The ability to create multiple login accounts on current operating systems like Mac OS X is great. This not only allows family members to have their own “custom” desktops and bookmarks/favorites, it also permits young users to start learning about password security early.
This many seem like a trivial thing, but it really isn’t. The importance of passwords and password security is only going to increase as our society gets “more digital.” When I initially setup an account for my now-five year old to access and use one of our family Macbook laptops, I setup a “shared” account that did not have a password, which she used with her older eight year old sister. A few months ago, however, Rachel asked for her own login account. She saw everyone else in our family logging in with “their own” accounts, and she wanted to do this too.
About two weeks ago, Rachel asked for her own password. This was not hard to do and add, and she chose her own password. I don’t know what it is, but I did see it has three characters. This morning before school, she commented to me “how fun” she thought it was to have her own password.
As a former elementary computer lab teacher and technology integration facilitator, I definitely know what a nightmare helping manage student passwords can be. Just for the Accelerated Reader program, password management can be quite time consuming for a class of 25. The AR program provides multiple examples of how and why password security is so important, however. What school librarian and teacher working with the AR program for awhile has NOT run into the situation of one student using another’s login and password to take AR tests for them? Cheating on AR tests is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to password security. Identity theft, phishing, and other digital password-related criminal schemes are growing by leaps and bounds. Young people need to learn and practice good password security, just as adults do today.
I’m glad my five year old “pushed” for her own password. It’s not a huge deal or inconvenience, but it provides an opportunity to discuss issues that are important life skills. Rachel told me this morning that “Sarah knows my password.” We’ll have a talk about that today after school, I’m sure. If Rachel wants to share her password with her sister, she certainly can, but the best thing would be for her to keep it secret and to herself. As an “administrator” on our home computers I can change it for her (or better yet, have her change it directly) whenever she wants or needs it reset. Even though she’s just five years old, it’s not too early to start talking about the importance of controlling and maintaining control over her passwords and therefore her “digital life.”
For more general information about setting up multiple user accounts on Mac OS X, see the support article “About multiple user accounts.” Idaho State University has a good tutorial page on setting up multiple user accounts in Windows XP. Microsoft has a good article on enabling “fast user switching” (which is also an option for Mac OS X) on its support website. User Account Control was implemented by Microsoft with its Vista operating system as an attempt to improve user security by further limiting user rights to install and run applications. Implementing access control rights can definitely get complicated and can easily hamper more advanced family computer users. In addition to using multiple logins for the basic differentiated functionality it can provide, it’s worth exploring the security and other “features” this can open up even in a home setting.
It’s interesting to note the two largest school districts in our state, Oklahoma City Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools, have very different policies when it comes to individual student logins. OKCPS creates user accounts for each student when they start kindergarten, or at the point they enter the school district for the first time as a student. TPS does NOT create or have individual student logins. I think OKCPS has the right approach on this issue. In the not too distant future, all our students are going to be using their own laptops at school. Individual network logins are essential to promote a culture of accountability, as well as provide individualized, secure access to a variety of applications and resources. It’s never too early at school to start learning about password security, and it behooves school districts to lay the groundwork for individual student logins as soon as possible, whether students start using those accounts right away or later in their school careers.
Vendor cloud-computing solutions like Stoneware Inc. are ideally situated to integrate with a district’s active directory or other directory services scheme, and provide single-signon capabilities to a HUGE number of services and applications. Does your school district provide individualized student login accounts currently? Are you doing this at home with your own family members?
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