Think Computer Ethics has no place in college prep? Think again.

“We teach what we know; we reproduce who we are.”
Robert Schmidgall

Who are we?
I have to wonder if we have become a people overly enamored with what we can do with technology. How often do we reflect on what we should be doing? How we can be more safe? How can we share in this knowledge soup without getting burned?

As my computer science students have worked to learn and share about online safety, I am stunned with actually how many things I did not know!

What I learned about pop ups!

For example, when pop up boxes appear on your screen, you should never click on the box (even on the red x.)

The red “x” in the pop up box is often part of the pop up itself and when you click it spyware or malware can be installed on your computer. If using Windows, you should always right click on the window on the task bar and select “Close.” (See the information on the Pop Up wiki.)

The Implications of Not Teaching Computer Ethics
Many educators have the following opinion:

Consultant: Which is the bigger problem contributing to Internet danger today, lack of knowledge or apathy?
Teacher: I don't know and I don't care.

As I read the Wired News article about how Cyber Crime is becoming organized, I was stunned to read:

There are still instances of these ‘lone-gunman' hackers but more and more we are seeing organized criminal groups, groups that are often organized online targeting victims via the Internet,” said Painter, in London for a cyber crime conference…

“Typically these groups engage in ID theft, carding (the illegal use of bank cards) and so-called Botnet armies where hundreds sometimes thousands of computers are taken over and used to infect other machines.”

This article points to ignorance as the problem:

Because crimes are committed online a lot of people still don't understand what is happening,” said Painter.

A quite telling “joke” poster has floated past my e-mail recently. Unfortunately, it has a ring to it! It says,

“It is amazing how easy it is for a team to work together when no one has any idea where they are going!”

(Sounds like some recent legislation which attempts to block all Web 2.0 tools from schools and libraries instead of creating a plan, doesn't it, but that is another topic.)

Where we need to go:

We must create plans to educate responsible, safe, honest web citizens!

It is essential that the 21st century web citizen be well versed in privacy, protection, and cyber crime reporting skills. A virtual “neighborhood watch” will need to be instituted with well-thought out reporting mechanisms (that prevent witch hunts while protecting us!)

It has always been the ignorant who are the prey!

From the unknowing mouse who meanders into the middle of a field only to be snatched into the talons of a waiting owl, to the senior citizen who thinks that they are buying inexpensive medicines but instead are giving their credit card (or bank card) to a fake storefront, ignorance is the problem.

And what is our response as a whole?

Create walled gardens. Raise fish in fishbowls and then dump them into the ocean upon graduation and wonder why they float to the top.

We must gradually transition students to the real web as we teach them how to be safe.

Education is the answer.

Blocking everything does not solve anything. (I still believe in basic filtration though.) Education is the ultimate solution.

Within the human mind is the greatest content filtration system ever designed. We can choose where to click. We can choose to view a page or to remove it from our computer. We choose where to enter our credit cards and what sites to frequent.

If we are ignorant, we are prey. If we are educated and ethical, we create our own cerebral wall of safety.

We reproduce who we are.

We are adults and we should be in the leaders when it comes to online safety.

I am reminded of the mother who received a phone call from a telemarketer. The telemarketer says, “I'd like to talk to the person who makes the final purchasing decisions for your family.”

The mother quips, “I'm sorry. That person is still at kindergarten and won't be home for another hour.”

As the recent “myspace” news headlines have proven, students do not have innate knowledge of how to protect their privacy. Students want to communicate with their friends. Many of them do not know that everyone can look at their myspace page.

Far too many parents still respond with “computers don't like me” when asked about their use of technology! Well, guess what? Some cyber-creep out there likes computers because it is a way to get at children without parental supervision!

Again, the answer is education! Education and competency must start with the parents and teachers and then we must teach and produce educated, safe, private web citizens.

That is why I am writing my book that will be released this fall. I am writing to beginning parents and teachers who do not understand what all of this new technology is about and are afraid of acronyms. Then, after becoming competent, they can teach their children to be safe. There has and never will be a substitute for parental involvement in the lives of children. The unsupervised child is prey for more than cybercriminals.
I am a woman on a mission!

As far as I'm concerned, every educator reading this blog should be on a mission to educate those within your sphere of influence.

Enough of mass hysteria, lets move towards mass education. Stop cyber criminals before they graduate. Give children constructive, meaningful tasks on computers and teach them the implications of cyber-crime. For, as the article says:

“In the United States certainly sentencing has become more significant in the recognition of the seriousness of Internet crime.”

He said hackers were being viewed less as “playful villains” while organized cyber criminals were being hunted with the same vigor as physical crooks.

No more, “I was just joking” or “I didn't know” and a slap on the wrist by authorities. Cyber hacking is a serious crime. It isn't cute. It shouldn't be a way to become an overnight security consultant. It should be a fast track to a daily uniform with stripes on the leg!

What are you teaching?

Teach the children in your care. I've taught cyber ethics material to children as young as fourth grade with amazing response. (A virus module.) They respond with insight and knowledge that would probably stun their parents.

How are you teaching computer ethics to those in your realm of influence?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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TheBizofKnowledge September 16, 2006 - 12:42 am

I think you’ve brought up a very important topic here (computer ethics and our collective role in the use of technology), and I’m thrilled to hear that you will be writing a book to educate the uninitiated.

P.S. I did *not* know that it’s bad even to click the red x on pop ups… I’ll definitely keep that in mind from now on!

techstu July 30, 2007 - 3:50 pm

I am an educator who had “no” idea the crime on the internet had escalated to include organized cypercriminals. This school year I am going to make it a mission of mind to see how teachers at my school and district can incorporate a lesson, in any subject area, on computer ethics, online safety and how to validate information found online.

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