potential problem.
Potential Problem #1: Accessing websites with inappropriate materials.
These days, anyone is allowed to publish on the Internet, which is great in many ways, but can also present problems. There are many images, videos, and writings that we, adults, would prefer our children and students are not exposed to. May it be nudity or pornography, hate sites or inappropriate content, it is quite hard to avoid without making an effort. Even the best filter or firewall will not protect us 100% of the time. The higher the filtering level is, the less content is available. This means that the filter will exclude at least some appropriate, and potentially insightful material. An example would be blocking access to, where not all clips are inappropriate.
Potential Problem #1: Solutions and Tips
• Install Firewalls and Web Filters. Such software protects our computers by preventing access to certain sites as well as by preventing others to gain unauthorized access to our computer.
Visit,2817,2369749,00.asp to find out which are the best 2013 security suites chosen by PCMAG.COM and are two parental control software that help parents gain the power to adjust the level of filtering they wish to have on their home computers.
• You can adjust the filtering level of search engines. Here is an example of how to adjust filtering level in Google:
• Another way to prevent your student from accidentally accessing inappropriate websites while using search engines would be to use childproof search engines. I compiled several of these search engines, and have been using them with my students. You can find them on:
Potential Problem #2: Safety and Privacy Issues for Students
A lot of websites, and especially social networking sites, allow users to create personal profiles and upload their content for everyone to see. According to Carr (2011), nearly half of all 12 year olds in the United States have an account for at least one social networking site despite not meeting the age requirement of 13. They can be impacted negatively from the Internet in different ways, such as:
• Online Predators- In much the same way that under-aged children can gain access to a social networking site, adults can do so as well. Many chat rooms and online discussions can expose children to people on the other side who pretend to be someone else (i.e., a 50 year old Jack pretends to be 12 year old Jill).
• Sales Pitches Aimed at Children- Just like on TV, the internet is also full of advertisements. These days targeted advertising are a big money maker and the use of words, colors, images, etc. can be very tempting to young people, who might be tempted to make commitments they are not ready to fulfill.
• Privacy Issues- It is important to ensure that children do not post unnecessary details about themselves (full names, phone numbers, address, e-mail IDs, etc.). In addition, websites now install “cookies” on the server, which send back to them information about our browsing history, to better match advertising. It is important to know that some of the information these cookies track may violate privacy agreements.
• Cyberbullying- The use of technology to intimidate, harass, threaten, or target people is similar to schoolyard bullying.
Potential Problem #2: Solutions and Tips
• Explain the problem of safety and privacy to your student. Tell him/her to never provide his/her full name, address, phone numbers, etc. to any stranger they meet on the Internet.
• Nourish a relationship of openness and understanding with your student, and engage in discussions about such topics and the dangers involved.
• Discuss online advertising with your student. Explain to them the dangers involved in committing to purchase items without the means to do so, as well as the dangers of using credit cards on the web.
• Perform regular maintenance on your computer. Delete “browser history” and “cookies” every once in a while, or set your browser to automatically delete “cookies” as soon as you close your browser.
• Explain to your student what cyberbullying is, and remind them to let you know if and when they witness or hear about bullying on the Internet. Here are several informational websites to keep you and your students informed about the problem and how to deal with it if it occurs: and
Potential Problem #3: Computer Viruses and Hacking
Viruses are programs written for malicious purposes (“Malware”). Their purpose is to sabotage computers, to steal information stored on computers, to use computers to do harm to other computers, to display advertisements without permission (“adware”), etc. Two ways to get such viruses is through e-mail attachments and downloads.
o Oftentimes, viruses can be “attached” to files. When the receiver opens the file, the virus is activated and can harm computers. It can then send itself to other people on the user’s address book.
o Viruses can also attach themselves to programs. When users download files or programs (especially illegally), the virus is attached to files and is received along with the files downloaded.
The same problems can happen when a hacker gets into a computer system for the purpose of stealing or corrupting data.
Potential Problem #3: Solutions and Tips
• Never open an attachment from an unknown source.
• “In doubt, DON’T!”- When you are not sure if an e-mail attachment is safe, don’t open it!
• Make sure you have an anti-virus installed on your computer. Keep it up-to-date and run it on a regular basis.
• Make use of a “Firewall”, but remember that some settings can often prevent users from accessing safe and useful websites.
• Download files only from a reputable source.
• There are programs you can install that can help you identify which sites are safe to visit and which aren’t. WOT (Web of Trust) is one of them (
Potential Problem #4: Copyright and Plagiarism Issues
There are many resources available on the Internet, and many of them are protected by different international laws. Using such information without the author’s consent can have legal ramifications. Also, the growing number of written resources for students’ use creates the problem of students using the information in their work without crediting the “real” hard-working authors.
Potential Problem#4: Solutions and Tips
• Remind your students that downloading music, movies, and programs off the Internet can be in violation of copyright laws. You wouldn’t like your students to get fined like the woman in this article did:
• Remind your students to always give credit to the original author/s of published work.
• If a certain site is copyrighted, request permission from its owners.

Roblyer, M.D. and Doering, A.H. (2012). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th Ed.). Pearson.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Using Instructional Software in the Classroom

The widespread availability of instructional software has opened up the world of classroom teachers to many new and exciting ways to substitute and supplement to their teaching practices. However, instructional software should be selected and used carefully in order to maximize learning.
The main benefits of different instructional software include keeping students interested and motivated, allowing for differentiated and self-paced work, and exposing students to what otherwise would be impossible due to lack of resources and/or time.
However, there are also potential dangers to using such software. For example, they must be used very carefully or precious instructional time would be lost. There is also a Constructivist-type criticism, which rejects the lack of authenticity and natural integration of such software.
My own experience as a 5th grade homeroom teacher has taught me that instructional software can be a fantastic tool to enrich students’ learning experiences. However, I have also had experiences in which using such software did not only assist students, but even hurt and confused them, to a point of frustration and reduction in motivation. 
In order to illustrate these points, I will discuss three of the instructional software  I use in my classroom- one very successfully, the second with increasing success, and the last with little success and growing frustration…
BrainPop– BrainPop is an excellent tool for learning about different topics through fun and easy-to-understand videos. In addition, it offers quizzes, additional readings, and an activity for each topic viewed. It has a simple and attractive user interface, and maneuvering around the site is very simple and user friendly. Students really enjoy the videos, and it helps me to both introduce and review concepts across the curriculum (math, science, and language).
Mathletics– Mathletics is an excellent game-based software which allows teachers to assign different tasks for students (as a class or individually). It also keeps track of students’ achievements, and offers certificates for earning certain points. Although I feel that I am using it quite effectively, because students report they enjoy playing the games, and I have seen progress made, it was not always like that. When we first received this software, there was no tutorial to go along with it. I used it to the best of my understanding, which was inadequate! By assigning tasks to students, it blocked them from access to different parts of the websites (for example to the “Online Mathletics” area, that has fun competitive games). I also accidentally (and repeatedly) re-assigned tasks to students, which deleted their previous scores and achievements. In addition to that, the website requires the newest Adobe Flash version, which most of our computers did not allow us to upgrade to, since we did not have administrative privileges. Lastly, living in a developing country, Internet connection is quite slow, and in many cases students could not successfully log in- both at home and at school. As a result, my students were frustrated. They complained repeatedly, and precious instructional time was wasted on waiting and re-doing things. As I continue to learn about the software, I use it more efficiently and get more out of it, and my students continue to improve their skills and have fun learning.
Mahara– At my school we recently began using Mahara, mainly as an ePortfolio software for our students. The problem with Mahara has started even before we received it. Our new ICT department has decided to replace several of the existing software, and very quickly the teachers found themselves learning several new technologies in a short time. There was no clear explanation as to why Mahara was chosen, and the introduction of it to staff was not very organized. Teachers were told that this is the tool they will be using, and so the sooner they learn how to use the software, the better. A few tutorials were created and handouts distributed by the ICT department, and teachers were off to fend for themselves. However, although a few teachers worked diligently to learn the new software, most others did not bother to do so. One thing was shared by all- the complaints. Teachers complained that the system was not user friendly, that they did not have enough time to learn it, that there are fundamental flaws in it (such as the inability to export portfolios), etc. etc. And that’s even before students were introduced to the software. 
These three scenarios hopefully illustrated the relative advantage of different instructional software at my school. In the following Powerpoint Presentation, I explain what instructional technology is, give examples of five different types of instructional software, explain how to properly select and utilize them, and present different benefits and potential limitations for each. I conclude with some useful links for educators, most of which could help teachers select appropriate (and tested) instructional software for their needs.