Friday, December 14, 2007

It's been a good week...

On Tuesday, I did the present ation at TIES.

On Thursday morning, I interviewed for a January-only part time evening/weekend reference librarian at St. Kate's. This afternoon, I got the call offering me that job.

It's 16 hours a week (Monday and Tuesday nights, Saturday and Sunday 12-5), which means I'll be very busy. On the other hand, it's incredible experience, a great chance to work on some projects and resources for them that I can cite in later applications, and a chance to get to spend more time in that library, which I'm fond of. (I'm fond of a lot of different libraries, but it's always good to spend more time in different libraries.)

It also gives me a chance to do college-level reference, which promises to be a nice new challenge, but not overwhelming. (I'm obviously pretty familiar with the collection and the general kinds of needs.)

So, very excited, and very pleased with this week overall. This weekend has my work holiday party, time with friends, and some other projects I'm also pleased to be doing, so it's all good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back from my day at the TIES 2007 conference!

Hello to anyone who's found this space through that - whether you were at my presentation, or are having fun browsing through the presenter Wiki now that you're back.

I had a great time - this was the first time I'd been to TIES in several years, and the first time I've presented at a conference, so there were lots of new experiences for me. I got a chance to hear some great presentations (comments below) and came home with a number of new approaches to topics near and dear to my heart.

First thing:
I got there on Tuesday morning, registered, got my bearings, and wandered the exhibit halls during the first session. I was quite impressed by the World Book Advanced presentation at 8:45 - while I'd like a chance to explore it directly, it looks like there's an excellent integration of primary source documents and other types of resources with online article content. (My boss, on telling him about it this morning, was also enthused, though it'd likely be a next-year purchase.)

My presentation:
I was presenting from 10 to 10:50, so I went upstairs around 9:30 to set up and make sure everything worked. We had a small group (five people) but some really excellent and thoughtful discussion. I did run a little over time (and missed talking about a few things I'd wanted to spend a little more time on) but most of the contents are available in my notes - they're now posted in in the TIES wiki about my presentation. I'd love to talk further about the topics involved (here, in email, etc.) with anyone interested.

I did get the comment from several people that this material is something almost no-one talks about, but that it's an important part of the picture - which is very much my own feeling, so that's gratifying. I do think understanding why sites might have specific approaches or policies helps both with actual problem solving, and with realistic expectations of how to avoid problems in the future.

Self-Expression on the Web: What's a School to Do?
Continuing my trend of being interested in policy issues, I went to a presentation by Amy Bissionette, a lawyer with Little Buffalo Law & Consulting who focuses on intellectual property issues. I loved her presentation: she gave a number of scenarios talking about different legal issues and case that have come up, split more or less evenly between teacher issues and student ones.

Her handout is quite complete, but there were also some excellent questions and comments from the audience. In particular, we had quite a bit of discussion about how teachers get viewed as public figures in terms of behavior (and differently from other professionals) - and how that's having an impact on how communities view online behavior (posting photos on MySpace, or talking about specific topics.)

She finished by talking about some of the policies that schools should really consider (including having a video policy, which hadn't occurred to me as an issue, and really should have.)

I then went off and had lunch, before ducking in very briefly to see the portable exploradome planetarium (this is a large tent-like dome that includes a digital projector. It's totally unrelated to anything I do professionally, other than being a really amazing bit of technology - but it was absolutely gorgeous, and a very effective sort of resource, and a nice recharging break.)

Policies 2.0: Rules for the Social Web

My last session of the day was Doug Johnson's presentation, which was fantastic (and not just because he said lovely complimentary things about the content I covered in mine.)

I went partly because I know (from previous experience) that he does a fantastic job covering content in an engaging way (something I'm always interested in learning from) but also because I knew I'd learn something. I came away with some great presentation ideas for the upcoming parent presentation we're doing in March, and also some links and resources for our continuing education about online safety and use.

I then went to the closing session, which was a closing session - awards, etc. and some interesting thoughts, but not a lot of specific content.

Trends and thoughts:
I was really pleased - and a little surprised - that the overall consensus about online safety issues was very much "The media is overhyping predatory behavior: this is not the thing we need to worry most about".

I knew that - and the statistics back it up - but I was delighted that this was a widespread feeling with people I talked to about the topic. Everyone seeemed to agree that bullying, in particular, needs more attention, as well as privacy issues, the long-lasting nature of material on the web, etc. Now, if we can only get this across as clearly to parents, the media, and other resources.

One thing I did think about (and will develop further in coming weeks) was how much of how we talk about this is negative. Many of the books, articles, and blogs I've read talk about how to avoid problems - but don't talk nearly as much about how to build healthy online relationships and friendships. (Obviously, this includes some things to watch out for, but the focus is different.)

So, that's my day at TIES - again, any comments, thoughts, or questions are most welcome.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Navigating the Maze of Online Site Policy

Rather than posting the handout as a Word document, I thought I'd post it here, so people can comment on it, and so I can add and/or change things more easily after the presentation to add any additional good suggestions.

My presentation is focusing on how to help educators and technology specialists work with sites (and understand more of where site policies come from) when resolving problems.

The handout:

Why are there problems?

  • Competing demands and expectations from internal and external culture.
  • Many different kinds (and sizes) of sites.
  • Sites constantly face new issues or concerns.
  • Many factors shift quickly (public attention, legal pressure, etc.)
  • Many reports are unclear or don’t give enough verifiable evidence.
  • Limited information about policy issues available.
  • Some people have unreasonable expectations of sites.
  • Specific features on a given site can affect how people approach issues.

What you can do:

  • Develop polices and internal resources for your school or community.
  • Keep aware of emerging sites and technologies.
  • Spread the work, find people willing to learn specific high-use sites in more detail.
  • Develop resources and training for parents, students, and staff.

When you have a problem:

  • Use your common sense! Don’t panic.
  • Don’t delete information until you’re sure it isn’t needed for site action.
  • Look for information on the site about what they need to act.
  • Follow their process: there’s likely a good reason for what they need.
  • Keep notes. This will help both in this case and future ones.
  • Be practical (give them time to respond, take physical safety steps, etc.)
  • Be polite: it’s easier for sites to work with.
  • If these don’t work, then you can escalate to higher-ups in the site, or seek help from online safety resources.

Where to look:
Need help on a site? Check for links on the front page of the site saying:

  • FAQ
  • Help
  • Report Abuse
  • Contact [us/sitename]
  • Safety Tips
  • If You Have A Problem
  • Protecting Yourself Online

Some Links of Interest: :
Excellent and focused articles about various issues. Forums include commentary about how site policy sometimes has to work and will give you an idea of the kind of information people initially provide when asking for help.
Information specifically for educators and librarians, includes assistance if working with the site isn’t enough. Provides general information more than details, but does have a significant volunteer presence who assist with further help.
From Internet industry corporations and public interest groups: provides an overview of different issues. General information rather than specific.
Excellent and tightly focused information from the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. Includes information on two detailed and specific books.

Cyberbullying links:
A few sites focus specifically on cyberbullying issues. :
Specific information and advice for handling cyberbully issues.
Focuses on cyberbullying issues: has specific information about identifying and dealing with harassment.

Book Commentary: Totally wired : what teens and tweens are really doing online

Check out the information about these book commentary posts if you have questions.

Publication information:

Title: Totally wired : what teens and tweens are really doing online
Author: Anastasia Goodstein
Publisher: Saint Martin's Griffin
Publication date: 2007

General description:
The publisher's description:
With headlines like "Online Danger Zone" and "Are Teens Saying Too Much Online?" appearing in publications like The New York Times, Time, and Newsweek everyday adults are becoming increasingly worried about what kids are really doing on the Internet and with technology today. What are MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Live Journal? What exactly are teens doing on them? Totally Wired is the first inside guide to explore what teens are doing on the Internet and with technology. Speaking with a cross section of industry professionals and teenagers, Anastasia Goodstein gets to the bottom of how teens use technology as well as the benefits and draw backs of this use."
This is a good overall description of the book: an overview of common technology uses, as well as some benefits and concerns.

Topics covered include:
  • A Day in the Life
  • Blogs
  • Social Networking Sites
  • Bullying Online
  • Parental Controls
  • Teaching Teachers
  • Activitism
She also covers topics like illegal downloading and how to address concerns proactively.

Things I Liked About This Book:
1) One of my biggest likes is that this book has clear, tightly focused chapters. It's very clear in each chapter what the focus is, and each chapter includes a number of examples and experiences to help readers see the whole picture.

2) I like that she has a (now concluded) blog focusing on many of the same issues, allowing for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of topics covered in the book. If you prefer audio interviews, there are a few of those, too. There's also a discussion guide and other resources.

3) She includes a discussion of many sites, with examples, rather than focusing on one particular site. This helps keep the book useful, even if teens are using different sites than the best known few.

4) She avoids fear-based responses. She's very clear about the fact there are many benefits to online interaction, provides examples, and makes it clear that some fears are overblown by media reports.

5) The book is well-designed. There are informative and engaging sidebars that highlight specific subtopics. She gives many specific examples throughout the book. She includes a glossary of common terms. She also gives clear citations of where she got her information or resources.

Concerns and Limits in Coverage:
1) While the book includes many stories and anecdotes, it is less good at providing specific and direct information to help non-technically inclined parents navigate online sites and issues. (This isn't really its focus, however.)

2) There's no specific information about individual sites (again, not the focus.)

3) There's not much information about dealing with difficulties outside of a family setting (for example, helping teens to make thoughtful decisions about problems once they go to college.)

Any Other Comments:
Overall, I liked this book a great deal as an overview of a wide range of benefits and concerns with online time and use. It's engagingly written, thoughtful, and doesn't fall into any logical traps. It gives a lot to think about without overly pushing one particular type of response (except being thoughtful and aware: both good things.)

Recommended for an excellent overview - but you may want additional reading based on particular sites of interest.

Monday, December 3, 2007

New skills

This is my professional-face blog, so to speak, but that doesn't mean I want to be dry and boring. Expect snippets of other parts of my life to show up from time to time.

Last night, I spent time with a friend exploring salve and cream making. We want to try making soap, but thought that salves and creams might be a simpler place to start. She's an avid gardener, and both of us love interesting bath products and are learning about some uses of herbs.

She's an engineer with a background in medical equipment manufacturing, so whenever we cook or make things together, we end up in great conversations about how to adapt the process, where the failure points might be, and so on. We had a moment last night when we were testing a salve consistency by dropping the warm oil and wax mixture into cold water. For a thicker salve, it was supposed to form into a drop, for a thinner one, it would spread out on the water.

I test it. It spreads out. (We want a thicker one.) We add more beeswax. We try again. It spreads out. We add more wax. It spreads again. I look at this, and say "Ok, maybe it's not the salve, maybe the water needs to be colder?"

Unfortunately, no - the salve still spread - but it amused her greatly that I had the same instinct she had, to reconsider the testing medium, not just assume it was the thing we were actually testing.

It made me think of a lot of Web 2.0 type issues: how often do we react to something, by doing the same thing, over and over again, without stopping and saying "Hey, is there something else going on here?"

MySpace for moms and dads : a guide to understanding the risks and the rewards by C.W. Neal

Check out this post for information about these reviews.

Publication information:
Title: MySpace for moms and dads : a guide to understanding the risks and the rewards
Author: C.W. Neal (Connie Neal)
Publisher: Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI)
Publication date: 2007

General description:
The publisher says: "You can't ignore MySpace if you're a parent--but you don't have to be intimidated by it. This simple, step-by-step exploration of what MySpace means in your teen's life helps even computer-challenged parents and grandparents understand this communication revolution and make informed, confident decisions about their teen's use of MySpace. "

It's an accurate description: the information is clear, easy for non-technically inclined parents or other adults to address, and is an exploration, rather than insisting upon specific answers that may not fit all families or teens.

There is, however, a religious approach (discussed below, in my concerns section) that is not mentioned in the general publisher information. (Zondervan is a Christian publisher: however, their description of this book doesn't make this obvious to someone who didn't already know that.)

Things I Liked About This Book:

1) It encourages ongoing and active discussion with teens about why they want to be online, what they get out of it, and what particularly interests them. This includes open-ended questions in each chapter that adults can explore with their teens.

2) Neal provides some clear numbers on the kinds of issues involved to help put issues in perspective. (I particularly liked one statistic she mentioned: that MySpace has about 80,000 deletions of underage profiles a month, but only 12 reports a month of predatory behavior made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - for over 100 million accounts.)

3) She provides a good discussion of the problems of fear mongering and guilt motivation in trying to address issues with teens. She generally encourages parents to move away from these, and to seek information, then explore appropriate limits with their teen.

4) She's very clear that different teens will have different needs, wants, and ways to use online sites. She uses her own children (two of whom have MySpace accounts, the third of whom didn't care to) as examples in thoughtful ways. She's also clear that it should be a progression: teens should get increasing freedom and responsibility as they become more mature.

5) She provides some excellent explanations and examples. I particularly liked both her description of the front MySpace page as a 'visitor's center' like a tourist destination, and the charts throughout the book comparing MySpace tools to other kinds of familiar communication options (emails, phone calls, public discussion, etc.)

6) She provides clear and non-techie descriptions of how to check on a teen's page. These are step-by-step. She provides specific advice for how those who are not comfortable online can still provide guidance and supervision to teens.

7) Much of the information she provides on general safety approaches is offered elsewhere, but she handles it in appropriate detail, and gives explanations for why some things are best handled a certain way. For example, the advice to give a day or two's warning before checking your child's MySpace for the first time, to allow them to make any changes includes an explanation of why this helps encourage appropriate behavior.

8) It's overall a very solid book on a specific topic.

Concerns and Limits in Coverage:
1) She notes that much of what she says applies to other online networking sites, not just MySpace. However, she provides almost no discussion of this, and all of her technology explanations focus exclusively on MySpace.

Her choice is understandable given space considerations, but if you're looking for a general overview of multiple sites, or larger policy and safety issues, this book may not meet all your needs.

2) There is explicitly Christian content of several kinds. Families who are not Christian may prefer another book. The content takes several forms:
  • There is an entire chapter on "Families of Faith" at the end of the book - a chapter that is heavily rooted in a Christian worldview. While 'families of faith' is often used in a Christian context, there is no explicit support or discussion given to families of other faiths.
  • There are a few Biblical quotes in other parts of the book. These are generally about how one treats other people (relevant in context). However, the Biblical quotations are unnecessary to the overall content of the section. (Sources for the quotations include First Corinthians, Proverbs, and a brief reference to the Talmud.)
  • There are also a few comments about her own family's faith life (examples from trips for youth groups, church speakers, etc.) in places where they were not strictly necessary for the topics discussed - for example, the reader does not particularly benefit from knowing that her chaperoning of a trip to Los Angeles was a church youth group. (The trip is cited as similar to online interaction, in terms of being able to avoid problems by knowing which areas are not safe or inappropriate for teens, and a useful example otherwise.)
  • There are a few places in the book where a dualistic worldview (good/bad) emerges, rather than exploring a broader range of options. In other places, Neal encourages multiple options or ways to look at situations.
3) She does not provide complete references for her sources. On page 44, she mentions that she read through an overwhelming amount of information, and summarised it in order to keep the information manageable. While this is a good choice for this kind of book in many ways, it does mean that the reader has to take her information more or less on faith.

4) While she advocates against a fear-based response through most of the book, there are some places where this is not done. One is the inclusion of a letter from her sister on pages 138-139, but also in mentions of 'outwitting evildoers'.

5) There is no specific discussion of some specific reasons teens might want to make use of online resources that their parents might not approve of or feel comfortable with.

This includes teens exploring LGBT orientation or identity issues, those who are struggling with abusive relationships, teens dealing with illness or other significant stresses in their household, or concerns about their friends dealing with these issues where anonymity may be more important. Online resources can be a significant support for teens in need, even while they present some safety concerns. While the ideal is for teens not to be dealing with these issues, and to be able to turn to their parents or other trusted family members for support, that's not always the case.

6) There's very little discussion of other common issues, such as cyberbullying and other kinds of harassment. While many of the steps Neal suggests would help avoid these issues, an explicit discussion (particularly as one moves into higher levels of freedom and responsibility on her scale) would be very useful. I would have prefered a chapter on how to talk to teens about handling these issues (which can also come up even if you restrict online friends to those one knows in real life.)

7) I would have liked to see more discussion about how to help teens move from living at home into a college or workplace environment. The top level of her scale includes a lot of danger warnings: there are helpful ways to manage these concerns that are relevant and useful for college age students (or those who move out and get jobs) that parents can help their kids prepare for.

Any Other Comments:
Overall, this is a good book for those who want a detailed examination of how to handle MySpace's technology, and for the questions and exploration it encourages with one's teens.

However, as mentioned above, this book may not feel inclusive to all readers (due to the religious commentary), and does not address all the important topics related to online safety and behavior as thoroughly. While I'd recommend it for its intended goals, you should look for and use other titles and resources to fill in the gaps.

Book comments

As part of my preparation for my TIES presentation, I'm reading through various books on online safety issues, teen use, and related topics.

I want to provide information about the books, to help others figure out which one of the many titles out there might be the best fit for their needs. While these are reviews (in the sense of providing detailed information about contents), I'm trying to go at it from the view of "This book does these things well" and "It doesn't talk about these things as much" rather than a good book/bad book model.

My comments will generally include:
1) Author/title/publisher information

2) General description of the book's contents - who is it aimed at, what does it discuss, what is the focus?

3) Things I liked about this book - what does it handle well, have specific insight on, or explore in new ways.

4) Things in this book that I either didn't personally care for, or that might be an issue for some readers. Here, I try to avoid nit-picking, and to focus on larger issues.

5) Any other comments not covered above: these might include the tone of the writing, how readable the book is, the level of technical skill needed to follow it, and so on.

What I'm not doing:
A number of these books include specific instructions for how to navigate a site's information. I am skimming through these to see how they explain things, but I am not sitting at my computer following their process. Technical details may also change after publication.

My comments therefore focus on the overall concepts of the book, rather than specific technical details. Does this book help a parent (or other adult) talk to teens about online use? In what ways?

This is a public blog, and I welcome comments, including from authors. I don't care if you agree with me, but I do ask that you keep comments civil and aware of my particular focus in writing. Spam and any nastiness will be deleted. I also welcome questions in email, if you wish.

Friday, November 30, 2007


I'm pulling this blog together as a chance to gather information, comments, and other nifty things related to several professional projects on my plate right now.

They involve a presentation at the TIES 2007 conference on December 11th, 2007, on navigating online site policies, as well as a project at work gathering resources, links, book lists, and other suggested fun things for students to do over winter break.

More links, details, and other goodness forthcoming. In the meantime, check out the account I've been dropping links into.