Don’t Trash Your Spam!: Reasoning on Spam as a Way to Train Critical Thinking

Don’t Trash Your Spam!: Reasoning on Spam as a Way to Train Critical Thinking

Manuela Delfino (Scuola sperimentale secondaria di I grado "don Milani" - Genova, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2122-0.ch070
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Abstract

Some activities that are typically regarded as “a waste of time” may inspire useful experiences in school contexts. This is the case of spamming. As competent users of digital technologies, we do everything we can in order to block spam messages (e.g., by choosing, training and updating anti-spam filters), but as teachers we can find that also in spam there is an educative potential that it is worth cultivating. This chapter presents a reflection based on an educational experience realized in a lower secondary Italian school during a course on Digital Literacy aimed at making students aware of different synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. In the activity presented here, the focus was on the analysis of different spam and phishing messages. Interacting within a wiki environment, students had the chance to reflect on the different elements that should be taken into account to detect strange and dangerous e-mail postings.
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Context

The experience took place at the D’Oria - Pascoli lower secondary school at Genova, Italy, and involved a third year class composed by 25 students engaged in a course on Digital literacy devoted to synchronous and asynchronous communication. The course on Digital literacy aimed at:

  • 1.

    Getting to know and use the major asynchronous communication tools (SMS, e-mail, forum, wiki, blog, etc.).

  • 2.

    Becoming aware of the effects that such tools might have on communication modalities, (e.g., second orality effects, cfr. Ong, 1982).

  • 3.

    Being able to detect danger signals sometimes conveyed by such tools (e.g., spam and phishing).

Specific objective of the latter aim was the reflection on the elements that should be taken into account to detect strange and dangerous e-mail postings.

Even though the experience can be reproduced with other technologies or on paper, in this case a wiki was chosen for at least two reasons: it was useful to gather and share in a common environment all the students’ impressions and it was useful to familiarize students with a communication tool supporting both synchronous and asynchronous communication. The wiki used for the activity was PbWorks, a piece of software from the US (http://www.pbworks.com/), which was used to immerse the students into an English language interface environment online. This tool is free (if used for teaching purposes), intuitive and easy to access and use. It was customized in order to allow access to authorized users only: each student was given a login and password and could work in a secure environment and monitor the contribution made by other authorized users. The choice of a wiki ensured a high degree of flexibility in the organization of the working time and guaranteed a unique repository accessible from anywhere by each participant.

The activity was run in the computer lab of the school. Each computer had a fast Internet connection to access the wiki environment that was previously set up by the teacher. In order to replicate an analogous experience, a collection of spam messages should be kept by the teacher or the adult in charge of the activity.

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Background

Anti-phishing education is becoming an independent study sector together with the analysis of belief dynamics. It aims at investigating both the ways to protect oneself from phishing and to analyze the reasons why people fall into a trap, in order to design the key elements for sound and selected defensive strategies (Dhamija et al., 2006),

Key Terms in this Chapter

Textual Analysis: A research methodology used to describe and interpret the content, structure, and functions of the messages contained in texts.

Digital Literacy: The skill to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment.

Spam: Unsolicited bulk e-mail.

Secondary: Education: A stage of education following primary school. In many countries, it generally includes a period of compulsory education.

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: Field of study aimed at understanding how people learn together through the use of computers.

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