Privacy Workshop with 6th graders


Yesterday, we held a Privacy Workshop at a school with about 20 children from a sixth class. A couple of weeks before, the class itself had shown interest in instant messaging encryption towards one of our members who is a teacher at said school.

So that was one of the two things we planned to do, the other was TrueCrypt for data encryption. Unlike our last workshop, we chose not to have a theoretical part regarding the importance and problems of privacy, but to focus on our hands-on approach.

Same as last time, we started off with a short introduction to the necessity and concept of encryption. Since it was a rather young class having practical examples again proved to be very useful to make our point.

Next stop was TrueCrypt. We basically repeated our approach from the last workshop and taught the kids how to create a standard container on their USB drive. The English-language interface of the program proved to be one obstacle, but after all everything processed well. What we should keep in mind for next time are the rather small problems that prove to be really annoying: Again, one kid created an extremely long password, then forgot it. It would have been better to tell the kids their passwords should not be too short – but also not too long.

Since the TrueCrypt part took longer than expected we had to shorten the second session. We had planned to start with installing Pidgin Portable on the kids’ USB drives. This was necessary because the school didn’t allow to install a chat program on their system (to prevent distraction during class, they said). We chose Pidgin as an easy-to-use multi messenger which allows to use several instant messaging services with one client and is easily extendable with plugins.

Then we would proceed with creating Jabber/XMPP-Accounts for the kids (which is pretty simple with Pidgin). Most of the kids normally use ICQ, a company which is supposed to filter content sent through their service, so we wanted to provide them with a secure and private alternative.

And finally, we would teach them how to install an OTR (Off the Record)-Plugin for Pidgin, which is also available as a portable version. The plugin provides client-based encryption for instant messaging, so it can be used not only with Jabber, but also with ICQ, AIM and other services.

Since we had to cut the session short, we decided not to do OTR, but to focus on Pidgin and Jabber. The Pidgin Portable installation went well, but Jabber hit us in the back. When we tried to register about 20 accounts via the school’s network at the same time, reasonably treated us like spammers, so we couldn’t set up more than two accounts there. At that time, the kids’ concentration already faded, so we decided not to register accounts anywhere else, but told them to do so at home.

The most obvious difference between this workshops and those we held before is the fact that we didn’t talk about privacy. Apart from the short introduction at the beginning, the whole three hours were dedicated to practical lessons rather than theory. I think this approach was the best we could have with this group which was both larger and younger than those we tought before. There were some two or three kids which actually asked us about the how and why and of course we explained them what they wanted to know. But as it was to be expected with children of their age, most of them were rather interested in doing something.

Another thing that proved to be important was that we had prepared well structured slides which we used to explain everything step-by-step. One has to keep in mind that one real obstacle was that the children will have to install Pidgin and TrueCrypt at home! (Since we knew this before we actually planned to produce explanatory screencasts, something we did not do but will keep in mind for future deployments).

I was definitely stunned by how well these kids worked with our instructions. I am sure this is to a not too little part caused by the fact that most of them are “Digital Natives”. They have used computers much earlier than those of my generation and they have especially become used to the internet and social web services at a younger age. In my eyes, this is definitely great – but we have to react appropriately. Early experiences especially with social networks – something which was practically nonexistent when I was at their age – also need early education about how to deal with personal information on the net.

3 Responses to “Privacy Workshop with 6th graders”

  1. 1 Peter Schwindt Posted February 23rd, 2009 - 19:35


    sorry, daß die Spam Protection beim Anlegen der Accounts zugeschlagen hat, aber in den heutigen Zeiten muss man sich ein wenig schützen :-)

    Ich überlege gerade, wie ich Euch da vielleicht beim nächsten Mal etwas unterstützen kann…


  2. 2 Christoph Posted February 24th, 2009 - 08:21

    @Peter: danke! Auf das Angebot kommen wir sicher sehr gerne zurück.

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