Objective: The student will articulate potential benefits and risks associated with technology use in the college environment.
This lesson is designed to help you become more aware of technology issues, including your online presence, and to enable you to make smart choices about the ways you use technology, how you interact with people online, and the information you share with the online community.
Estimated time 30-45 minutes
This section corresponds with Module 3 Lesson 4 in the STEPP Classroom Transition resources.
While, the introductory video with Jimmy Kimmel might be hilariously funny, college students rely deeply on technology for both academic and non-academic purposes. These are just a few of the technology items that you may use in college.
College students have near-constant access to technology. Because there’s more freedom in college, there’s often nobody enforcing limits on things like non-academic computer use or when and where a smartphone can be used.
College students need to do many more things online than they likely had to do in high school. For example, many colleges only post grades online, and many professors use web-based course software that requires students to do things like complete homework assignments, take quizzes, and submit papers online.
Becoming tech-savvy is a key skill for college students. Not only will you need to know how to use technology tools, but you will also need to become truly savvy about technology in many different ways.
Both students and adults use technology—especially computers, tablets, and the Internet—for a variety of purposes such as those listed here. What are some other reasons why students use technology? Consider both academic and non-academic purposes.
Read below for some possible purposes for using computers and the Internet.
Technology is so completely integrated into most people’s lifestyles that it often tends to blend into the background. When it works seamlessly, as it often does, it’s easy to forget that it’s even there. This can be dangerous because it leads to us taking it for granted, becoming lax about safety or responsibility, and forgetting that there are still risks associated with its use.
The convenience and efficiency that technology provides also come with the tradeoffs of dependence and vulnerability. You generally don’t remember or notice these drawbacks until something goes wrong. There’s no concern about the security of your computer until you get a virus that fries your entire hard drive, or you take for granted that your bank’s website is secure until there’s a data breach and your identity is stolen!
AAlthough the benefits of technology generally far outweigh the risks, you cannot forget that there are risks. It’s important to get into the habit of recognizing those risks early on and consistently taking actions that minimize or avoid them. Serious problems can arise if you’re not safe and savvy when using technology.
Anyone can find information about you online. It can be as simple as looking at Facebook or Twitter and using the information gleaned from that site as clues to where else to start looking.
All it takes to find many details about you is:
If you are careless about online safety and security, individuals may also be able to access more sensitive or private information about you: how much money you make, credit cards you own, where you bank, etc. Carelessness doesn’t even have to be something as drastic as leaving a list of your passwords out somewhere. Something as simple as forgetting to log out of a social networking or email account on a public computer could give a total stranger access to completely take over the account and lock you out!
In case you were thinking that some of those things you brainstormed with your parents couldn’t possibly be public information, here’s a list of some of the types of websites (and a few specific examples of each type) where these details can be found.
A great deal of additional information t is also available on these sites and others. If someone is looking for your information online, these may be the places they start.
Once they get started on one site, it’s usually an easy jump to figure out other sites where they can find more information.
You can’t ignore the risks, but you also can’t avoid technology entirely. This lesson is not intended to convince you to remove all of your information from the entire Internet. That’s neither practical nor realistic. On the contrary, the sites where all of these personal details are available are often highly effective and important tools for communication, information-sharing, education, business, and more.
The solution is to become “web wise” and technologically-savvy. Even experts on Internet safety have an online presence, so the answer is not to disappear from the Internet. The problem arises when people do not use good judgment related to the information they share online. If you use good judgment in conjunction with what you know about the risks and benefits of your online presence, you can drastically decrease the risk of problems.
“Street smart” people…
“Web wise” is the Internet version of “street smart.” All the same skills are relevant; they’re simply being applied in a different setting.
Access Wi-Fi hotspots wisely:
Make sure you’re using secure sites for all financial transactions. The web address should say “https://” or “shttp://” to indicate that the site takes additional measures to secure your information (the “s” stands for “secure”). Sites starting with “http://” are not secured.
Protect your accounts with strong passwords and additional identity-verification measures.
The next few sections contain more specific tips on how to use technology responsibly, especially as a college student.
Use reputable security software and ensure that it scans for threats regularly:
Don’t bypass or disable security protocols. It may be annoying to have to continually tell your Internet browser that a certain type of pop-up window is not a threat, but disabling the feature entirely can cause more problems than eliminating the annoyance was.
Keep security software up to date. It’s a good idea to set it to update automatically.
Being tech-savvy is about more than knowing how to use technology. You should also:
Many people use the term “tech savvy” to refer to people who can easily navigate technology—people who use technology effectively and efficiently and who can troubleshoot basic and intermediate tech problems without much support. But being truly tech‐savvy also entails awareness of larger issues surrounding technology: why it’s an important tool, the purposes it serves, where people can run into problems with it, how to solve those problems, and what impact the use of technology has on the communities they’re part of.
Apply critical thinking skills and good judgment to all your technology-related actions. Tech-savvy people evaluate benefits and drawbacks with a critical eye, consider the purposes their actions are serving, and engage responsibly with technology and online resources.
It’s easy to find guidance on how to create a strong password. Many colleges provide guidelines and examples, and some even require your password to meet certain criteria in order to be accepted by the campus system. The key is to create something that is easy for you to remember but extremely difficult for others (or a computer program) to guess. A strong password should contain:
The company that compiles this list bases it on passwords that have been posted by hackers. They publish the list yearly “in an effort to encourage the adoption of stronger passwords.”
Some college computer networks (and other systems) require you to change your password at regular intervals. Even if yours doesn’t, you should get into the habit of changing all your passwords every so often. You don’t have to make drastic changes, but at least a few characters should be different
Given the large number of online accounts that most people have, this can seem like a daunting proposition. However, it actually doesn’t have to be. The passwords you use don’t have to be completely random or drastically different from each other, as long as there’s no easily discernible way that they relate to each other. The important thing is that if someone gains access to one of your accounts by guessing or hacking your password, they should not be able to use that same password to access any of your other accounts. Furthermore, you can use a password manager to keep track of them all in case you forget (see the next tip).
The old advice given by security professionals (back when people only had 1 or 2 passwords to remember) was to never, ever write your passwords down anywhere. However, based on that advice, too many people chose extremely easy‐to‐remember (and thus extremely easy‐to‐guess) passwords, such as “password” or “123abc.”
As a result, the newer advice is to write down your passwords if you need to do so in order to use strong, secure ones. However, it’s crucial to store your passwords securely.
One option is to write them down and lock up the paper somewhere away from your computer.
This also applies to letting someone use your account, even if you logged in yourself and didn’t actually tell them the password. Unless you’re standing there watching what they’re doing the entire time, you don’t have any idea what they’re doing, yet you’ll be responsible for any consequences stemming from their actions.
Many websites and online accounts require you to answer security questions. These are intended to allow you to access your account if you forget your password and sometimes to provide an additional layer of security by requiring you to answer them when you log in from a computer with a different IP address than the one you created the account from.
(Source: Information and examples given in the security questions section are copied from or based on advice and examples from: http://geekswithblogs.net/james/archive/2009/09/23/how-to-pick-a-really-good-securityquestion.aspx).
Don’t assume that just because you know the sender it must be safe. People often have their email address books hacked, and cybercriminals often prey on victims by sending emails with damaging viruses, spyware, or malware in links that the recipients may click on simply in good faith that the sender (the person whose account was hacked) wouldn’t possibly send them anything malicious. Pay attention to what you’re doing online, and don’t open or click on anything on “autopilot.” Be especially wary of anything that asks you to “act immediately,” that sounds too good to be true, or that asks you to enter personal information.
Back up your data often to protect your schoolwork, music, photos, and all other digitally‐stored information. Make sure the backup copy is safely stored somewhere else. For example, if you back up your flash drive to your hard drive but then keep them both in the same bag, this defeats the point of backing it up. Lots of colleges offer their students storage space on the school’s server, which can be a great backup option. This way, if you do encounter a problem—such as a virus that erases your hard drive or a hacker who locks you out of the account where your store all your photos—your backup will make the consequences less dire.
Don’t assume that default settings are acceptable. Also keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with choosing to set your security and privacy settings to maximum.
This applies most often to how much people are willing to share on social networking sites. There can be some social pressure to share a lot of information online, but you need to own your online presence. If you’re not comfortable sharing certain information online, then don’t! It’s ok to limit who has access to your information, even if others around you don’t.
College students are terrible at following this advice, and that’s likely one of the reasons why theft is one of the most common crimes on college campuses. If you make it easy for a criminal to walk up and take your technology, you’re asking for trouble. If someone walks off with your personal laptop, they’ll have immediate access to anything that automatically logs you in. For many students, this includes social media sites, email, music and movie sites, and more.
Then close every program you were using, especially the web browser. The best practice is to also completely turn off or restart the computer to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
It’s important to be aware of how the things you post are perceived by others, including peers, parents, teachers, employers, and others. Remember that the way you intended for something to come across may not be how it reads online. Although you can always attempt to explain yourself later, you may not get the chance to change the impression you’ve created.
Review the information about sharing safely on social media with your student. Many students don’t realize or consider the potential consequences and long-term effects of posting inappropriate content on social media. Share real-life examples of negative effects from friends, co-workers and even as reported by the news media.
Social networking sites have become extremely popular over the past decade. They have many benefits: they’re a great way to keep family and friends updated on your life, and they keep you connected with colleagues and communities that share your interests. You can use social networks to build a positive reputation that will follow you both online and offline. But it’s very important to stay safe! To safely share information on social media, consider the following:
Limit access to only those people with whom you would actually want to directly share the information you post.
If you assume that only the people you are directly connected with on social media have access to the information, then you’re putting yourself at risk. It’s better to work under the assumption that others may be able to see or access the information, then only post what you’re comfortable sharing with a wider audience. Remember, you don’t have to be the victim of a security breach for your posts to gain a wider audience. It could be as simple as one of your friends or followers retweeting what you shared or showing your post to someone else who’s nearby. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t want something to be general public knowledge, don’t post it!
This means not posting in the heat of the moment when you’re particularly emotional about something. Remember that once you post, it’s out there. You don’t want a momentary lapse of judgment or impulsiveness to cost you more than you were willing to risk.
Avoid posting anything while under the influence of anything that may lower your inhibitions, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or peer pressure.
What are some things that the phrase “good citizenship” makes you think of?
You may consider good citizenship to be anything related to demonstrating respect for your surroundings and the people in those surroundings. There are many possible components:
So that you know the issues facing your community and can generate ideas for solving the problems that arise.
Such as obeying laws, rules, and guidelines established by authority figures. This, of course, assumes that the authority is legitimate and there’s no abuse of power occurring.
This could take many forms. Some may be overt and structured, such as volunteering in ways that help you “pull your weight” in improving the community. It can also be less formal and simply pertain to the attitudes you hold. (Of course, those attitudes should be reflected in your overt behaviors as well.)
This would hopefully result in strengthening the bonds between yourself and other people or groups as well as the community overall. Treating your environment with respect can be as simple as picking up litter or refraining from walking over newly planted grass.
This may also include anything from doing a small kindness for an acquaintance who just got some bad news to creating a social advocacy group aimed at changing the world on a large scale. This is not necessarily related to any kind of financial support; it only requires being willing to contribute to the world around you in a positive way based on the strengths, talents, and resources you have and can spare. It also ties into the idea of protecting your community: the people in it individually and the larger community as a whole.
Standing up for what you know is right and resisting pressure and intimidation is a concept in good citizenship that is related both to the idea of respecting yourself, others, and the environment and to the idea of supporting those who need help.
This concept of good citizenship applies also to the communities you encounter on the Internet. Although it’s not a physical place, being so connected to others online allows us to form many communities across the globe.
The Internet allows us to be highly interconnected, which makes us interdependent. This is a wonderful thing because it allows us to connect with people and resources we would otherwise never have access to, and allows us to do things more efficiently and quickly. However, it also means that we’re interdependent on each other, and we can each have a significant impact on other people and communities despite potentially being on opposite sides of the globe.
If you wouldn’t say or do it in person, don’t say or do it online. The Internet provides a measure of anonymity; it can make people feel like they can say or do things online that they wouldn’t say or do in “real life.” Remember that just because you aren’t seeing a person face‐to‐face doesn’t mean that what you say or do doesn’t have real consequences. Examples:
If you’ve ever played a video game online where you can put on a headset and talk to the people you’re playing with/against in real time during the game, you may have noticed some incredibly appalling things being said: profanity, racial/ethnic slurs, hateful and degrading insults, and more.
Many of the people saying these things would never say anything similar in “real life” but feel anonymous and invulnerable when represented only by an avatar and a gamer tag/screenname. Remember that just because you feel anonymous doesn’t mean that you really are anonymous.
The “Golden Rule” of social networking:
Regardless of whether your viewpoints in this area differ from the people you may be posting about, when a situation arises where you must decide whether to post something about another person, it’s important to consider what you are accomplishing by doing so.
Objective: The student will evaluate his or her online presence based on criteria for responsible technology use and social networking.
If so, congratulations!
If not, take some time to review your social network sites to determine what message you are sending. Be sure to review all aspects of your online footprint with a critical eye (e.g., personal sites, comments made on other sites, comments people make on materials, pages liked or followed, and photos posted). Use the “Social Networking Site Evaluation” worksheet posted in the activity to make notes about any thoughts or questions you may have.
After you’ve had some time to look through your social networking sites, ask a family member or friend to use the worksheet to conduct a similar review. Ideally, this person will be someone who can provide a very critical review based on experience in work or educational environments.
Get together to compare notes and go over the reviews. Discuss together any issues or concerns that emerged regarding your online presence, along with what can be done to correct these issues. If no areas need to be addressed, discuss the good safety practices you already use online.
Ultimate back to school tech guide (2015).
Seven essential tech gadgets for college students (2017).
Technology – changes (2017).
TEDxOU - Bobby Gruenewald - The Responsibility of Technology