A few weeks ago, the CR in Action blog featured an article on Symantec’s sponsorship of the Dare2BDigital conference. Symantec has sponsored and partnered in the Dare2BDigital conference for four consecutive years, but this year for the first time, Symantec also hosted a student workshop, "Catch the Phish and Digital Drama." Marian Merritt, Director, Cyber Education & Online Safety Programs, developed the workshop materials. I led the sessions, together with twelve other Symantec volunteers.
We had three 75 minute sessions that day, with ten to 30 students attending each session. We had a great mix of participants at each session, with ages ranging from 11 to 18, representing private and public schools all over the Bay Area. All the girls were quite tech savvy. Everyone had an email account, and the majority of them have at least one mobile device, at least one social networking account, and at least one messaging app.
Catching the Phish….
The first half of the workshop was discussing phishing attacks and how to avoid other common Internet problems. Students shared their related experiences. I outlined common characteristics of phishing emails. Then we broke into smaller groups for phishing game competition. Each group collaborated to analyze ten emails to decide whether it was a phish or legitimate. We scored each team and awarded one winning group for each session. But they all did really well, most achieving above 80 percent in accurately identifying the emails.
…and Digital Drama
In the second half of the workshop we discussed “digital drama”. Digital drama is a term often used to describe difficulties arising from online interactions between young people. We played two video clips to discuss the roles gender can play in our online activities. One featured a candid discussion between middle school students about online drama. The other featured clips from The Real Housewives reality TV series. After watching each video clip, students analyzed generalizations about men and women in both videos, and we discussed strategies for critically thinking about the ways that gender stereotypes can play out in mass media, as well as in our own online lives.
The girls admitted the difference between boys and girls in their online activity. However, they all agree that generalizations are wrong (e.g. boys gossip a lot too), and people’s behavior is influenced by social media (e.g. sensitive boys hide their emotions and pretend to be tough). The students demonstrated their independence, and were loud and firm in their determination to fight against the unfair public portraits of women.
Personal Stories Bring Lessons to Life
Besides sharing their opinions, some students also shared powerful personal stories. For an example, one girl described a situation where her friend was bullied verbally by people around him. The young man heard these mean remarks and began to believe them, internalizing the message that he was meaningless to this world. Tragically, this poor young man committed suicide. Today’s young adults are facing unbelievable stress and challenges that no other generation ever had. Despite these sad stories, it was amazing to see that our workshop participants drew strength from our discussions and found the time worthwhile.
The Symantec workshop was very well received by the students, as 92 percent thought the Catch the Phish and Digital Drama workshop was "great" or "good." Participants said it was "very interesting and interactive" and "the videos were cool and learning about phishing was interesting." They also said it offered "interesting perspectives and valuable tips."
There were ten student workshops going on in parallel. Other workshops included “Amazing Robots” by IBM; “Battle of the Networking Stars” by Brocade; and “NetUggs Delivery Challenge” by Netapp.
It is extremely encouraging to see that Symantec truly drives towards this cultural shift where we encourage young girls to pursue careers in STEM... or as one of the students corrected us and said STEAM, adding the “A” for the word ‘and” in the phrase “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics."
At the end of the event, all Symantec volunteers felt they had learned more from the students than they had taught them. It was definitely one of the most satisfying and inspiring events we had ever volunteered for.
Shu Zhang is Senior Manager, IT at Symantec.