I honestly believe that we’re living in treacherous times. Online tools for collaboration and communication have been completely embraced by our children—and by those who seek to harm them. Dark corners of the Internet continue to lure kids, and stories of harm—be it cyberbullying or child abductions—are becoming increasingly common.

But contrary to popular belief, it’s not the technology that is putting our children at risk. It is our complete failure as parents and as educators to teach Internet safety lessons to our students. We’ve put our faith in firewalls instead of comprehensive education, overprotecting and under preparing kids all at once.

As a tech-driven teacher, I’ve become far more serious about teaching my children the skills they need to protect themselves in their online lives over the past few years—and I find that my kids appreciate the lessons! Just recently, I used Trailfire—a neat Web 2.0 tool—as a part of an Internet safety lesson.

Figured I’d share it with you here:

Exploring Internet Safety

Handout:  Download Handout_Internet_Safety_Trailfire.doc

Web Address:  http://www.trailfire.com/plugmein/trails/47114

I’d love to hear what others are doing to protect their students—and what you think of this activity.  Leave a comment to share your thinking. Let’s figure out what we’re doing right.

***Interesting Addition: Two days after writing this post, Trailfire was blocked by my system’s firewall for inappropriate content. When I went and did a bit of in-depth exploring, I found that many users were creating Trails that included links to  pornography.

While the Trail that I’ve provided here contains only appropriate links—and while there is no way to navigate to inappropriate links from this trail—I’ve stopped plans to use Trailfire as a tool with my students until Trailfire responds to my questions about the best ways to keep inappropriate content in the private sections of the website. I’ll let you know what I find out.

***Interesting Addition, Part Deux:  I heard back from the Trailfire folks today.  They were a bit surprised by the degree and amount of inappropriate content that I found on their site.  They thanked me for pointing out the content, promised to deal with the individual users who were violating the terms of use, and most importantly, promised to experiment with several different popular firewall solutions to find the best way to keep students from stumbling across inappropriate content while using Trailfire. 

I think that’s one of the most exciting lessons I’ve learned about the creators of Web 2.0 tools.  They are genuinely interested in making their services “school-friendly,” recognizing the incredible market that sits in our classrooms—-so when they learn of an issue, they are often very willing to work to find solutions.

Trailfire’s not unblocked in my room—or by my district—-yet, though.  I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of solutions they can muster up in the next week or so.  I’ll keep you posted. 

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