2:18am

Fri November 1, 2013
All Tech Considered

For The Tablet Generation, A Lesson In Digital Citizenship

Originally published on Fri November 1, 2013 5:46 am

This week on All Tech, we're exploring kids and technology with posts and radio pieces about raising digital natives. Look back at the stories and share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, by email or tweet.

Parents pack into a gym at Cahuilla Desert Academy, a middle school in the southern California city of Thermal. The near triple-digit daytime heat of the Coachella Valley, southeast of Palm Springs, has given way to a cool evening. It's iPad information night.

Before addressing the crowd, Principal Encarnacion Becerra talks up the district's ambitious new iPads-for-all initiative with the fervor of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

"It's truly a revolution, what's happening," he says. "Technology has finally caught up to where truly you hold the Internet in the palm of your hands. The power of the mobile devices that exist now — we have to have to leverage that capacity and to evolve as educators to address those needs."

Coachella Valley Unified — a predominantly low income, rural and Latino school district — is in the process of handing out iPads to every student, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Kids seventh grade and up get to take the device home evenings, weekends and breaks. Voters approved a bond issue to pay for it.

Administrators here paint it as a modern civil rights issue. Technology tools, they argue, will help boost achievement, prepare kids for today's workplace and narrow the digital divide between poor and wealthy areas.

A growing number of school districts across the U.S. are handing out tablet computers and integrating the devices into their curriculum. But the old issue of how much Web access kids should have on school-issued devices is growing more complicated as kids surf on multiple devices and access multiple networks at home, school, public hot spots and more.

iPad Security

Last month students at the Los Angeles Unified School District easily got around a security firewall on their district-issued iPads and could surf wherever they wanted. LA has now slowed down its iPad rollout amid growing concerns about LA's entire tablet project.

This worries Joey Acuna Jr., father of a student in Coachella Valley Unified.

"I have concerns after hearing what happened in LA Unified," Acuna says. "Kids are kids, and they're going to try to do what they think they can get away with. And not to be mean, but sadly ... some of our kids probably have better knowledge of these kind of electronic devices than some of our teachers."

LA is now exploring new security tools to block access to certain sites, including social media sites and YouTube. "All social media sites are blocked," says LA school district spokesman Thomas Waldman.

Parents here in Coachella want to know whether their district has learned from LA's missteps.

The Coachella Valley school district will block certain sites deemed harmful and install a tracking mechanism and other tools to monitor kids' use. Part of that falls under the Children's Internet Protection Act: Schools and libraries that accept certain federal funding for technology must install Web filters to shield kids from pornography and explicit content online.

But the district is taking a more nuanced approach than LA Unified to the access and use of social media sites. They're not blocked. The idea now is to educate kids and parents about appropriate use of the iPad — or what the district calls online ethics and digital citizenship.

Karen Cator, CEO of the nonprofit education group Digital Promise, says the issue of filtering is incredibly complicated because the Internet is continuously changing.

"I think it's futile to try to shut this down completely," she says. "And it's a missed opportunity, if we do that, to teach kids how to act appropriately in what will be their lifelong globally networked world."

Setting Up Rules

Eighth grade physical science teacher Tim Sharpe at Cahuilla Desert Academy has been using the iPad in a pilot program for more than a year. He says tablets are tailor-made for science learning: His students use them to take photos, write about labs and tap into the latest educational science apps.

Sharpe has already confronted the problem of renegade surfing on mobile phones. Students can get on YouTube with their smartphones, he says, but they know Sharpe might take their phone away for the day if they do.

What sites to block, beyond the ones legally required, should be a teacher-student classroom management issue, he says.

Sharpe devised a system that engages kids and rewards them: If they finish their iPad project on time, they can then play games or take pictures for fun with the devices.

"And there's ... a point system," he says. "So you just lay the rules down. And I find that the kids go with that."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's hear more now about the integration of tablet computers into the classroom. In recent weeks on MORNING EDITION, we heard about the Los Angeles school district. It's beginning a process of issuing iPads to every student, and L.A. quickly discovered it had inadequate systems in place to limit students surfing on the Internet. L.A. is trying to keep some control over what students do. Another district in California is taking a more open approach. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Parents pack into a gym at Cahuilla Desert Academy, a middle school in the Southern California city of Thermal. It's iPad information night. People are relieved the near-triple-digit heat daytime of Coachella Valley southeast of Palm Springs has given way to a cool evening. Before addressing the crowd, Principal Encarnacion Becerra talks up the district's ambitious new iPads-for-all initiative with the fervor of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

ENCARNACION BECERRA: It's truly a revolution, what's happening. Technology has finally caught up to where truly you hold the Internet in the palm of your hands. The power of a mobile device...

WESTERVELT: Coachella Valley Unified, a predominantly low income, rural and Latino school district, is in the process of handing out iPads to every student, pre-K through 12th grade. Kids seventh grade and up get to take the devices home - evening, weekends and breaks. Voters approved a bond backed by property taxes to pay for it. Administrators here paint it as a modern civil rights issue. Technology tools, they argue, will help boost achievement, prepare kids for today's workplace, and narrow the digital divide between poor and wealthy areas. Sitting in a plastic chair, parent Joey Acuna, Jr. worries about a different digital divide - the one between teachers and students when it comes to online security. Last month, students at Los Angeles Unified School District easily got around a security firewall on their district-issued iPads and could surf wherever they wanted. L.A. has now slowed down its iPad rollout.

JOEY ACUNA, JR.: You know, I have concerns after hearing, you know, what happened in L.A. Unified. You know, kids are kids, and they're going to try to do what they think they can get away with. You know, and not to be mean, but sadly, I think a lot of, some of our kids probably have better knowledge of these kind of electronic devices than some of our teachers.

WESTERVELT: L.A. is now exploring new security tools to block access to certain sites, including social media and YouTube. Parents here in Coachella want to know whether the district has learned from L.A.'s missteps. And for some parents and guardians, what sites to block and how to navigate social media with their kids is unchartered and scary territory. Tenth grader Eli Servin lives with his grandmother, Delia Patino, a retired secretary. They're sitting together in the living room of their modest ranch home in Thermal. Delia tells her grandson she's worried about Facebook. Now, she's never used the social media site but she says she hears things in church and on TV about personal postings coming back to haunt.

DELIA PATINO: I don't want to know that you're putting any information that shouldn't be on the Facebook about the family, about the household, anything like that, or about yourself. Your reputation is very important in life. It's going to follow you all through life, you know. So, anything you put, it's going to hurt you in the future. You know, because we never did that in our times and nowadays it seems to have a lot of, get a lot of people in trouble over the Facebook.

WESTERVELT: Eli, looking slightly nervous, tries to reassure his grandmother that most of his postings are pretty harmless and trivial.

ELI SERVINE: So, like, what I just put is just, like, have a good day with my friends today, like, right after fifth period. Mostly, like, the little things that happen in life.

WESTERVELT: The Coachella Valley school district will block certain sites deemed harmful and install a tracking mechanism and other tools to monitor kids' use. Part of that is federal law. Under the Children's Internet Protection Act, schools and libraries that accept certain federal funding for technology must install Web filters to shield kids from pornography and explicit content online. But the district is taking a more nuanced approach to access and use of social media. They're not blocked. The idea now is to educate kids and parents about appropriate use of the iPad, or what the district calls online ethics and digital citizenship.

TIM SHARPE: Teachers are just going to need to learn to get out more.

WESTERVELT: Eighth grade physical science teacher Tim Sharpe at Cahuilla Desert Academy has been using the iPad in a pilot project for more than a year. He says the tablets are tailor-made for science learning. He has kids use them for photos, to write up labs, and tap into the Ed Tech science apps and more. Sharpe says he's already confronted the problem of renegade surfing on mobile phones.

SHARPE: They can get on YouTube any time they want in school. They have smartphones. I took my phone out of my pocket, I showed my students the other day, and I said you know that any of you can get on this anytime you want. Why don't you? Well, because we'll get our phone taken away. Where's the rules?

WESTERVELT: And Sharpe says what sites to block beyond the legally required ones should be a teacher/student classroom management issue. Sharpe has devised a system that engages kids and rewards them. If you get your iPad project done on time, you can act like a middle-schooler and then take a zillion pictures of yourself. The ubiquitous selfie.

SHARPE: And there's a, you know, a point system where if you don't get what you're supposed to get, then no selfies or anything. So you just lay the rules down. And I find that the kids go with that.

WESTERVELT: Maybe this kind of approach to Web access works best: have teachers, parents and students work together to form a realistic, flexible plan - one that might involve incentives but that also confronts the reality that students are going to use social media and play games on their mobile devices and computers. One ed tech expert said her bottom line: There is no technical fix. Engaged teachers and parents count most when it comes to keeping kids safe at home and at school. Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.