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Tools for Teaching Cyber Ethics

Everyone knows someone who has commited a cyber crime. Perhaps you downloaded a song you shouldn't have or maybe somebody else's research was a little more helpful than it should have been. Students are no different and the temptation to commit cyber crimes exists in every school.

Are our schools filled with budding cyber criminals unaware of the consequences of their online activities? Should educators scramble to institute a formal cyber ethics curriculum? Or should schools ban the use of the Internet? Read what one expert says! Included: Ten guidelines of computer ethics, online resources for teaching ethics and Internet safety, and eight tips for establishing a "culture of proper use" of technology in the classroom.

Read all about it ...

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Is cyber crime an epidemic? Are our schools filled with budding cyber criminals unaware of, or unconcerned with, the consequences of their online activities? Should educators scramble to institute a formal cyber ethics curriculum? Or should schools simply ban the use of the Internet?


Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics

1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.

2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.

3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.

4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.

5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.

6. Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid.

7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.

8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.

9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write or the system you design.

10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration of and respect for your fellow humans.


Copyright: Computer Ethics Institute Author: Dr. Ramon C. Barquin


The answer to all those questions is no, according to Jerry Crystal, technology coordinator at Carmen Arace Middle School in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Educators do need to address cyber ethics, Crystal told Education World, but they can address it in the context of their current curriculum and incorporate the lessons into ongoing programs.

Crystal should know. At Carmen Arace, a school with a minority population of nearly 90 percent, every one of the school's students is provided with a laptop with Internet access at the beginning of the school year -- and every teacher is expected to integrate technology into the curriculum.

"Every teacher at the school teaches technology," Crystal told Education World, "and every instructional team at the school has a regular tech time each week. During that time, teachers learn to deal with all sorts of technology issues, including cyber ethics."


For more information about the Carmen Arace laptop program, see the Education World story Laptops Change Curriculum -- and Students.


What are the cyber ethics issues Carmen Arace teachers must deal with?

According to Crystal, the most common problem isn't hacking (illegally accessing Web sites) or cracking (vandalizing Web sites); It's the unauthorized downloading of games and software.

"We deal with those cases by making students aware that how technology is used is as much an ethical issue as hacking or cracking," Crystal said. "If everyone does whatever they want on a network, it uses up a ton of space and interferes with other users. ... If they download a virus along with the software, they risk destroying the entire system -- incurring a tremendous financial loss."

Another ethical issue that educators at Carmen Arace, and most other schools, deal with is the misuse of intellectual property, or copyright violations.

"In those cases, we make the issue personally relevant," Crystal said. "We put student work on our Web site to help get across the point that they are creators of online intellectual property. Then we discuss how they would feel if their work was copied by someone else without their permission."

The use of inappropriate Web sites is a problem that has received a great deal of press. At Carmen Arace, where students frequently use the Internet as textbooks, most research involves directed searches at sites provided by the teacher.

Students also surf the Web, but that's much less of a problem than you might expect. The school uses a filtering program, but "for the most part, our kids don't want to go to porno places," Crystal noted. "They're more interested in sports, music, and game sites. We've found that a better protector against inappropriate Web sites is establishing a culture of proper use of the technology."


The best time to begin establishing a culture of proper use is the first day you introduce your students to technology, Crystal said, pointing out that teaching good practices is much easier than eliminating bad ones. If technology is already an established part of your students' educational experience, however, he recommends starting over with a clean slate.

"Develop a detailed universal plan for technology use and lay it out for everyone at once," said Crystal. "Hold training sessions for parents and kids together. Show videos and discuss the issues. Make it clear to everyone that the ethical rules they live by also apply to technology."

"Above all," Crystal said, "don't separate the online world and the offline world. Try to blend them together. It's the same world online and off. Just because there's a sense of anonymity online doesn't mean the rules change."

The middle school is the ideal place to focus on cyber ethics, Crystal believes, because that is where kids begin to develop their awareness of ethical behavior. "If we provide positive images and effectively communicate ethical values in all areas of their lives, those values will be reflected in the technological environment as well. How we teach kids to view themselves and their use of technology at this level is what they will carry with them into adulthood," he said.


Crystal offers these suggestions for incorporating cyber ethics into the classroom culture:

  • Draw parallels between the real world and the electronic world. Make direct comparisons between what students do on the Internet and how they behave in their daily lives.
  • Involve students in constructive activities. Ask them to develop ten rules for a classroom acceptable use policy, for example.
  • Post a written acceptable use policy in your classroom, and include the consequences for violating it.
  • Reinforce proper behavior. Treat offenses as mistakes rather than "crimes," especially in the beginning.
  • Assign students to work with technology buddies, other students who have already worked with technology and will set a good example. Peers can help sell a point that students might not accept from adults. In addition, kids who are working together are less likely to get off task.
  • Take advantage of every teachable moment. You can't overstate the issue.
  • Don't model inappropriate behavior.
  • Instill a sense of responsibility, point out the real costs of misusing technology, and express a belief in students' ability to handle technology properly. Students will live up to or down to your expectations.


Wouldn't it be easier to simply ban Internet use in the classroom, or at least limit its use to areas where strict supervision can be provided? Crystal doesn't think so.

"Since we've begun providing students with laptops, the school has seen a dramatic decrease in discipline problems," he told Education World. "In- and out-of-school suspensions are way down, as are student and teacher absenteeism. Connecticut Mastery Test scores -- especially reading scores -- have risen, and our media center director says that more books are checked out every year. Kids are more actively involved in research through project-based activities, teachers are more active, and students are less bored. Intelligent use of technology gives kids groundwork and framework -- and provides the opportunity to reinforce the value of ethical behavior in all areas of their lives.

"The Internet," Crystal said, "has often been compared to Pandora's box, which when opened released a multitude of evils -- and only a single good quality -- into the world. The difference between Pandora's box and the Internet is that the Internet provides kids with an overwhelming amount of good information and opportunities for positive use. We can protect kids against the few evils that emerge by teaching them how to use technology in positive and ethical ways."


The following Web sites provide information and activities you can use to teach kids about the ethical use of technology.

Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World


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Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2003 Education World


Updated 07/14/2011