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Should Schools Reconsider Cellphone Bans?

Some school districts have implemented restrictions on students' cellphone use, but parents and others caution against all-out bans, saying the phones are useful during instruction and for helping parents stay in touch during emergencies. Elizabeth Kline, vice president for education of Common Sense Media, said educators should "have a plan, not a ban."




How to Avoid the “Google Search Curse”

It is too easy today for people to search for answers online, says Aswath Damodaran, professor of finance at New York University Stern School of Business, who calls this trend the "Google Search Curse". Damodaran says that because we can look up answers to probelms immediately, we’re losing the agility – not just the ability - to look at a problem and solve it. He teaches his students to avoid this -- and how to be "intellectually nimble" -- by training them how to think for themselves, not just accept other people’s solutions to issues, and think through problems.

He says that obviously fact-based questions are different. You can say, “Hey, go look up on Google search what the tallest mountain in the world is.” Reasoning your way into a factual answer is not going to give you a better answer. But if your question is more analytical, he feels there is an advantage to taking a 30-minute break before you open up Google search and look for an answer.


Internet Fuels Essay for Hire Industry

People living in developing countries are writing essays and completing other schoolwork for college students in the US, UK and Australia -- a cheating method made easier with the Internet. The essay-for-hire industry has grown with the increases in numbers of English speakers worldwide and the availability of high-speed Internet, The New York Times reports.


Students Benefit From Large Print Books

According to a survey of students, teachers and librarians, large-print books, in print or on digital devices, may aid students' reading comprehension. Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans said large-print books were found to improve reading abilities and students' attitudes about reading. The survey, conducted by Project Tomorrow on behalf of Gale's Thorndike Press, also found that middle school students reported a 43% reduction in feelings of anxiety about reading when using the large print format. 67% of teachers noted that large print text reduced stress and anxiety in students reading below grade level and at grade level, and 80% teachers said large print would benefit their students who have trouble tracking when reading or lack self-confidence in their reading abilities.

Have a child you think larger print books would help? Don’t forget you can easily change the font size on most tablets, iPads, eReaders, and even on computer screens.


Many Schools Looking to Monitor Students’ Online Activity

In attempts to prevent violence in schools, some districts nationwide are taking steps to monitor students' online activity and social media posts. Spurred in part by the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a year and a half ago, schools nationwide are collaborating with law enforcement in new ways in efforts to avoid these kind of tragedies. Investments are being made in new security technologies that can scan social media posts, school assignments and even student emails for potential threats. Supporters say such steps make students safer, but some others have expressed concern for student privacy. Critics also worry that social media monitoring could make criminals out of students who are just having typical kinds of teenage social and emotional problems.


Virtual Reality Leads to School Safety

A school district in Massachusetts is using virtual reality (VR) to better support students with disabilities. In one example, video-production students at the middle school are using VR to create a virtual tour of the campus that can give new students an early, up close and personal view of their school.


School Records Tempt Hackers

Education Dive reports that school records are some of the most sought after data files on the black market. Each school record fetches $250 to $300, making schools, especially small ones with few cybersecurity resources, tempting targets for hackers. In the past three years, schools have been hit more than 500 times by cyber thieves.


App Expands Reach of Books to Kids Everywhere

Students in developing countries can use a free app called Library for All to access books and other resources that would otherwise not be available to them. Rebecca McDonald of Australia created the app after volunteering for hurricane relief work in Haiti in 2010. She says the books, available through the app, are authored by local writers and illustrators, allowing students to read books in their own languages. The books and educational resources can be used on a mobile phone or e-reader.


Facebook Offers a Wealth of Information to Identity Thieves

Identity theft has exploded in part because of how people use social media, says Frank Abagnale, a former con artist who later became a security consultant and now works with the FBI. "When we interview people who commit these crimes and ask them what's the No. 1 source they go to when they steal someone's identity, they say their Facebook page," he said. One tip of advice he mentions is that you should avoid posting demographic information such as birthplace and birthdate on any social media profile.


Survey Says Kids Ask Internet Questions Before Parents

Children are more likely to look for answers to their questions online than to ask their parents, Lenovo reports following their survey of 15,226 people from 10 countries. The survey found that many parents look online to help their children with homework assignments, most often in math, and that 83% of parents generally believe advances in technology are helping their students do better in school. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) reported that they trust technology to help young people to become "more independent learners and problem solvers," although American parents were least likely of all the groups to believe this.


Bots Causing Havoc on Social Media

Automated bots are taking over social media, says Arkose Labs, adding that more than half the logins and a quarter of new social media account applications are fraudulent. These fake accounts have implications for those fighting against cyberbullying and misinformation. The company reviewed 1.2 billion third-quarter transactions across platforms, including gaming and e-commerce, and determined that about 75% of fraud on social media was committed by bots.


Are New Rules of Language Evolving Online?

In a new book called Because Internet, Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how the year you first accessed the Internet determines how you talk online; how ~sparkly tildes~ became widely recognized as sarcasm punctuation; whether emojis are replacing words; and why Internet dialects like doge, lolspeak, and snek are linguistically significant. Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who's ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from, or for parents who are trying to communicate intelligently with their children by texts.


YouTube Ads Targeting Children Coming to an End

YouTube is reportedly wrapping up its plans to curtail targeted ads for videos directed at children in the wake of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into whether the platform violated the Children's Online Privacy Act. It is, however, unclear how YouTube will define videos "directed at children" and how it would enforce the ban. Up until now YouTube has gotten around ad restrictions by arguing that YouTube, the primary site, is not for children (the company says kids should use YouTube Kids app, which does not use targeted ads). Still, nursery rhymes and cartoon videos on the main site have billions of views. The platform’s many issues with children’s content-–horrific imagery, harassing comments-- have troubled its video creators, worried parents and empowered rivals. Getting rid of targeted ads on children’s content could hit Google’s bottom line–but this solution would be far less expensive than other potential remedies that aim to placate regulators.


Is Frequency of Social Media Use the Culprit in Teen Age Depression?

A recent UK study in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health reports that adolescents who checked social media more than three times daily had increased psychological distress compared with those with lower social media use. Researchers also found that reduced sleep quality and elevated cyberbullying exposure accounted for about 60% of the correlation between very frequent social media use and psychological distress among girls, but only 12% of the association among boys.

How does this translate? It appears that it is not the social media that is depressing kids, but rather their frequent use of it. This is especially so when screen time interferes with getting enough sleep, or if they are being bullied. More time on devices leads to missing out on other positive social interactions, sleep and exercise.


The Debate Over How Screen Time Affects Teens

National Public Radio reports that researchers appear divided over the effect of screen time and social media on teens' -- particularly girls' -- mental health. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, says social media in particular may be causing anxiety among teens, however others say that her data is skewed. Critics state smartphone use is almost ubiquitous among teenagers today, while only a small minority report mental health problems, so simply knowing that a teenager uses a smartphone (even for many hours a day) cannot reliably predict that the teenager will become depressed. Factors such as genetics or the presence of childhood trauma can serve as much larger predictors.

So why should the average parent worry about this scientific controversy? Because, one critic says, when parents simply demonize phones, "there's less of a communications channel" about what teens are encountering online. A parent's opportunity to mentor or support positive uses of media is replaced by "confrontation on a day-to-day basis." Well-meaning parents, wrongly believing the phone to be as risky as a cigarette or a beer, may actually be making their children's lives harder by fighting with them about it.


Schools in Australia Test Using Emojis as Part of Classroom Communication

High-school students in Australia are sharing how they are feeling with their teachers using a library of emojis. Students have been using an emoji-based software tool as part of a pilot program aimed at curbing anxiety among students. Since implementing the program, teachers and staff feel the software has helped with gauging how students are coping at school and at home.


Google Feature Now Checks for Plagiarism

Google for Education has introduced a feature called Originality Reports that allows teachers and students to scan their work for plagiarism. As the feature scans work for commonalities among billions of webpages and millions of books, it highlights text that may need additional sourcing. Check it out here.


Harry Potter Wands Teach Math and Coding

Seventh-grade students at one Pennsylvania middle-school are using Harry Potter wands to learn coding and complete puzzles on a tablet. Students use their math skills to program the wands to perform "spells" such as create fireworks on the screen. Parents can buy the same wand on Amazon for about $70.


Kids Find New Ways to Use Tech to Cheat

USA Today is reporting that students are finding new, and increasingly advanced, ways to plagiarize assignments and to cheat on exams using technology. Among the newer trends is the use of auto-summarize features in Word, the use of Apple Watches to send answers to others, and the use of other programs that generate essays to be passed off as students' own work.

How are schools combating these issues? Some teachers are giving shorter exams, instead of one of two big tests, so students feel less pressure to cheat. Howard Gardner, a research professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says that instead of getting into a technological arm's race with students, instructors and parents should help students understand "why one shouldn't cheat and why it’s destructive to them. It’s easy to say that and be completely ignored, but otherwise, it’s a (game of) cops and robbers." 


Google Expands College Search Function

Google has expanded its year-old college search function to include data on not just four-year colleges, but also two-year programs and institutions as well as certificate programs. The search provides data including graduation rates and tuition as well as location and potential areas of study. Google’s focus on only four-year colleges in the first iteration of its search feature had been criticized as a “blind spot.”