Original article appeared at: ZDNet

Net ED

As more families go online, becoming cyber-street-smart is key

by Jon Halpin
Originally published in the June 1999 issue

Giving children a solid foundation of the traditional basics--reading, writing, and arithmetic--may have been sufficient in the past. But now as more families go online, the scope must be expanded to include the basics of using a computer and navigating the Internet.

According to a new study by Forrester Research, there is a rise in online use among minorities as well, due in large part to increased Internet access in schools. (The drop in cost for PCs and Internet access has also played a role.) A study of 96,000 households found that online presence is highest for Asian-Americans, at 64 percent. But African-American access is expected to rise to 42 percent this year, meaning that 40 percent of African-American households will be online, and Hispanic-American access is expected to rise to 20 percent, meaning that 43 percent will be online.

While the government and some companies propose that content regulation through legislation or filtering technology is enough, organizations like I-Safe America and Legal Pad Enterprises (www.legalpadjr.com/isafe) believe that a broader educational approach is a more immediate and effective solution. Proper Internet use goes beyond protecting children's eyes from pornographic images and their identities from stalkers and flaming. It means developing a "cyber-street-smart" attitude so that they get the best of what the Internet has to offer.

I-Safe America has teamed with The Pixel Co., a 3-D interface design company (www.myspaceonline.com), to teach families to "drive defensively on the Web" by hosting a Cyber Grand Prix. Participants will learn the importance of safety awareness, netiquette, search methods, and becoming responsible cyber citizens. Kids will be given a series of questions, based on real-life events, and then are expected to provide answers to how they would respond to these scenarios.

The Cyber Grand Prix will use Pixel's MySpace Online visual 3-D interface, which is essentially a 3-D Internet city. Users can explore a virtual planet outpost that includes a 90-block city, where neighborhoods and districts represent different topics. According to Pixel, each city block offers a graphical representation of Web sites with links to more than 600 places on the Web.

Likewise, the Southeastern Software Association (SSA) and the Software Society of the Technology Alliance of Georgia (TAG) will host WebChallenge 99, a Web-site-design competition for Georgia high school students. The competition provides actual experience, incentive for students to get involved with technology, and a chance to interact with potential employers. It will be expanded to other states next year. To participate in WebChallenge, schools must assemble teams of students, a faculty advisor, and obtain registration forms at www.webchallenge.org.