Today is Safer Internet Day, an annual international event sponsored by Insafe to promote a safer Internet for children. Recent research on Internet life has shown that the greatest threat to kids online comes from kids themselves, both in the form of risky behaviour and online harassment, or cyber bullying. Cyber bullying can take forms such as harassing e-mails or text messages, social exclusion and spreading private photos and videos, among others, and presents a particular challenge for parents and teachers because it often happens outside the home or classroom. Because the Internet has become an essential part of kids’ social lives, cyber bullying can also have more devastating effects as youth feel they have no escape.

With all the recent attention focused on stories of teenagers charged with distributing child pornography for taking sexually suggestive pictures of themselves, jobs lost due to Facebook and MySpace entries, and libel suits over blog posts, people are justifiably concerned about the permanence of material posted to the Internet. Many a teacher or parent has had to carefully explain to children or teens that whatever they post online might be seen by people other than the intended audience, and might be out there for a very long time.

Educational games have had a troubled history. At their worst, they have been neither educational nor games; even at their best they have faced scepticism from educators, game designers and especially children. The standard response to being given an educational game – This is supposed to be fun? – might be compared to finding a Brussels sprout at the centre of a Tootsie Pop. Teachers, meanwhile, are rightly concerned that the educational content of these games might be outweighed by the entertainment value. Already loaded down with curriculum that has to be delivered, many educators feel they don’t have the time to spare on anything but direct instruction.

The Web is full of great online resources for teachers and students, with new material appearing every day. With the arrival of National Media Education Week, teachers may be looking for fresh ideas to bring media education into the classroom. Here’s a quick overview of recently created (or recently discovered) resources that may help:

One of the great achievements of the Internet has been to put all kinds of information at the fingertips of millions of people. From online encyclopaedias to search engines, some of the most successful online services have been ways of providing answers to people’s questions. It’s not surprising, then, that more and more young people are relying on the Internet to answer their questions about that most uncomfortable of topics: sex. Some people, in fact, have even suggested that the Internet makes those awkward, politically troublesome sex ed. classes irrelevant. In the age of Google, is sex ed. necessary?

“Who steals my purse steals trash,” Shakespeare wrote, “but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.”

Joe McGinniss’ book The Selling of the President had a shocking title for 1968, suggesting as it did that in the television age the presidency had become nothing more than another product to be packaged and sold. A new MNet resource, Watching the Elections (a lesson for Grade 8 to 12 Social Studies classes), shines a light on how the different aspects of an election – from the debates to political ads to the candidates themselves – are actually media products.

Formerly a largely peaceful and orderly place, inhabited by craftspeople, entertainers and wise Jedi, the galaxy – that is to say, the world of Star Wars Galaxies, the massively multiplayer online game (MMO) based on the movie franchise – is now a world of ruthless bounty hunters and blaster-happy fighter pilots. Where success could once be achieved by a number of paths, it now consists of, in the words of the game’s senior director Nancy MacIntye, “instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat.”

Note: this is the fifth in a series of blogs looking at the history and future of Web 2.0. The user-participation culture of Web 2.0 has begun to change the worlds of music, movies, animation, games and even encyclopedias, but in no area does the change promise to be as deep and fundamental as in the world of news. While other aspects of user-created content blur the line between authors and audiences, the line remains there: it still takes tremendous skill and effort to make a mashup or a fan movie, even if Web 2.0 has made those things easier to distribute. Some have suggested, though, that it will change journalism in a much more radical way – perhaps altering our idea of what journalism is entirely.

In our last instalment we contrasted the “hard path” of user-created media – which requires would-be creators to be highly talented, skilful, committed, or all three – with the “easy path” of services which make it possible for more people to create media. In this column we’ll be looking at a method which aspires to make everyone a creator: crowdsourcing.

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