By Frederick Lane ~ 13 January 2023

This C4E Digest is 1,553 words, or approximately a 7-minute read.

πŸ€– Above the Fold: Did a Robot Write This? How Would You Know?

ChatGPT Composes an Ad About Its High Traffic Issues [2023]
ChatGPT Composes an Ad About Its High Traffic Issues [2023]

The prayers of every word-blocked writer or homework-averse student have apparently been answered. Less than two months ago, OpenAI released its remarkably advanced chatbot for public testing.

ChatGPT uses massive databases of information and advanced learning techniques to generate responses to prompts submitted by users. It has proven surprisingly adept at generating content in a variety of genres. [Fair warning: The site is often over-capacity.]

  • "ChatGPT ... writes spectacularly fluent and confident answers to any question or request with lightning speed. Cover letters, computer code, relationship advice, poetry, legal documents, you name it." -- Jonathan Howell,
  • "Ask the new artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT to write an essay about the cause of the American Civil War and you can watch it churn out a persuasive term paper in a matter of seconds." -- Matt O'Brien and the Associated Press, Fortune

How should school districts and educators respond? Predictably, the responses to this new technology are dividing between outright bans and grudging cooperation.

  • The New York Public School system has banned access to ChatGPT on school-owned devices and networks -- but that of course does not prevent students from accessing the service on their own cellular-equipped devices or at home.
    ** "Due to concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content, access to ChatGPT is restricted on New York City Public Schools’ networks and devices. While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success." -- NYC DOE spokesperson Jenna Lyle, Chalkbeat New York
  • But New York Times columnist Kevin Roose disagrees: "I believe schools should thoughtfully embrace ChatGPT as a teaching aid β€” one that could unlock student creativity, offer personalized tutoring, and better prepare students to work alongside A.I. systems as adults."

In less than 60 days, ChatGPT has sparked near-panic levels of concern in multiple industries, from education to public relations to law. Buckle up; it's going to be a bumpy ride.

If ChatGPT ever writes a book called "To Serve Man," head for the hills.

πŸ’£ 2. Cybersecurity Breach Shuts Down Des Moines Schools

The detection of "unusual activity" on its network last Monday led the Des Moines Public Schools to cancel all classes on January 10 and 11. The District has not released more information yet about the nature of the cybersecurity breach.

  • When students returned on Thursday, they were told to expect an "offline learning experience" with no access to wi-fi.
  • The District is extending the school year to make up for lost class time, treating the cybersecurity shutdowns as snow days.
  • "The Iowa Department of Education, the local offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security are working with district officials." -- Samantha Hernandez, Des Moines Register

The attack illustrated the dependence of school systems on digital resources, both on-campus and in the cloud.

  • With servers and network resources shut down, teachers and staff could not access critical student information or even take attendance.
  • The attack limited access to teaching materials and threatened the smooth handling of grades and teacher pay.

Ransomware? In a recent video update, interim superintendent Matt Smith said that the District has handed information over to its cybersecurity insurance company. There is no word yet as to whether a ransomware demand has been received or a payment made.

Read More:

Cybertraps #149 β€” Keeping the Hawaiian Language with Felicia Villalobos

🚨 3. Not The Way to Get Your Kicks

Earlier this week, Kevin Hedrick, a social studies teacher at Medina High School, was arrested by federal law enforcement officers.

  • Hedrick has been charged with two counts:
    ** Receipt of visual depictions of a minor engaged in sexual conduct; and
    ** Enticing or coercing a minor to engage in prostitution or any criminal sexual activity, or attempting to do so.
  • The Medina City school system initially put Hedrick on paid administrative leave in October 2022. He resigned from the distict on January 6, 2023.

Court documents allege that Hedrick was using the Kik Messenger app to solicit sexual activity with minors and to exchange child sexual abuse material (CSAM) with other Kik users.

  • Investigators subpoenaed records from Hedrick's cellular provider and from the school system's internet service provider. Those records revealed multiple log-ins by Hedrick to Kik.
  • A computer forensics review of Hedrick's devices revealed that he exchanged hundreds of CSAM photos and videos using Kik.
  • Hedrick also engaged in sexually-oriented conversations with a "28-year-old mother of two girls (5 and 14)," who in reality was an undercover law enforcement agent. He told investigators that the conversations were "mere fantasy."
  • The conversations took place in a Kik Messenger group called "Ohio chastity key holders".
  • Kik has over 300 million users and thousands of both public and private chat groups.

Read More:

Want to reduce the chances that your district or a member of the school community will show up in a future edition of The Cybertraps Newsletter? Schedule some timely, informative professional development by contacting me at

🚫 4. Should TikTok Be Banned? Can It?

A growing number of governments and school districts are enacting bans on the massively-popular social media app TikTok, citing privacy and security concerns.

  • TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company now based in Singapore.
  • Critics argue that user data, including browser history and location, could be accessed by the Chinese government.
  • Over two-thirds of U.S. teens have downloaded TikTok. Qustodio, the manufacturor of smartphone monitoring software, reported that in 2021, teens spent an average of 75 minutes per day on TikTok alone.

School districts cite several different reasons for enacting a ban on TikTok.

  • Student privacy is at the top of the list, echoing concerns expressed at both state and national levels.
  • Distraction during the school day.
  • Problems caused by viral TikTok "challenges," many of which have resulted in child injury or even death.
  • Exposure to adult content or sexualization of children.
  • Possible radicalization by foreign or domestic terrorists.

Government actions are limited. States can ban specific apps on state-owned devices and networks but have limited authority over privately-owned devices.

In Loco Parentis. Schools have more authority to regulate smartphone and app use on-campus, but close collaboration with parents will be needed to make significant change.

Could TikTok be kicked out of the United States altogether? Theoretically but not any time soon.

  • Only one country (India) has completely banned TikTok.
  • Evidence of serious national security or privacy concerns could lead to a complete ban.
  • Congress has been slow to update American privacy laws, making enforcement difficult.
  • A national prohibition of TikTok would also have serious foreign policy implications.

Read More:

πŸ˜‚ 5. TikTok and the Reality of Teaching

If TikTok ever is banned, there will be a lot of disappointed teachers who use the service to educate, inform, protest, and entertain.

The Washington Post this week gave a shout-out to Leslie Rob, a high school teacher in northern Virginia who moonlights as a stand-up comedian.

Rob has posted a series of videos on TikTok that offer a very funny behind-the-scenes look at teaching. Many feature equally amusing guest appearances by the school's principal.

Here's one of my favorites so far:


Who’s a repeat offender when it comes to being late? 🫣 #leslierobcomedy #msrobsaidwhat #teacherhumor #teachercomedy #teachercomedian #teacherlaughs #classroomhumor #classroomcomedy #teachersoftiktok #teachertiktok

♬ original sound - Leslie Rob | Ms. Rob
Leslie Rob – "Who's a Repeat Offender When It Comes to Being Late? [2023]

There are legitimate concerns about the data that TikTok collects and how that data is used (as there are for every other social media service and smartphone app).

But we should not lose sight of the enormous potential that these apps have when they are in the hands of passionate and creative educators. Babies and bath water, folks.

πŸ“§ Have a great weekend, everyone! If you have questions, story ideas, or other suggestions, please email me: