My Digital Learning Journey

When I began the Digital Learning/Digital Leading program I was already an experienced user of technology.  Having completed Lamar’s Educational Technology Leadership (ETL) program in April of 2014, I was fully aware of the advantages to using technology to design authentic projects. I enjoyed pushing the boundaries of technology as an educational tool and wanted to influence others to do the same.

My first real challenge was creating an e-portfolio that would be used to track my professional development work. My former (ETL) portfolio resides on a Google site, which was perfect for the collaborative educational works I created throughout that program. But for this program, I decided to bring an old blog I had created back to life. This decision required me to view WordPress from a new perspective, as an e-portfolio instead of just a blog. It took a lot of time to organize my thoughts and ideas in a way that made my portfolio easy to use. But through the process, I learned enough about the customization and editing capabilities that when it came time to design a webpage for my new business, WordPress was an obvious choice. is a site that I can manage personally, saving my business the cost of a web page designer.

I learned a lot from my research throughout this program. Most significantly, it confirmed to me that (1) Teachers need to be trained effectively before they can be expected to change the way they do things, and (2) professional development is typically ineffective. It really got me thinking about how we could better prepare our teachers for creating learning environments that included both traditional and innovative learning strategies. My first literature review ultimately led me to my innovation plan, which I named MoBLE, which stands for Motivating Blended Learning Environments.

As I reflected on my own learning philosophy, I realized that significant learning environments have long been at the heart of every educational decision I’ve made. I also realized how similar my learning philosophy is to that of John Dewey, whose constructivist theory focused on an emphasis of real problems as opposed to theoretical ones. Like Dewey, I consider education to be an active and constructive process.

I was asked to create a big, hair, ambitious goal” (BHAG) and then create a significant learning plan that would help me to achieve it. I used Dee Fink’s three-column table (Fink, 2003), which became the template for my technology department’s UBD’s.

Recognizing the vital behaviors of the people I work with, and who I could rely on to help me make change was essential for the success of my innovation plan. As I considered the Six Sources of Influence (I targeted Social Motivation as the key to my creating blended learning classrooms and innovative change. I am convinced that it is the most important source of influence, at least in my profession.

In the Spring of 2017, I focused on the outline for my innovation plan, Motivating a Blended Learning Environment (MoBLE),  creating my call to action, including learning activities, my timeline, and even my video pitch. EDLD 5388 was about developing effective professional learning, a topic about which I’ve come to be quite passionate. Because professional learning is at the heart of my innovation plan, I conducted a lot of research that convinced me that the way it was approached in my current position was not only ineffective, but contradictory to what I was asking the teachers to do with their students. I was determined to break the mold. I began thinking of ways that I could model blended learning as I promoted the concept to my colleagues.

In April, 2017 I published The Importance of Blended Learning in Professional Developmentwhich included studies of how professional development is approached from a variety of industries around the world, and what was working effectively. EDLD 5314 called for a study of digital learning in a local and global context. Evidence pointed to successes around the world, where professional learning included innovative, blended strategies. My literature review was summarized with a call to model the change we want to influence. I decided that my innovation plan would have to include more integrative activities and stations in which students collaborated and worked independently.

In June, EDLD 5315 focused on assessing digital learning instruction, and I was asked to create my action research outline, providing strategies for connecting and communicating ideas in my presentations to my co-workers. Determining what evidence I would be looking for, and how I would measure it was challenging, and deciding what kind of research I would need to support my plan required a lot of reflection and serious thought. But it helped me to narrow down what exactly I needed to do, making the research process much more efficient.

EDLD 5318 called for a design of the instructional materials I planned to use with my Innovation Plan. I chose to use Schoology as my primary online instruction resource, and designed my course to include five units, during which videos, shared (collaborative) documents and shared media albums would be used by teachers in my building as blended learning tools. All of this served as examples for how innovation (technology) could be used in the classroom to individualize and personalize learning.

The timing of EDLD 5316 could not have been more appropriate for what I was doing in my classroom. Every school year, my first unit is based on digital citizenship, and safety is significant part of that unit. Approaching digital citizenship as having nine general areas of behavior made the process of planning my lessons a bit easier. Targeting each of the nine essential areas of digital citizenship – etiquette, communication, education, access, commerce, responsibility, rights, safety and security allowed me to create lessons that provided a comprehensive unit with my students (Ribble, 2015). It was also in this course that I realized the value of PowToon as an instructional tool for K-5. I created a video about digital citizenship that I am comfortable sharing with my students, and plan to use the online application for future lessons as well.

This program has helped me to realize that I’m passionate about using technology not as a subject, but as an educational tool. I’ve spent much of the past five years studying the professional uses of technology, and integrating it into the curriculum at my schools. My professional goal is to influence change in how teachers present their lessons, and to encourage them to use technology to personalize, authenticate, and get kids excited about learning. In my mind, no concept at school should be taught as a “subject” but rather as useful information that will help us solve problems in the future. We need today’s youth to grow up to solve problems on their own, without having to be told how to do it. My mantra in any classroom has been “there’s more than one way to do anything” and it makes sense to me that we allow our students to figure out what way works for them, by challenging them with real world problems that they have to find solutions for. This philosophy became the topic for an article I wrote and submitted to Educational Leadership magazine. The article, titled Creating Interdisciplinary Authentic Learning with Technology, fulfilled an assignment requirement for EDLD 5317 and at the same time allowed me to take action toward making the change I seek.

As I complete my Digital Learning, Digital Leading program, I am pleased to look back at what I’ve learned, and to know that I’ve been able to apply my new knowledge to help others, students and teachers alike. While I would love to be more active online leading change in PLN’s and educational forums, I tend to focus on improving my own practice, and that of my colleagues. I’m hoping that I can find a position that allows me to help other teachers to blend their learning strategies, and become more innovative. Our kids deserve that.Page Break




Collins, J., & Porras, J. (2004). Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (3rd ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

Fink, L. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change: 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools (3rd ed.). International Society for Technology in Education.



DLL Capstone Media Project

Below is a summary of my Digital Learning and Leading experience. Links are provided within the video and will take you to the various posts in my e-portfolio.

I chose to use PowToons, because I’ve grown familiar with the tool through this program, and because I’ve found it to be a simple and user-friendly application.

Journal Entry

As a technology teacher for more than ten years, I’ve been teaching the topic of digital citizenship for quite some time. More recently, I began addressing it from the perspective of an elementary teacher instead the secondary teacher I was during my last graduate program. The timing of this course was consistent with my digital citizenship unit at school this year, which made the experience much more effective.

I learned something about the history of copyright laws that I found to be interesting enough to do more research on my own. I felt very accomplished in integrating technology with history in a lesson plan that included discussion about the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress. I think my 4th and 5th-grade students found it cool that the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and holds original copies of so many published works.

I also realized during class one day that crediting our sources gives them actual credibility. I posted a sentence on my board this past week that read “There are over 20,000 species, or types of bee”. When I asked my students if they thought that statement was true, a majority didn’t believe it. But when I showed them the citation for that information, they were amazed to see I had learned it on Encyclopedia Britannica.

My biggest challenge throughout this course was learning a new presentation application, which turned out to be really fun. The possibilities in PowToon are endless, and I plan to use it again for lessons at school, and possibly a business that I own. I am even considering purchasing the professional version.

Learning about the 9 categories of digital citizenship made it easy for me to break it down for my students in a more effective way. While my unit at school doesn’t last 9 weeks, the topic is one that will be revisited throughout the year as students conduct online research. I am also sharing these categories with my co-workers so that their students can be consistent in how they regard copyright.

If I could change any one of the activities I created, it would likely be my final presentation. I really had a lot to say, and wish I’d chosen a presentation method that provided me more than 5 minutes. On the bright side, it was designed as something I could share with my students at school, and anything longer than five minutes may have been too much. The process took me about five days. I didn’t realize until three minutes through the production that my voiceover had just stopped. I had to re-record the entire script, which forced me to adjust the timing of everything I had done.

I would say that this course forced me to examine how I use tools online. I’m making a much more conscious effort to credit my sources in the classroom.

Expect the Unexpected

Narrowing down the focus of my innovation project was a process in itself. As an instructor of technology, I could think of so many changes I’d like to make at my school, but ultimately, it was classroom innovation that I considered to be the biggest concern. The truth is that teachers in my building have ready access to the digital tools they need, but they haven’t been motivated to use them more effectively. I decided that I would focus my innovation plan on motivating change.  My literature review included much evidence that professional development alone wouldn’t change how we teach. It’s time and continuous support that need to be the focus, and neither are easily accessible in the world of public K-12 education. It became clear to me that I could potentially make the change I wanted if I approached professional development differently, in a way that would motivate. My plan was to create blended learning environments throughout my building – classrooms in which teachers would use technology tools to combine their traditional teaching strategies with more innovative processes. When I decided to focus on creating blended learning environments, I had the power to scope out apps to any iPads in the building, providing whatever tools our teachers might need and suggesting new ones that they may not have used before. I had the ability to model the use of the devices, so that my colleagues could see innovation in action. If I could provide evidence that it’s effective, and that it’s worth their time, they would be more willing to try something new.

TECH NEWS 2017 - week 22-23
TECH NEWS, February 2017, Rhonda Kinstner

In the fall of 2016, I began hanging TECH NEWS posters in the faculty bathrooms at school, where I knew that people would read them. The newsletter shared information about the tools students were using in the lab, and included suggestions about recommended apps, and how iPads could be used creatively in the classroom. The publication got people talking. Some asked for me to share it with them digitally, and others took advantage of the information and asked me for help using technology in their rooms. I began to push in to their classrooms to assist them with introducing new technology tools to their students.

I believe that social influence is perhaps the biggest of the six main sources of influence (Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzler, 2013). Based on my experience, nothing compares to observation of those around us as a way of making change. The teachers I worked with talked to other teachers, and I realized we were on to something. I began team teaching with willing participants in my building. We planned lessons together, combining their traditional strategies with my more innovative tools, and we created activities that allowed students to approach learning from a different perspective. During the spring semester, I pushed in to the classrooms, gradually releasing the instruction and lesson to the teachers.

The push-in was successful, and student results were great. The teachers I worked with shared their experiences with other teachers in their grade levels, which encouraged them to try some new tools as well. By May, the push-in had generated quite a buzz, and changes were visible. Then, I found out that my two most innovative volunteers were being transferred to another, more innovative school. It was disappointing to lose two of my biggest influencers.

I planned my  call to action  to start officially during the fall of 2017, knowing that the loss of my innovative trendsetters would mean I’d be essentially starting over. My principal had been very supportive, and welcomed my leadership in staff meetings, when time was allowed. So I designed my plan to include scheduled staff meeting instruction, combined with push-in team teaching. I would share a participation chart in the lounge, and gather feedback from every teacher I worked with throughout the semester. I was actually excited about making change.

Then, I returned to school in August to a new principal, new staff meeting scheduling, and new job responsibilities that no longer included iPad app management. Not only did I no longer have access to purchasing apps and scoping them out to the iPad carts; I couldn’t even see what apps had been provided to which classrooms in my building. Teachers were just as upset to learn that they would have to put in IT request tickets for any changes they needed made to iPads. That changed everything. It added more tasks to my co-workers’ already unforgiving schedules. It communicated to me that it’s not my job to manage apps or how they’re used. Adding to the disruption was the fact that my new principal, who is awesome and extremely supportive by the way, had higher priorities for building improvement. She welcomed my participation in team teaching and pushing in, but there just hasn’t been time for me to provide instruction during staff meetings this year, which is a result of district mandated presentations and building improvements. That’s understandable. And the fact that our meetings were scheduled differently this year changed my entire schedule and plan, anyway.

In a nutshell, I have seen some great success in innovation at my school, despite the fact that my plan hasn’t been executed like I’d hoped. I am still available to willing teachers, and I continue to post my TECH NEWS, but getting the group together for instruction and discussion just isn’t an option at this point of time. That doesn’t mean I stop trying to make change. It just means it’s time for Plan B.


Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The          new science of leading change: 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.  

COVA Reflection

As an art teacher, choice, ownership, voice and authentic learning were always a primary focus in my classroom. While I’d not heard of COVA as a concept until years later, I knew that the relevance and personalization of an artist’s works are what makes them successful. Art is a form of self-expression and that makes the concept of COVA an obvious one where art instruction is concerned. As I grew to become a technology teacher, that concept carried into my technology-based lesson designs. In my mind, there’s no reason for learning anything unless it’s for authentic purposes. It was important to me for students to know when to use what technology tools to complete a task or solve a problem.

COVA typically eliminates right and wrong answers, so my assignments have always been rubric-based and focused on a clear and strategically placed set of objectives. The creation of meaningful COVA based projects could be time consuming. Giving student projects the time and attention they deserved required a serious time investment as well. Choice, ownership, voice and authentic learning allowed me to learn about not only what my students understood, but their interests and philosophies as well. It allowed me to personalize the learning experience and get to know my students as individuals rather than consumers of information. That’s something that worksheets and handouts just don’t do.

The fact that I was a self-taught user of technology inspired me to encourage my students to become self-learners as well. I can’t remember the first time I was given the freedom and responsibility to take ownership of my learning. But I can remember being intimidated by it for the first time in my college art course. I didn’t know what my professor expected of me, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But I became so comfortable with my own ideas and processes, because I was in an area where my choices weren’t judged. I enjoyed learning that way. And it prepared me for learning about technology. At the time computers were becoming readily available in schools and homes, there wasn’t anyone around to show me how to use one. So I taught myself how to do what I needed to do. I wasn’t afraid to try anything on a computer. And I think that’s what made technology so fun for me. I was learning how to do things that applied to me, and that helped me accomplish personal goals and solve real problems. I became an advanced user of Adobe Creative Suite with no training, and taught it in a course I created on my own. I became a certified Microsoft expert, without having taken one technology course. My love and enthusiasm for technology is what led me to Lamar’s ETL program, and now my second master’s degree. And honestly, if my online courses didn’t encourage COVA, I would have dropped the program(s) a long time ago.

I enjoy pushing the boundaries of technology, and decided in 2011 that I wanted to promote change in education. I completed Lamar’s ETL program, and earned my general administration certification, with a Technology Specialist endorsement. Throughout this program, I’ve learned a lot more about how social influence and ongoing support can make a difference in creating the change we need. I created an innovation plan inspired by problems I’ve seen in my public-school district, which include technology-based decision making by administrators who don’t have experience in educational technology. I was determined to influence my co-workers to create significant learning environments that employ technology and blend traditional learning strategies with more innovative ones. My goal was to officially roll out my innovation plan this fall, at which time I would model the use of iPad apps as interdisciplinary learning tools and push in to classrooms to assist in creating blended learning. The kink that stopped me was another frustrating district decision – that building technology specialists would no longer have the power to manage iPads or apps in our buildings. It was a surprise to all of us when we arrived in August and were blocked out of using Jamf, our remote management system. Instead, the role was given to our district IT department, requiring classroom teachers to submit “HELP TICKETS” to get the apps they want on the iPads they want. This was a huge step backward for all of us, adding yet another responsibility to our teachers’ already overworked schedules.

My review of literature throughout this program has taught me that the biggest hurdle to a teacher’s innovative development is time, and sadly, our district chose to raise that hurdle. As a result of the decision, the iPads are considered by many teachers to be more trouble than they’re worth. If the expertise of the educational technologists in our district were considered in the technology decisions being made, I can’t help but believe we’d be much more effective educators as a district.

I still try to push the limits of technology in my technology lessons. I’m constantly reminding my students that there’s more than one way to accomplish anything on a computer, and I encourage them to figure out which way works best for them. My projects engage them, while requiring them to think. We spent our class time just before Thanksgiving playing a game that required them to locate and view Plymouth Rock using Google (satellite, street view). It required students to understand where the pilgrims landed in America as they sailed from Plymouth, New England on the Mayflower. I rewarded the first student to find it with a set of earbuds. Then, I challenged the group a second time to find the statue of William Bradford in Plymouth. They learned about why he was significant to the pilgrims by zooming in on the plaque under his statue. The experience was one in which I facilitated independent learning instead of giving them the information I wanted them to know. I consider my lab a significant learning environment because I provide my students with opportunities to discover things for themselves, using digital tools. I hope that I can influence other educators to do the same.

ENTER At Your Own Risk: Elements of Digital Citizenship

I chose ENTER at your own risk as my mantra. When we press ENTER, there’s no turning back. We need to be conscientious about what we share in order to protect ourselves and others. following is my essay about the Elements of Digital Citizenship.

Digital technology is all around us. Our use of social media, online games, mobile devices, cloud computing and software applications make us digital citizens in a world filled with others like us. Technology allows us to communicate with people around the globe, collaborate with great minds we’ll never meet, and contribute to the vast collection of resources available to the rest of the world on the Internet. It empowers us.  And with great power comes great responsibility.

Our responsibilities as digital citizens are many. The tools we use and the way we use them can say a lot about who we are, and can do a lot to help or hurt others. We owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world to understand the affect our use of digital technology has on everyone. We need to be conscientious users of digital tools in order to make a better digital world.

Most of us became digital citizens without understanding the power of the Internet and the dangers that exist with improper use. Many of us take advantage of the tools and resources provided online, without considering the consequences of doing so. If we were to compare the online world with the physical world in which we live, we would understand that in order to be good citizens, many of the same rules should apply. But with no set standards or rules regarding how we use the Internet or digital tools, and with net neutrality providing us the freedom to do what we want when we want to online, it’s up to us as individuals to do the right thing. That’s why schools across the U.S. are doing what they can to prepare today’s students for the digital world, so that they can be the best digital citizens they can be.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has created National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) which include standards for guiding the educational use of digital tools in American schools, as they apply to students, teachers and administrators in schools. In 1998, ISTE standards were focused on teaching students how to use technology. (ISTE, 2017).  Today, they focus on an ever-changing digital technology as it relates to learning, and address what Mike Ribble has established to be three basic social, ethical and human issues: (1) Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology. (2) Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software. (3) Students develop positive attitudes toward technology applications that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity (Ribble, 2015).

Ribble has established nine general areas of behavior which make up good digital citizenship, including etiquette, communication, education, access, commerce, responsibility, rights, safety and security (Ribble & Bailey, 2014). Depending on our use of the Internet (personal or professional), some areas may be more applicable to us. But it’s important to recognize that all of these areas contribute to our effectiveness as good digital citizens.

Etiquette is a basic expectation in any community. Saying please and thank you are typical for any citizen with good etiquette, and the interruption of a conversation is generally seen as impolite and even rude by many of us in the physical world. We learned as children that we need to be polite and treat others with respect. In the digital world, those same rules apply. Our use of digital devices should not change the way we have been taught to treat others. Answering our phones in the middle of a face-to-face conversation does not follow the rules of etiquette; nor does allowing our devices to distract us from spending time with our family and friends.

Communication takes place in a variety of forms in a digital world. Phone conversations are considered traditional forms of communication, even if they are conducted wirelessly and via satellite. But email and instant messaging have greatly changed not only how we communicate, but what we communicate. According to a 2016 statistic, U.S. cell phone users were spending 5 hours a day on their devices, a third of which (33%) was spent on social media and messaging apps (Perez, 2017). The language that is used in email and IM is often shorthand and abbreviated, almost like a code to many parents. Text messages are also at risk for miscommunication, since what is sent in text can often be misinterpreted. (The use of all caps in any texted message is perceived as aggressive and compared to yelling). Recognizing when a form of communication is most appropriate, and communicating respectfully is the role of a good digital citizen.

Education of today’s youth often includes the use of digital tools, which are used not only to store, retrieve and create information, but to provide authentic global learning experiences for students. In a digital world, using the cloud-based storage allows us to share and collaborate with one another. Recognizing credible resources and participating in online forums in a responsible and scholarly way are characteristics of a good digital citizen.

Access to the Internet is not available to everyone. According to 2016 statistics, 12% of U.S. adults are smartphone users, but do not subscribe to broadband services (Rainie & Perrin, 2017). Research indicates that this group is more likely to be younger, lower-income, less educated, or black or Hispanic (Horrigan, 2015). As digital citizens, we need to explore ways in which to provide Internet access to all members of our communities so that we are not excluding potential users based on their financial, demographic or physical situations. The opportunities provided by digital technology should be available to all of us.

Commerce is gaining power in the digital world. In December, 2016, 79% of Americans reported making purchases online, spending a combined $350 million, about 10% of all retail purchases. (Smith & Anderson, 2016).  Social media has grown to become a marketing tool for many companies, influencing online and offline purchases made by consumers. In a 2016 U.S. study by UPS, 34% of online shoppers reported that their purchases were influenced by social media (UPS, 2016).  That same study reported that 23% of online shoppers made their purchases on social media sites. It’s important for consumers to recognize appropriate use of online purchasing in order to limit the risks of identity or financial theft. We should search for reviews of an unfamiliar site before submitting personal information or making purchases. And it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure that the web address is preceded by the letters “https” which indicates that the site is secure.

Responsibility to the owners of resources available on the Internet is something every digital citizen needs to consider. Music, videos, documents and images shared on the Internet are not free for the taking. Despite this, a 2017 survey found that 53% of Internet users between the ages of 16 and 24, downloaded music illegally within the six months previous to taking the survey. 45% of users between the ages of 25 and 34 were guilty of doing the same (“Global copyright infringing music access by age 2017 | Statistic”, 2017). While Copyright laws protect the creators of posted media, the Internet makes it easy for users to share and download those materials illegally. As digital citizens, we need to educate ourselves and others about our responsibility to one another, and respect the owners of posted materials.

Rights to the resources we share need to be observed by others. As digital citizens on the Internet, we have the right to post what we want. But it’s important to protect ourselves and our rights by posting things appropriately. When our creative works are made available to others, we should make it clear how they are intended to be used. Creating a license on a site like, can help others to understand how we want to be credited, while allowing them to use, modify or share our work in ways that we’ve authorized.

Safety risks exist in many forms online. In 2016, it was reported that 33.8% of students between 12 and 17 had been victimized by cyber bullying at some time (Cyber bullying Research Center, 2016). Cyber bullying is a form of online harassment that takes place through social media, email, private message, chat, or through sites and forums designed to target an individual. It can hurt people mentally, emotionally, and physically. Interestingly, people of any age can become targets of cyber bullying, which can take place at any time of any day from anywhere.

As if the potential for online harassment isn’t concern enough, the Internet provides pornographers and pedophiles with easy access to what they’re looking for. According to the Supreme Court, sex offenders can’t be banned from social media, where they can easily conceal their identity and go wherever they want online. Parent controls and blocking websites aren’t enough to protect children from these types of online users. Children need clear rules and parental supervision when using the Internet. At the same time, parents should be very conscientious about the photos and information they share about their children.

Security is perhaps one of the most important topics for any digital citizen to understand. In an educational setting, students are typically protected by firewalls, monitored online activity, and district approved websites. But using devices in our personal and professional lives exposes us to risks that can greatly affect us and our futures. By educating ourselves about the risks involved, we can protect ourselves from potentially harm.

As digital citizens, we play a critical role in our own security. Our first line of defense is the passwords with which we sign into our devices. Passwords can greatly influence how well our private information and files on our devices are protected. Our devices should be accessible only through a private password and/or screen-lock code. While many of us create simple passwords or codes that we can easily remember, we should realize that they don’t offer much protection because they are often just as easy to figure out. In 2016, Verizon reported that 63% of confirmed data breaches are a result of weak or shared passwords (Verizon, 2016). 25% of us create passwords that are easy for us to remember, and 39% of us use the same password for multiple accounts (Omstead & Smith, 2017). This means that anyone who knows us well enough to figure out our passwords will have access to every account with which they are associated.

Even if we’re following recommendations to create complex passwords, we face the danger of someone accessing the data on our devices in other ways. The loss or theft of a cell phone that is not locked can give the wrong person all the access they need to steal what they want, including our banking information, our contact information, or even access to our online shopping apps, where they could easily take advantage of any credit cards stored in our accounts. Phishing messages are another way that our data can get into the wrong hands. Close to 30% of phishing messages were opened in 2015, which was an increase of 7% from 2014 (Verizon, 2016). These messages often look like they come from accounts we trust, like PayPal, or our banks, and they can include instructions like “Click here to reset your password”. Verizon reported that 12% of the targets of these emails actually click on the links, which can introduce malicious software to a system, and provide access to private information to the senders (Verizon, 2016). Password should be taken seriously, and never shared. Login information should be managed by the user, and no one else.

Much of our private and personal information may be given away unintentionally through our online activity. Public Wi-Fi can be found in airports, coffee shops, restaurants and many establishments where we rarely hesitate to get connected. They are convenient, but the can also be unsecure, exposing our private information to cybercriminals. To protect our information, it’s best to use our own personal network connections, and to avoid conducting personal business, like banking or shopping on a public network. When we do connect to public Wi-Fi, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s a legitimate connection by talking to an employee or staff member of the establishment. It’s easy for cybercriminals to create networks that we think are legitimate, for the purpose of stealing our information.


is estimated that about 70% of all Americans use social media to connect with one another (“Social Media Fact Sheet, 2017). We post images, share status updates, promote events, engage in news, and entertain ourselves through tools offered through social media accounts. Facebook is America’s most popular social media platform, with an estimated 68% of American adults being users of the online application (“Social Media Fact Sheet, 2017). According to Facebook, 2.01 billion Facebook accounts are used each month (Facebook, 2017). In 2012, CNN reported that 83 million of the profile pages Facebook were fake (Kelly, 2012). This should be enough to convince us that what we share with friends may also be seen by users with bad intentions. We need to be cautious when connecting with others, and especially with what we share online. Status updates that inform others of our locations, and when we’re out of traveling can be perceived as invitation for intruders and burglars who can access our contact information. Events that we create, or share our interest in can serve as a warning that we won’t be home. News sources, which are often not reliable, can invite trouble. We feel a sense of security when our friends share links, but when we click on some of them, they can infect us with spyware apps that auto-post the source on our behalf. Friends who see the auto-post will often fall victim to the same trick.  One popular form of entertainment on Facebook involves questionnaires that tell us about our personalities. Our friends participate, and share their results, and we want to, too. But when we take these quizzes, how many of us realize that we’re giving the quiz developers access to our profiles? The information these strangers learn about us can be used to target us in future emails and potential scams.

Gaming is another area that we need to think of as a potential security risk. While adults may not think of gaming as a big concern, 72% of teens play video games on their phones, or online at home (Lenhart, 2017). 16% of Internet users who have been harassed online say that the harassment occurred while playing an online game (Duggan, 2014). As gamers share information with other players (often strangers) online, what they share may be used against them. It is also a possibility that the other participants in these games are not children, and can expose players to bad things.

Most of us don’t think about how much of our information is available to the public. A visit to a people searching site such as can be an eye-opening experience. By typing in someone’s name, anyone can get access to his or her age, aliases, family members, and places they’ve lived, all for free. The fact that the current location of the individual is shown on a satellite map means that anyone can zoom in to view the home and surrounding property of the individual. Consider the fact that sex offenders can’t legally be banned from social media.  It’s a scary thought if you realize that they can find who they’re looking for so easily. Sites such as Spokeo pull information from other online sites, gathering it from phone books, marketing surveys, real estate listings, social networking, and other public sources, offering a majority of the information for free. Any user who is concerned enough with these sites to check the privacy information will be happy to see that they can opt out of being searchable on the site. But the information is out there, and other sites can access it just as easily.  What we share about ourselves can’t be unshared.

In today’s world, technology cannot be avoided. Everything we do – banking, shopping, communicating with our friends, or even visiting a doctor’s office – involves the sharing of our information online in some way. We can’t control everything. But we can educate ourselves on privacy policies of the people with whom we do business. We can limit the information we make available by avoiding unnecessary surveys and applications. And most importantly we can think before we submit anything online. Once we hit ENTER, we can’t get that information back.

We are all digital citizens, whether we like it or not. We have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to be respectful, responsible and safe in our use of the Internet.



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