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U Promotes Online Safety for Teens

Aug. 28, 2006 – Led by three University of Utah departments, a coalition of Utah nonprofit organizations will produce “Empowering Parents,” a multimedia educational program to foster safety for teenagers when they use the Internet.

The project – funded by a $140,000 grant from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice – will include a town hall meeting televised on KUED-Channel 7, a website, information packets, newspaper advertisements, posters, a toll-free information line, classes, and educational conferences and materials.

The year-long educational program, which begins Sept. 1, will target Utah teenagers, parents of Utah teens, teachers and community members.

“The project will increase public knowledge about Internet vulnerabilities and provide ways to safeguard youth,” says Laura G. Hunter, manager of the project and director of instructional services for the Utah Education Network (UEN). “The effort combines strengths of broadcasting, technology in education and outcome-based community outreach.”

The state grant was awarded to the UEN, which is operated by the University of Utah and is a consortium of university, colleges, public schools, libraries, state government and business. UEN’s high-speed data network connects Utah colleges and universities as well as the state”s school districts and libraries.

The new project will involve three University of Utah departments – UEN, the College of Education and KUED-Channel 7 – as well as the Utah State Office of Education, the Utah Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and NetSmartz Workshop, an organization that provides interactive online activities to promote Internet safety for children and teenagers.

After a five-month period to plan and produce various elements of the educational project, the effort will kick off publicly in February 2007 with the KUED production of an hour-long, statewide, televised town hall meeting designed to inform parents and teens about issues of Internet safety.

The exact time and date will be announced later, but the meeting will be held at KUED studios in the Eccles Broadcast Center on the university campus. It will air on KUED, and then will be repeated twice on UEN-TV. The show then will be cut into segments and distributed on 1,000 DVDs – along with printed materials – to schools, parents and other interested parties.

“Since Utah ranks high in home use of the Internet and school age children per household, Internet safety is a critical issue here,” says Larry S. Smith, KUED general manager. “KUED has a successful track record of building public awareness and encouraging dialogue to address key social issues, like teen suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence. By adding outreach and educational follow-up courses to the cornerstone town hall broadcast, we believe the Internet safety project will provide a valuable public service.”

The project will follow up with school districts, parental groups and community leaders, with expertise from the Center for Advancement of Technology in Education, part of the university’s College of Education.

“Our office will contribute personnel expertise, particularly in content and instructional design,” said Clifford J. Drew, associate dean of the College of Education. “We will develop mini-courses for parents attempting to engage their youngsters in conversations about electronic predation.”

The courses will address basics about the Internet and other electronic communication such as text messaging, as well as parent-child communication and avoidance of Internet predators. To accommodate parents’ busy schedules, there will be online and printed courses as well as face-to-face classes.

The outreach effort also will include distribution of information to school districts; presentations for faculty members, educational conferences and parent groups; and the mailing by UEN of at least 3,000 information packets to parents.

Parents will be able to request information packets via the yet-to-be-established toll-free number, as well as online, or through schools and libraries.