Internet Safety Comments


Technology Implementation Plan: Online Development Guide

 
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Comments on Internet Safety


Potential Internet Dangers

  • Issues are the same, only the medium has changed - The topics on the slides are ones with which schools have had to deal for many years, they are now taking place in a new medium.  Students have always been curious about accessing inappropriate materials, whether it was pictures from the Internet or from National Geographic magazine.  The issue of using school equipment safely and appropriately has also been around for generations, whether it is a school computer network, a musical instrument, or science lab equipment, the issues are the same only the medium as changed.

  • There is a reason why adult content is available on the Internet - It is VERY important that you understand that if you go to any search engine and type in the keyword “Playboy” you will quickly come across nude images which are intended for mature audiences only.  The reason that this content is available on the Internet is due to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which guarantees all US citizens the right to freedom of speech and the press.  Since you own your personal web site and do not force anyone to access it, you are allowed to post whatever you want on it.  All attempts to ban adult material from the Internet have been deemed unconstitutional and it appears that this will be the case for the foreseeable future.  Again, adult material is not new and it has been something which students have had access to in the past.

  • Vandalism is vandalism - I often find that inappropriate use of computers is often not punished to the same degree as similar non-computer related offensives.  For example, students from time to time will go into the control panel of a school computer and change the screen saver so that inappropriate words are displayed when the computer is not being used.  If caught, the student might be reprimanded and told to put the original text back.  If a similar incident had occurred, but instead the student had spray-painted the words onto the wall, the repercussions could be much worse.  The lesson here is that it is important to send a strong signal to students about how the technology can and cannot be used.

  • Email is just like a phone - It is important to view email as the tool that it is: a communications device.  For this reason, you need to restrict its use by students in much the same way as you would the phone.  Students need to know exactly how email can and cannot be used in school.  They should not be allowed to use it for non-educational activities, and its use should be strictly monitored.  Just as you would want to make sure students were not using a school phone to make crank phone calls, you want to make sure they were not emailing people inappropriate messages.  Remember that a treat made via email is the same as it being made in person or over the phone.  On a related issue, you should realize that students, in many cases, have Internet access at home as well as in school.  If you distribute handouts, such as email messages from another school or online expert messages, which contain the email address of someone with whom you are collaborating, there is a good chance that your students will be able to email them from home.  You should make sure to remove email addresses from any document which you distribute to their students unless you want them to use the email address.  At the very least, you should make it clear to your students when they can and cannot email classroom partners or contacts.

  • Real contact is the most serious danger - One of the worst dangers that students can encounter if they use the Internet is physically meeting the people they have met online.  One of the most popular uses of the Internet among teenagers are chat rooms.  These are online environments or communities which you can “log” onto and then have the ability to type back and forth to people in real time.  Often teenagers will spend hours in chat rooms meeting people from around the world as well as from around their local community (America Online or AOL is the most commonly used chat environment).  Although these do have some educational value they can also be places where students can get into serious trouble.  They should be taught NEVER to give out ANY personal information, such as phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, or last names, to anyone they meet online.  They should also know NEVER to meet anyone from the Internet in person unless they get permission from an adult and they have adult supervision.  It is important for them to understand that they may not be communicating with who they think they are, for example, they could be emailing an adult "disguised" as a 6th grader.  Almost all chat rooms have parental controls that allow parents to enter in a password which then prevents the students from accessing that room.  It is important that they are aware of this feature.

  • Home is where the danger is - Many of the times that you hear reports of students using the Internet inappropriately, the incident occurred at home rather than school.  But since the school is where the students may first have learned the skills, the school is blamed for the incident.  It is common for children to have unsupervised access to the computer and the Internet at home so it is not a surprise that that is where they get into the most trouble.  Because of this, parents need to be educated about the dangers on the Internet just as much as teachers, students and administrators.  They also need to be encouraged to supervise their children's computer and Internet use and take responsibility for making sure the technology is used appropriately and productively at home.

Protecting Students Online

  • Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) are vital - These are essential documents that any school that has access to the Internet must put in place.  At the end of this section I have provided you with links to sites that will provide you with examples of AUPs and other related information.  There are several important points to make about AUPs.

    • One of the most important factors in the success of an AUP is how well it is enforced.  Once an AUP is put in place there will almost certainly be an incident in which the AUP is violated.  If the policy is not enforced and the students are not punished to the full extent of the policy, the AUP will become useless and students will no longer see it as something to obey in the future.  On the other hand, if the policy is enforced at the first sign of problems, it will send a strong signal to the student body that the policy will be taken seriously by the school and that they should take it seriously as well.

    • It is highly recommended that schools have student sign permission slips if they are going to be publishing their work to a school web site or will have their picture placed online.  Often this can be include in the AUP or as a separate document that goes along with it.  Most schools already have such a document which they use whenever students are photographed for a the local press.

    • All AUPs should include a cover letter or introductory paragraph outlining the reasons why the school will be using the Internet.  The last thing you want to send home with students is a “laundry list" of dangers that the Internet can pose without explaining why the school thinks it is important to be using the technology in the first place.  By first focusing on the benefits of the technology and the “unique and compelling” classroom applications, parents will be much more interested in allowing their children to use it and a lot less concerned over the potential dangers it might present.  This is another reason why it is important to focus on compelling applications of the Internet.  It can often supply the justification a school needs to bring the technology into the classroom.

  • Internet Safety Software is not as good as it sounds -  Internet safety software identifies specific words or pictures that the it deems inappropriate and then either blocks that site or filters out the words.  It works well, but because it is a technical solution, it often filters words or phrases that may be appropriate and even desired.  For example, you may have a health class which is studying breast cancer.  There is a good chance that any web site that related to breast cancer would be blocked.  This could make it impossible for students to research that topic on the Internet.  The lesson here is to make sure you always balance protecting students with accessibility of the technology.

  • Supervision is necessary -  Although this might be rather obvious, one of the best ways to protect students is to supervise their use of the Internet.  Few schools have unsupervised computer facilities so in most cases this technique is already in place. Virtually of all potential dangers can be avoided if a teacher or aid is monitoring what is happening in the computer lab, library or classroom and has an understanding of the potential dangers.  If the supervisor is not knowledgeable about the dangers, then they will most likely be ineffective monitors.  Thus it is important to educate them potential dangers when supervising use of the Internet.

    • A creative way of dealing with the problem of monitoring large groups is to create an Internet Driver's License program.  The idea here is to give all students an Internet driver's license after they and their parents sign the AUP.  They are then required to post their driver's license next to their computer screen whenever they are using the Internet.  If they violate the AUP their driver's license is revoked as part of their punishment.  This then allows a teacher or aid to quickly survey a room and determine who is allowed to be online and who is not.  It also acts as a visual reminder to the students that they are not allowed to use the technology inappropriately.  Along with the driver's license, it is also important to post the AUP or rules of the road in every place where the Internet is used.  This will ensure that students are always aware of what is and is not allowed.

  • A parent technology night works wonders - This can be a whole evening event or part of a general parents’ night at the beginning of the school year.  Probably the most useful aspect of such an event is the chance to discuss the school's AUP directly with the parents.  The school administration can outline the policy for the parents as well as hold demonstrations of the technology to show why they think it is so important to bring the Internet into the classroom.  Another important outcome of a parent technology night is educating the parents about the dangers that the Internet might present for them at home.  In fact, since most parents do not supervise their children's computer/Internet use and rarely have Internet safety software installed on their computer, it is often much more likely that students will use the Internet inappropriately while at home than in school.  For this reason, it is important to explain to the parents what the dangers are and how to protect their children.  At the same time, parents need to see a compelling reason to allow the Internet in their schools and their home, thus it is just as critical to address why they should be using it.

 

 

 

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