Advice for Responding to and Protecting Against Phishing Email Attacks

This month we have seen an uptick in phishing attacks against our faculty and staff at school. Here is a copy of some suggestions for responding to and protecting against email phishing attacks which I shared this evening via email with our team.

General guidelines for responding to email phishing attacks are:

  1. If you are concerned that someone who has emailed you via a suspicious message is in genuine trouble or needs assistance, contact them directly through a phone call or text message if you have their cell number.
  2. Do NOT reply or send any gift cards / money in response to a phishing email.
  3. Do NOT click any links in a phishing email. (If you think you need to visit a website referenced in a suspicious email, DIRECTLY type that web link into your browser instead.)
  4. Please “report the original message as phishing” in Gmail. (If you’re using Gmail.)

Proactive steps you can take to further protect yourself from identity theft and phishing attacks are:

  1. Turn on two step verification / multi-factor authentication on all banking and other websites if available. (The website twofactorauth.org has an updated list of sites supporting 2FA/MFA.)
  2. Use a password manager like LastPass so you can use LONG, complex, and UNIQUE passwords on every website and app you use.
  3. Help your family and friends setup 2FA/MFA and use a password manager.
  4. Consider putting a “credit freeze” or “credit lock” on your social security number, and SSNs of your spouse/children. Credit Karma has a good article about how to do this and the differences between freezes and locks.
  5. Regularly monitor your credit report, and your bank accounts to look for unknown expenses you have not authorized. Let your bank know immediately if you notice unauthorized charges so they can cancel that card and refund charges.

Stay safe out there!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Schools Blocking YouTube and Digital Citizenship

Content filtering in schools has always been contentious since students and teachers first gained access to the World Wide Web and the Internet in the 1990s. Today in 2019, however, many people might be surprised that “draconian content filtering policies” (at least in the opinion of this author) are still in place in some schools. By “draconian,” I mean content filtering policies which excessively limit open access of information by students (and in many cases, also teachers) and which fail to meet a basic litmus test of “digital citizenship:” Providing ‘graduated” or differentiated content filtering for teachers, and for students depending on their age and developmental level. Specifically in this post, I want to address the reality that as of March 2019, some very large public school districts in both Texas and Oklahoma block ALL access to YouTube for ALL students accessing the Internet at school: High school, middle school, and elementary school students. In this post, I’ll make the case for why these policies are flawed and need to be changed, to support the literacy and digital citizenship goals which should be part of the mission of every educational institution in the United States today.

Let’s begin with a strong assertion which indicts (on this topic) at least two very large public school districts with which I’m personally familiar in Oklahoma and Texas. I’m not going to name the school districts here, my goal in writing this post is not to throw those specific districts and district leaders “under the bus.” I DO, however, aspire to help change the content filtering policies in those school districts and others, however, which have not kept up with our times and are sorely in need of updates. I have (of course) incomplete information on why these web content filtering policies persist today, but suspect there are both political and technical / IT reasons for them. Both can and should be addressed. I wish I had comprehensive data on how many public and private U.S. schools block YouTube entirely for all students or for all students and teachers today, but I don’t. If you have data on that topic, please let me know. If you’re looking for a topic for your dissertation, perhaps this will give you a helpful suggestion. Take this idea and run with it.

Here’s my strong assertion on this topic which I will support below. I invite you to quote me and share this on social media:

Schools blocking ALL access to YouTube are Un-American.

There are a variety of adjectives and descriptive phrases I could choose for the predicate of this sentence. According to Merriam-Webster, “un-American” means:

not characteristic of or consistent with American customs, principles, or traditions

While K-12 schools in the United States have historically been authoritarian organizations with hierarchical leadership structures, the “American values” which our public schools support and promote have not been and are not strictly authoritarian. The freedom of speech / freedom of expression codified in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is an essential value of our republic, and defines the rights of not only adults working in our schools but also students attending classes in our schools. The landmark 1969 Tinker Case decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court famously held:

…students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Constitutional protections of freedom of expression in the United States go beyond protecting speech, however, and also provide for our rights to RECEIVE information.

The First Amendment’s right to freedom of expression encompasses intellectual freedom, which includes an individual’s right to receive information on a wide range of topics from a variety of viewpoints.

These two points are salient on the topic of filtering web content in schools, since they establish that school authorities in the United States do not have unlimited power to censor, ban, and prevent access to any books, content, websites, or ideas they deem inappropriate or immoral. Schools and school officials DO have important gatekeeping responsibilities when it comes to moderating print as well as digital materials accessed via the school library and the school’s Internet connection to the World-Wide Web, but those powers are NOT unlimited. My point here is that content filtering policies in U.S. schools should look VERY different from the national web filtering policies of authoritarian nations like China, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, etc. These countries (and others) block all access to YouTube, or have historically blocked YouTube access. When content access policies in a U.S. school mirror those of countries like these, it’s time to take a careful look at why those policies were created in the first place and why they are maintained today.

The “Unmasking the Digital Truth Project,” which I started ten years ago in 2009, sought to highlight the legal requirements of the federal eRate program for schools involving content filtering, as well as other legal mandates like COPPA and FERPA. These issues remain important and relevant today, especially as privacy concerns continue to grow more complex as greater amounts of personal information are shared online in our era of surveillance capitalism. (FERPAsherpa.org is one of my favorite resource sites on the topic of student privacy, btw.) While content filtering policies in some U.S. school districts have “progressed” in the past 10 years since ‘Unmasking the Digital Truth‘ launched, some have not.

YouTube continues to be the second most popular website on our planet as of January 2019, after Google. Many adults today, especially those without teenage children in their home, may not realize how incredibly important YouTube has become and remains as a contemporary information source for students. This reality is fraught with both challenges as well as opportunities. One of my favorite things to say about this is, “Video is the pencil of the 21st century.” Among other things, this means we (as teachers) and our students should be creating and sharing content in video form as skillfully and frequently as past generations shared ideas with text. It also accepts that the dominance of video and YouTube is a REALITY today, which we need to address and embrace rather than ignore or deny.

It is crazy that in the same Texas and Oklahoma high schools I’ve walked in where YouTube is completely blocked for students via WiFi, those same students can readily open their smartphones and access YouTube directly via their cell phone data plans. YouTube is one of the most important communication and information platforms for teenagers today in 2019, yet, some of our school leaders continue to support and defend policies which BLOCK all access to YouTube for those students on school networks. This is akin to a Egyptian official in the Library of Alexandria prohibiting any patrons from accessing any written texts, because “the only proper way to learn is to listen to an oral argument presented by a scholarly speaker.” That was the opinion of Socrates, according to Plato, but that idea was both wrong and ridiculous. New forms of media have shortcomings and present challenges, as Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan remind us, but there is also an inevitability to the way media forms change and evolve.

Modern firewalls in schools permit and can support differentiated content filtering. This means users on WiFi or wired Internet connections can be authenticated and identified by their respective roles in the organization, and granted corresponding access to not only local network resources but also cloud-based / web resources, including YouTube. This means:

  1. All teachers at your school should currently have open / unrestricted access to YouTube. As professionals, teachers can and should ‘serve as the filter’ for YouTube content they access and choose to share with students. This is both legal from an eRate and COPPA standpoint, and also the professionally appropriate policy for schools to adopt.
  2. At a minimum, all high school and middle school students at your school should have filtered access to YouTube. This can be a custom setting on your specific school firewall, or the Google/YouTube provided restricted mode. That setting does not have to be enabled on individual devices, YouTube restricted mode can be enabled network-wide for students.

Here are some specific questions I challenge you to ask your school board members / trustees, school administrators, and IT staff members:

  1. What are our current policies for blocking or allowing access to YouTube for teachers and students?
  2. If teacher access to YouTube is blocked, ask: When will our network hardware and/or school policies be updated to permit teacher access to YouTube?
  3. If high/middle school student access is entirely blocked, ask: When will our network hardware and/or school policies be updated to permit filtered high/middle school student access to YouTube?
  4. What is our district/school procedure for requesting that a YouTube channel or specific video is UNBLOCKED for student access on our network, and how can that process be further streamlined / made even faster?

Without question, content filtering and student access to both content on the World Wide Web and digital devices (in both school and at home) is complex and filled with challenges. That access at school is not only (conditionally) protected by U.S. law, however, it also provides INCREDIBLE opportunities for learning and literacy both inside and outside the classroom of the 21st century. If the ideas I’ve shared in this post resonate with you, I’d love to hear from you. I’d also like to hear from folks who disagree with the ideas I’ve shared here. You can contact me directly on Twitter with a reply to @wfryer, write a comment below (which I’ll have to approve), or use my personal contact form. Of those options, I’m most likely to see your feedback and reply promptly if you engage with me on Twitter.

Together, we need to provide both safe and empowering environments in our schools and homes for digital learning. There are MANY important conversations teachers, students, parents, grandparents, school administrators, and other stakeholders in the lives of our kids need to have when it comes to YouTube. With that in mind, we’ll be hosting a “Parent University” at our school on April 23rd titled, “Let’s Talk About YouTube.” We’ll also be hosting another “Parent University” session on April 11th titled, “Let’s Talk About Sexting.” Both of these events will be open to the public, but prior online registration (free) is required. Resources related to “digital citizenship” which we have and continue to share with our school community are available on DigCit.us. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on these issues, but I do know we need more opportunities for dialog and discussion which can empower us all with more knowledge and skills.

What are your thoughts? Is YouTube access a big deal in schools? Should we be concerned about YouTube being blocked entirely in some schools from secondary student or teacher access?

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Adult Identity and the “I Can’t Use Technology Well” Introduction

Last Friday evening before turning in for the night, I shared a six part, threaded series of thoughts on Twitter based on frequent conversations I have with technology-fearful adults. Before reflecting a bit more on these ideas, as well as sharing some of the responses these tweets invited from others, I’ll share this series of (almost) 240 character posts as a single paragraph:

I am amazed how many adults start conversations with me by saying, “You know I’m just not a technology person & I can’t use these tools in very powerful ways.” In our digital era this is tantamount to an admission of illiteracy, & even worse, a desire to remain illiterate. An alarming number of adults today define themselves as technology illiterate & often actively anti-technology. They verbalize their identity in ways young people never do nor likely ever will. This is a very real digital divide, & it’s powerful because it’s tied to identity. As a self-professed “technology fear therapist” these professions of anti-technology adult identity are puzzling as well as troubling. I think this reflects, in part, the fast pace of disruptive change in society today, & our need to process it together more slowly. On a practical level, I frequently strategize ways to constructively engage those who are adamantly anti-technology. Amplifying the voices of young people sharing their excitement for learning which is enabled / empowered by technology is a favorite method. But it’s vital to help others understand I’m not just “pro-technology.” I’m pro-learning, pro-engagement, pro-relationships, pro-conversations. All those things can be strengthened & even transformed by the thoughtful & deliberate use of technology. Sometimes these conversations with “anti-tech” or “tech-fearful” adults make me realize what a different world I live in & different reality I experience DAILY because I’m a connected educator. So helping others connect with a Professional Learning Network (PLN) via social media is also an important strategy.

Here is an embedded version of the first tweet in this series. You’ll need to click the link to see the entire thread with replies.

Let me first offer this set of threaded tweets and replies as “exhibit A” to people who decry Twitter as a platform devoid of conversations. As Jason Neiffer (@techsavvyteach) has mentioned several times on The EdTech Situation Room (@edtechSR), Twitter can be a challenging place to disagree thoughtfully and at length with others. The text character limitations of the medium, as well as our general tendency to “dip to a rather shallow depth” with ideas rather than engage deeply with them and with other minds on social media, contribute to these challenges. Twitter CAN, however, offer space to share “threaded thoughts,” as I did in this situation, and invite others to both read as well as engage with more complicated thoughts. I continue to advocate strongly for the positive learning and connections which Twitter fosters specifically among connected educators. This threaded set of ideas shared on Twitter is another supportive example of that case I’ve attempted to make here on my blog.

In reflecting on some of the responses these tweets invited, I found it affirming that I’m not alone in these sentiments. Other educators frequently interact with other adults in other places who share similar sentiments and project similar ideas about their own identities as “non-tech” users.

Others observed these kinds of responses happen in different domains besides technology, including mathematics. I agree with Erik Kramer (@techerkramer) that past, traumatic experiences may explain these responses. This speaks to the idea I shared in the original Twitter thread, that we’re living in EXTREMELY disruptive and fast-changing times, which we all need more TIME together to process, digest, and come to terms with.

The ideas in this thread also point to our need for “technology fear therapy.” I’ve been using the title, “technology fear therapist” in my Twitter profile for a few months now, and it’s NOT a joke. As a school director of technology and technology integration coach with teachers, one of my most important roles is building relationships of trust with others and helping them “stretch” both their uses of technology and their self-perceptions when it comes to effective technology use. I see my role as helping other teachers thoughtfully embrace new and transformative uses of technology which improve teaching and learning.

The idea of calling out these issues and ‘naming them’ through “technology fear therapy” is something that has also resonated with Carl Hooker (@mrhooker):

I’ve proposed (in partial seriousness) that Carl and I should “found an online institute for technology fear therapy.” I’m not sure what final form this will take (it might become a co-led, online mini-course) but am sure the ideas which underlie this train of thought will continue to move forward. The technology fear therapy train has left the station, because so many adults today are afflicted by it and are in need of helpful counselors.

Do you interact with others who show signs of “technology fear disorder” (TFD)?! What are the most effective strategies you employ as a self-appointed “technology fear therapist” in your school and home? These are among the strategies I’m using now and want to refine more in the weeks and months ahead:

  1. Build relationships of trust.
  2. Learn what “technology use pain points” the other person is experiencing most frequently, or cause the most acute pain. (Password challenges are common.)
  3. Help others understand our need today to use unique passwords on every different website and app. (haveibeenpwned.com can be a personalized and effective eye opener)
  4. Recognize “technology fear therapy” invites an ongoing conversation and “journey of learning” together. The issues which you identify and the seeds of healthy therapy which you sow will not be resolved or take root immediately. They take time to understand, process, and address effectively.
  5. Share and model a “growth mindset” when it comes to technology use and specifically overcoming technology fears. Utilizing a password manager (like LastPass @lastpass) and enabling MFA (multi-factor authentication) on every important website you use are two specific ways to “walk the walk” of a technology growth mindset.
  6. Regularly amplify transformative uses of technology with other teachers and parents when you can. Do this in face-to-face conversations as well as via social media, and gatherings when appropriate. Currently at school, we’re doing this through our Seesaw learning journals, on Twitter via our #CasadyLearns hashtag, via our “Casady Learns Google+ Learning Community,” via our Technology Showcase blog, on personal blogs, and also via Facebook from time to time.
  7. Helping others educators become connected online with others who are passionate about shared topics of interest, are actively sharing their own learning, and seeking “the wisdom of the crowd” (which is a very real thing in the EduTwitterVerse) is powerful and can be transformative. I recently updated my own “Yodas” Twitter list both for my own benefit (I love following this list in Flipboard (@flipboard) and to encourage others to follow this great group of Twitter using educators.
  8. Pair conversations about thoughtful and constructive uses of technology with digital citizenship. Resources related to digital citizenship that we’ve been sharing with students, parents and teachers at our school are on the website digcit.us. Consider sharing resources and connecting with others on Twitter using the hashtag #DigCit.
  9. Consider sharing articles and thoughts related to technology fear therapy on Twitter using the hashtag #TechFearTherapy. This not only provides a good way to share and archive related article links, but also provides a way to connect with others interested in this topic.
  10. Remember the transformative power of STUDENTS sharing their joy of learning using technology, to win over the hearts and minds of adults with whom “technology fear is strong.” This can especially be true when students are creating original projects in an environment like Scratch, or tinkering with robots.

What are your thoughts about all of this? Do you have other ideas to add to my initial list of “technology fear therapist first principles and strategies?” Please share them as a comment below, or on Twitter by adding to the original tweet thread. You can also reach out to me via my personal contact form.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?