Risks involved in integrating the Internet into the K-12 curriculum
Risk #1: Objectionable or inappropriate material: Here we are talking about sites devoted to pornography (however that may be defined), hate groups, and other inappropriate subject matter whose content may be considered unsuitable for children at various stages of maturity. The following "solutions" to this problem are not ranked in any particular order. Each is important.
Solution #1: 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, 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."
AUP (and other useful forms) for school districts in the State of Indiana
Information Age Consultants have developed this web page with links to comprehensive AUP resources for libraries, schools, and school districts
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 this 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 The old way of looking at technology use as an optional activity is no longer valid.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 their digital access is like taking the textbook away in a math, social studies or English lit class. Technology access is now crucial to the daily school experience for students."
Solution #2: Discuss these issues with the kids: Nancy Willard is among the most recognized spokespersons for responsible use of the Internet and has written a great deal on the subject. Her website at http://www.csriu.org/index.html, The Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet is dedicated to promoting the safe and responsible use of the Internet. Amongst her many recommendations is the importance of education, of 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, perhaps, would be to have the students visit the Internet Do's and Don'ts website of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice
Solution #3: Be proactive (i.e. vigilant) as a teacher: Teachers are charged with maintaining a safe environment in their classrooms. Students (and their parents) expect the teacher to provide protection from exposure to danger of any kind. While the students are working online in a classroom/lab environment, the teacher should be alert and in a position always to know what the kids are up to at their stations. Students won't try to get away with things if they know they're likely to get caught!
Solution #4: Filtering software: Filtering, which involves blocking web sites that have been deemed unacceptable for children, is not by any means necessarily an 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 for their students to visit such sites for learning purposes. Thus, filters should be taken with a pinch of salt. They can, however, be useful in protecting children, depending on the filtering software used and how well it is set up and managed. Check out the links that follow to see some examples of filtering software as well as filtering web search tools.
Net Nanny and Cyber Patrol are industry leaders in filtering software for home, school, and business
Altavista's multimedia and general web search engine includes a password protected Family Filter, which can be turned on or off for multimedia materials for All searches conducted using Altavista. The same is true for Google.
Yahooligans is Yahoo's web search guide for kids
AskJeeves for Kids is AskJeeves' neat, and safe, search tool for kids
ChildBlock Software: Delivers a web browser which is safe for kids. Filters out adult content and presents children with child safe sites.
Clean Surf: FamilyConnect.com's internet filter
Risk #2: 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/.
Risk #3: Online Predators--Here's what Donna Rice Hughes, on her website ProtectKids.com devoted to protecting kids in cyberspace, has to say about this problem facing children today: "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 out on the playground and other places, but because of the way the Internet works, children can actually be interacting on their home computers with adults who pretend to be children." Visit Donna's website at http://www.protectkids.com/index.html to learn more about this and other dangers faced by children online.
Risk #4: 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.... They can also track everything you download from, or upload to, the Web... Here's an interesting article about Privacy Thieves that you should check out. If you care about this sort of thing, you might want to check out PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), too
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.
Risk #6: Information overload--here's an online article by Paul Krill on Overcoming Information Overload
Risk #7: Garbage--not objectionable material, just useless content, which all contributes to....
Risk #8: Wasted time--Many teachers are not well prepared to integrate the internet into instruction, sometimes allowing their students to roam the web at will. Nancy Willard points out that this leads to an "excessive amount of time spent on entertainment and other popular culture sites as 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 are guides at the side, preparing quality learning experiences for the children in their care.
What are some other risks are children exposed to on the internet? Your feedback on this article would be very much appreciated (firstname.lastname@example.org).
© Bernie Poole,1996-2009, All rights reserved / email@example.com / (814) 269-2923 / Revised Saturday February 28, 2009