If the whole class is given usernames that are nothing but a string of letters and numbers, 65427 may feel you can’t really distinguish him from 65327 or 65426. Students work hard when they first start using Quest Atlantis to recognize their friends, build their own identity, and meet new people. They can easily wtake an entire class period to navigate who is who if usernames are not easily recognizable. Imagine how much more time kids will spend connecting with others if they need to clarify the person behind the numbers every time they login. In addition, the lack of accountability can cause a rise in cyberbullying or other inappropriate behaviors. We’ve seen this effect in Quest Atlantis and it has even gone so far as to cause us to deactivate entire classes of these unidentifiable usernames that could not follow the IBURSTrules. This is not confined just to our program though, as psychologists are starting to publish papers on what they call the Online Disinhibition Effect.
The flip side, of course, is that students should not be too personal on the internet either. BrianSmith should not be sharing his first and last name with the entire internet, and almost all interactive applications show the username so he is probably giving away the information to more people than he realizes. How then do we find the perfect balance between creating that online identity and still keeping kids safe? The key is to find usernames that kids can relate to that also do not give away too much. Here are some good examples we’ve seen over the years:
- StevieS -> The first name and last initial allows me to identify with this persona but it would still be hard to find me in the real world
- Stevie46 -> Only my teacher and I know that 46 is the number of my classroom and it would be hard for someone else to figure that out
- Sudokugirl -> This username doesn’t share any personal information about me, but I can still relate to it
One of the great things about Quest Atlantis is that it is a safe space for children online (only the licensed teachers we have trained and their current students have access to the general space), but it is treated as though it were the general internet. Students are taught exactly what they should and shouldn’t be doing before the consequences could become much more severe. And those students who share their last name or phone number will have an email sent to the teachers so they can discuss why certain things should not be given online.
Another thing that students learn is that their password is to remain quiet. An unfortunate lesson that one of our students had to learn was that her login information was her account and everything that happens with it was her responsibility. When she gave away the login information to her brother and he didn’t follow the rules, she was still the one who had to deal with the consequences. In this case the account was put into single-user mode for a few days. Of course, even a quiet password can be discovered if it is too easy. I would never use the password “stevie” for example. This would be especially problematic to give to a whole class of kids as it only takes one to figure out the pattern for all the logins to be compromised. Passwords might be the best place to use the string of random letters and numbers – most internet applications recommend that passwords use a combination of numbers, letters, and cases.
These are just a few ways for kids to start thinking about how to build their safe online identity. However, this is just the beginning and the best way to protect children on the internet is to keep the lines of communication open.