Let's consider the risks involved in integrating the Internet into the K-12 curriculum -- and some solutions to minimize those risks.
Objectionable or Inappropriate Material: Sites devoted to pornography (however that might be defined), hate groups, and other inappropriate subject matter contain content thats unsuitable for children at various stages of maturity. The following "solutions" to the problem are not ranked in any particular order. Each is important.
Acceptable Use Policies: Jeff Johnson, technology coordinator for the Glendale-River Hills School District, in Glendale, Wisconsin, prefers to call these "Responsible Use Policies" because he "expects students (and staff) to be responsible school citizens." Check out the links that follow to see some examples of both good and poor acceptable use policies. As Nancy Willard, Internet safety expert and writer of acceptable use policies for her school district, observed, "Be sure to include due process information in your policy. This is something that is blatantly missing from most policies." Consider, for example, the AUP (and other useful forms) for school districts in Indiana.
With regard to due process, it's no longer a good idea to punish students by denying them access to digital technology for irresponsible use. Here is what Alix Pleshette, coordinator for instructional technology and visual and performing arts at Placer County Office of Education, in Auburn, California, has to say on the subject: "What really needs to change is how administrators are trained to deal with digital infractions. The old way of looking at technology use as an optional activity is no longer valid. Punishing a student by restricting digital access is like taking away the textbook in a math, social studies, or English lit class. Technology access is now crucial to the daily school experience for students."
Discuss the Issues With Students: Nancy Willard is among the most recognized spokespersons for responsible use of the Internet; she has written a great deal on the subject. Her Web site, The Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet is dedicated to promoting safe and responsible Internet use. Her recommendations include making children aware of "effective strategies for acquiring knowledge, decision-making skills, motivation, and self-control to behave in a safe, responsible, and legal manner when using the Internet and other information technologies." Early in the year, teachers should talk with their students about the need for responsible use of the resources available through the Web. A good idea would be to have students visit Cyberethics for Kids, at the Web site of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Be Proactive (i.e. vigilant) as a Teacher: Teachers are charged with maintaining a safe environment in their classroom. Students (and parents) expect the teacher to provide protection from exposure to danger of any kind. While students are working online in a classroom/lab environment, the teacher should be alert and always in a position to know what students are up to at their stations. Students won't try to get away with things if they know they're likely to get caught.
Filtering Software: Filtering, which involves blocking Web sites that have been deemed unacceptable for children, is not by any means a completely effective solution to the problem of objectionable material on the Web. Not only are filters vulnerable to being circumvented -- accidentally or on purpose "got around" -- filters also too often block Web sites that are perfectly acceptable, leaving teachers frustrated when they plan to use such sites for learning purposes. Filtering software should be taken with a grain of salt; however, depending on how the software is set up, managed, and used, it can be useful to a degree. Check out the links that follow to see some examples of filtering software, as well as filtering Web search tools.
CyberBullying: According to www.cyberbully.org, "Cyberbullying is sending or posting harmful or cruel text or images using the Internet or other digital communication devices." Cyberbully.org is devoted to mobilizing educators, parents, students, and others to combat online social cruelty. For more information, check out http://www.cyberbullying.ca and http://www.cyberbullying.us.
Online Predators: Here's what Donna Rice Hughes has to say about this problem: "One of the attractions of the Internet is the anonymity of the user, and this is why it can be so dangerous. A child doesn't always know with whom he or she is interacting. Children may think they know, but unless it's a school friend or a relative, they really can't be sure. Often we think of pedophiles as having access to children on the playground and other [physical] places, but because of the way the Internet works, children actually can be interacting on their home computers with adults who pretend to be children." Visit Donna's Web site ProtectKids.com to learn more about this and other dangers faced by children online.
Invasion of Privacy: Cookies are not as innocent as they sound. Plus, anyone can read your e-mail or your chat or your instant messages, as well as track everything you download from, or upload to, the Web. Check out PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) Tutorials for Beginners.
Risk # 5
Inaccurate or Biased Information: There are plenty of Questionable Sites on the Web. Information literacy helps one develop a "nose" for dubious or downright false information.
Information Overload: Read this interesting article on how young people are relatively immune to information overload due to a few key adaptive behaviors.
Garbage: Not objectionable material, just useless content, which contributes to....
Wasted Time: Teachers who are not well prepared to integrate the Internet into instruction, sometimes allow students to roam the Web at will. Nancy Willard points out that that can lead to an "excessive amount of time spent on entertainment and other popular culture sites compared to a significant lack of time spent on high quality sites." When it comes to children and learning, well-trained teachers should be "bundled" with the Web, as Dr. Netiva Caftori, professor of computer science at North Eastern Illinois University likes to put it. Teachers should be guides at the side, preparing quality learning experiences for the children in their care.
Article by Bernie Poole
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Links Updated 09/12/2011