Monday, May 11, 2009

Speculation on the Power of the Web

It is still too early in the evolution of the Web to say with certainty where its ultimate power lies. At this moment, it is less than an infant, only a little more than a technological zygote. What it eventually becomes is open mainly to speculation, but there is one power it exhibits already in its nascent state. Like technology itself, the Web is overwhelming us with the intensity of its exponential growth and evolution. In barely a couple of decades, it has become an integral player in the shepherding of mankind, and yet in as little as another decade or two, its power may be such that it is no longer recognizable as the beginning entity it is today. The Web can well be considered as part of the “Future Shock” Alvin Toffler wrote about almost fifty years ago, but it is more of a shock than anyone could have imagined then.

The tendency of most people is to think linearly: It has taken mankind a few thousand years to reach our present state of technology, so in another few thousand years, we will be perhaps twice as far along as we are now. But technological (and Web) development and evolution are not linear activities. They are products of geometric progressions, and as Ray Kurzweil points out in his book, The Singularity is Near, by the time a geometric progression makes itself known, it has already become a raging torrent. Such is the ongoing state of the Web. It is at the beginning of a geometric torrent, doubling and doubling and doubling again. This doubling is of information, the very essence of everything in the Universe itself.

Power? In the immediate decades to come (not in thousands of years), man’s assimilation and technological use of information will be several thousand fold what it is now. Many people in generations alive today will experience what this means. The individual, in a newer, better, more durable form, need no longer die, and the Web may well become another world, literally, in which we live, without limitations, essentially forever. It will transcend the banality of religions, and many advanced thinkers believe it may evolve into its own eternal version of Heaven or possibly, though hopefully not, Hell. In any case, the Web’s power most certainly heralds the possibility, and even likelihood, of a wondrous future for the puny, insignificant and fragile little creatures that currently comprise mankind.


Safety Online

Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

Today’s students have two powerful tools at their fingertips—mobile phones and personal computers. These students are the original digital natives. Technology is their world. However, until they are mature enough to use these expensive gadgets appropriately, it is the responsibility of schools and parents to guide and protect them. On their web site, THE X LAB, Mac OX addresses Internet safety for children. They identify education and supervision as being “the two most under utilized techniques for insuring safe computing.”

Educating children to the problems and perils, so they know what to avoid and what to look out for.
Parental supervision of a child's activities on the Internet, including Web surfing, downloading, and participation in chat rooms.

Teachers and administrators recognize their responsibility for students’ safety at school and take steps to assure that students are following and learning safe guidelines when using the Internet. At home, parents must assume this role. Many parents are knowledgeable and diligent about keeping up with their child’s online activities. Too often, however, parents are not equipped to do this. Consequently, schools need to be prepared to educate the parents about the ramifications and possible dangers that result from some online behaviors and provide access to guidelines for safe computing at home.

This responsibility includes netiquette and cyber-bullying. We try to teach our students how to handle bullies face to face in day-to-day school activities—on the playground, in the hallways, the gym and dressing room. In one school, a second grade teacher taught his students how to assume an aggressive stance, look an individual in the eye and tell the person that they didn’t like what they just said or did. The teacher had a cue, and on cue the students stood up and went through the drill several times a day. Knowing how to respond and being able to show that they were not an “easy target” reduced the reports of bullying from his students by about eighty percent.

Online bullying is different. There isn’t anyone to look in the eye. That’s what makes it so easy to take place. Making sure that students are aware of what constitutes cyber-bullying is fundamental. Many students do not realize that some of their activities, done without thought, can be considered cyber-bullying. Defining online bullying as part of the AUP and having a published procedure for students to follow whenever they feel that they are being bullied will send the message that such activities are not acceptable and will be addressed by those in authority. Knowing what their rights are and how to respond can keep some students from becoming easy targets.

Also of consideration is the nebulous area between home and school. Incidences of cyber-bullying that occur in this area must be addressed as well. When children are bullied, whether it occurs online, via mobile phone or in person, they need to know their rights. Electronic bullying is more problematic since the source can be difficult or impossible to find. Where does the school’s jurisdiction begin and end? If bullying originates from a home computer but comes onto campus, does the school have the authority to act? Will including strict rules in the AUP/School Rules make it possible for schools to take action whenever action is needed?

Take a stand against cyberbullying

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We must teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. Learning to recognize cyber-bullying as bullying is the first step in teaching them how to react, which means not merely refraining from being involved but also reporting an offense when it happens to someone else. In the end, our children will be safer online and offline as well. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, who control technology rather than being controlled by it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Copyright Confusion

Do we as a global society need to rethink copyright laws?

I had always thought that I had a basic understanding of what copyright should mean to me as a student and teacher, for years thinking of the subject in black and white terms. Whatever applied to my needs was surely outlined with straightforward rules and guidelines. Now I find the copyright and fair use regulations sending me adrift through a vast sea of gray -- and with a great deal of confusion, major contributors to which are the increased volume and variety of creative work produced and its easy availability via the Internet.

Expecting the general public, global society, to adhere to rules that are confusing and seemingly contradictory at best, is an exercise in futility. If the copyright law is to succeed in what it was initially established to do, “protect works of intellectual property” and remain in line with the values of the First Amendment of the US, “emphasizing that sharing ideas and information leads to new knowledge and innovation,” the global society will need more common understanding and agreements regarding its rules and regulations.

The Creative Commons organization has opened the door to the increased sharing and access of intellectual property by making it easier for owners to release some of the rights regarding the use and distribution of their work and making it easier for users to have access to those works.

What's our role as educators in copyright usage in schools?

Doug Johnson speaks from the viewpoint of a media specialist or, as he refers to himself, a Copyright Counselor. He puts forth the idea that the focus of copyright instruction should be “changed from what is forbidden to what is permitted.” He points out that educators often “over-comply with copyright law, and even forgo using legitimate teaching tools and techniques for fear of violating copyright,” hence the need for educators to be knowledgeable of the Fair Use Doctrine.

Our role as educators is to make the rules of copyright as clear as possible for our students. Teaching by example as often as possible is the most effective way. Johnson points out that students are mostly uninformed and that the more they are made aware of the laws, the more their attitudes toward illegal downloading and copying will be affected. Once students are able to think of the copyright guidelines from the point of view of the producer and consumer, they will be more able to approach the problem with mature attitudes. Johnson points out that “as students become content creators themselves,” they become more likely to develop empathy toward other content creators.

Does ISBs AUP take this issue into account?

Copyright is referred to in ISB’s AUP, but copyright is a very large umbrella covering a lot of territory. Can it be fully addressed in one policy?