As a graduate student who is interested in technology, I have chosen to address how educators can best promote the safe use of technology resources with middle and high schools students. Standard VI of the ISTE Technology Standards is concerned with social, ethical, legal, and human issues of technology usage. According to the Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms:1994-2005 report, the survey found that in 2005, 94 % of public school instructional rooms had Internet access whereas in 1998, only 51 % had Internet access (Wells and Lewis, 2006). Given the increase in accessibility to the Internet, teachers and parents have reasons to be concerned about students’ access to material that may be unsafe or inappropriate. According to the Wells and Lewis report (2006), nearly 100 % of public schools that have had access to the Internet used blocking/filtering software; and 96 % of schools reported monitoring by teachers or other staff to prevent student access to inappropriate material in 2005. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) states that in order to receive federal grants for technology and e-rate discounts, the use of filtering or blocking software must be in place. CIPA also states that a policy for Internet safety must address: Access by minors to inappropriate material; safety when using e-mail, chat and other electronic communications; and unlawful activities by minors. For the purposes of this discussion,
inappropriate material will be defined as material harmful to minors. “Material harmful to minors represents nudity or sex that has prurient appeal for minors, is offensive and unsuitable for minors, and lacks serious value for minors. This material is often referred to as soft-core pornography. There are ‘harmful to minors’ laws in every state. Note: Indecent and harmful to minors material is legal for adults but illegal when knowingly sold or exhibited to minor children” (Hughes and Campbell, 1998).
For the purposes of this discussion, pornography will be defined as,
“All sexually explicit material intended primarily to arouse the reader, viewer, or listener. The Supreme Court has said that there are four categories of pornography that can be determined illegal. Illegal pornography includes indecency, material harmful to minors, obscenity, and child pornography” (Hughes and Campbell, 1998).
Even with the protection that CIPA provides, caregivers of children have additional reasons for concern. According to Anick Jesdanun, in an AP news article (July 19, 2007) on Yahoo! News, one in 25, or four percent of U.S. teens have been asked for sexually explicit pictures of themselves while online. This study was conducted with phone surveys of 1,500 Internet users ages 10-17 (Jesdanun, 2007). In another recent survey, nearly three-fifths of the states responding stated that they have defined the meaning of being “media literate,” in order to ready students for the twenty-first century information revolution, but more is needed. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) conducted a December 2006 survey of 38 states and D.C. respondants entitled, “The Changing Media Landscape: Ensuring Students’ Safety and Success in School and in the Future Workplace” (http://www.setda.org/web/guest/toolkit2007/medialiteracy/nationalperspective) . For the purpose of this discussion, I will use SETDA and Cable in the Classroom (CIC) definitions of media literacy: “Knowing how to access, understand, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages on television, the Internet, and other outlets. It also means knowing how to use these and other technologies safely, productively, and ethically” (Stansbury, 2007). The report states that 29 states said they have “safety policies and/or guidelines to protect children from online predators, to protect personal information online, to prevent cyber bullying or hacking, and to counter copyright violations. The SETDA organization also furnishes a Toolkit that provides a compilation of resources for parents and teachers about Internet safety and media literacy (Stansbury, 2007). Safety online is such an important critical issue.
My interest in the topic of Internet safety came about when my sister-in-law, Beth, and my nephew, Tyler, had pornographic material pop-up during a computer session in a public library in the mid 1990s. Tyler was around eleven years old, and he gone online at a local New Jersey town library. Tyler told his mom what he had seen. Beth spoke to the librarian and told him about the offensive materials her son had just encountered online. He explained that this was a public library and he could not be responsible for what had happened because they did not have any filters on the computers. These computers were used by adults as well, and nothing would be done. To summarize the events that followed, Beth made attempts to get action taken and was unsuccessful. She tried to appeal to the local mayor, town council, and library Board of Trustees, but they were not in favor of any censorship. Beth continued to see what could be done to prevent the unsafe use of computers by children in the local public library. Eventually, Beth was contacted by Congressman Bob Franks of New Jersey. Congressman Franks requested that she testify at a Congressional press conference addressing the danger to children online. As a result of this incident and follow up after the incident, I became aware that many of our public libraries and schools had computers for student use without any filters/blocks to protect or safeguard our children. As my sister-in-law began to educate me, I took action and checked in my local community to see what protections were in place. My local Public Library had filters on the computers as early as the late 1990s. As a parent of young children, I was comforted by this. When I became employed at a local elementary school as a teacher, I became even more aware of the need for filtering and blocking software for all student computers. I also became aware that the local County public schools require students and faculty to sign an acceptable use policy (AUP) agreement before using the Internet resources on school computers. My classes often had use of the computer lab with Internet access. I wanted to integrate technology into my lessons without the risk of student exposure to material that was harmful to minors.
After reading Critical Pedagogy (Wink, 2005), I have learned to reflect critically and to think about new ways of looking at an issue. In researching the critical issue of how to keep minors safe on the Internet, I have been faced with other questions related to my topic. Here are a few I’ve pondered:
How do we protect children from unwanted pornography without
limiting their ability to search important sites or violating their privacy?
What are some of the disadvantages to having Web filters?
Do Web filters work?
Do we want to trust software to keep our students safe?
Who do we want to teach responsible use of the Internet ?
Should students be allowed to override filtering software for academic purposes?
What should we include in acceptable use policies?
What barriers hinder schools from improving Internet security?
How effective are acceptable-use policies (AUP) agreements?
I have learned that there are advantages and disadvantages to using blocking and filtering software. This is a very complex issue. Filters can protect students and teachers from accessing inappropriate material at school. Blocking can keep students from going on social chat sites during academic time. However, these devices can also prevent students from visiting “clean”, appropriate sites if the key words in the web address (url) cue the software to block the site. Oftentimes, the administrator or information technology (IT) staff isn’t sure how to override filtering software. Tech-savvy students know how to get around the protections by using proxy servers. Since software alone cannot keep students safe while online, I think a school district should have a multifaceted approach to cyber security. CDW Government, Inc., a division of CDW Corporation, conducted a survey of K-12 public school and produced a report entitled, “K-12 School Safety Index 2007” (CDW-Government [CDW-G], 2007). When IT directors and security directors were surveyed, they shared some of the tactics that schools use to protect kids from dangers on the Internet. These included: blocking or limiting Web sites; placing computers in view of adults; monitoring Web activity; and maintaining a closed district network (CDW-G, 2007). As I thought about ways to improve secure Internet access for middle and high school age students, I began to think that students would benefit from safety education. I propose that students will be more likely to make wiser choices on the Web if they understood the dangers of cyber security breaches than if they are uninformed. If so many youths have been exposed to pop-ups, unwanted sexual harassment, and cyber bullying while using the Web, it seems logical that educators and parents should partner in educating students about how to protect themselves from inappropriate Internet experiences. The CDW-G survey reports only 8% of reporting districts provide Internet safety training to students, 15% incorporate adult supervision as a security measure, and 18% monitor Internet activity. I don’t think that software should substitute for educating students about the hazards of identity theft, physical danger, and the potential impact that can occur when students post unsuitable content on a social networking site. The student’s future academic and professional plans can be hindered if future employers access their MySpace or Facebook accounts and find material that does not reflect the image that they are looking for in future students or employees. Students recently have been known to post inappropriate photographs and digital images of themselves or of friends that might be considered pornographic. Many youth do not realize that the Internet is an extremely dangerous public forum where voyeurs prey on unsuspecting teens.
Since Web filters are imperfect, I recommend using a multifaceted approach to insuring students have safe access to the Internet. I think that Web filters should be used by school districts. Schools should have a competent and adequately staffed IT department to make adjustments and overrides when the filters are too restrictive. I think filtering is the first line of defense, but I also think that tracking and monitoring of online behavior should be incorporated in the school system. According to Dr. Steve Garner, professor at Salisbury University, EDUC 585, Technology Tools for Teaching and Learning, accountability and consequences need to be addressed in an AUP agreement. In a graduate course on technology tools, Dr. Garner taught that a school’s AUP should address a list of acceptable and unacceptable uses, copyright violations, illegal downloads, exchange of personal information, access to Internet without supervision, access to chats, access to private e-mail, access to blogs and social networks like MySpace, access to games, and the consequences for violations to the AUP. Another line of defense in addition to AUP agreements is education. Education plays a key role in safe Internet access for pre-teens and teenage students. Parents and/or guardians of students need to be educated about how to monitor students’ network access as well. They need to understand how to oversee the use of technology in the home. Parents need to be encouraged to talk about the dangers of unsupervised Internet usage. Students should be taught not to give out any personal information online. As a teacher, I will take action to instruct teens, parents, and the school faculty in order to make them aware of the benefits and pitfalls of online media. I have located several Web sites that can be helpful to parents and teens: www.ctap4.org/cybersafety/ , www.staysafeonline.org/practices/eight.html. www.protectkids.com/youthsafety/index.htm. , http://www.blogsafety.com/., http://kids.getnetwise.org/safetyguide/tips/teens.php., http://www.safeteens.org/., and http://www.securityfocus.com/news/10940. These sites provide information that will help stakeholders understand the critical issues pertaining to safe use of technology resources such as the Internet.
As teachers, parents, and administrators join in partnership to educate themselves and their students about the safe use of the Internet, there may be obstacles to accomplishing this goal. One hindrance to protecting youth on the Internet is that some students who are tech savvy are not necessarily safety savvy (Einsenstock, 2006). Students intentionally use encrypted abbreviations such as POS, ASL, and F2F which translate to mean “parent over shoulder,” “age, sex, and location,” and “face-to-face” meeting. Parents and teachers need to understand the millennial generation and their “tech-speak” so that they can caution youth about predators (Eisenstock, 2006). According to the CDW-G report on school safety (2007), the greatest impediment to Internet safety was “a lack of funding and sufficient staff resources.” Other hindrances enumerated in the report were hardware/software barriers, lack of user participation, and lack of defined policies (CDW-G, 2007). Students in this twenty-first century need to be able to access, analyze, evaluate, and create using a variety of media. The Internet is an essential tool in their educational arsenal. Many teachers are hesitant to venture into uncharted waters because of fear of the dangers of the Internet. Creating a positive learning environment where students can safely access educational media and incorporate the digital world they are familiar with will enhance their learning. Educators and students need to think critically about how to responsibly use the emergent technologies available through the Internet.
CDW Government, Inc. (2007). CDW-G K-12 school safety index 2007. Retrieved on July 26, 2007 from http://webobjects.cdw.com/webobjects/docs/pdfs/CDWG_School_Safety_Index_2007.pdf.
Eisenstock, B. (2006, July/August). New media, new rules: Simple advice for complex times: parenting a digital generation. Retrieved July 20, 2007 from
Hughes, D. and Campbell, P. (1998). Excerpt from Kids online: Protecting your children in cyberspace. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell Company. Retrieved July 26, 2007 from http://www.protectkids.com/dangers/porndefinitions.htm.
Jesdanun, A.(2007, July 19). Study: 1 in 25 youths asked for sex pics. Yahoo!®News Retrieved July 20, 2007 from http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070720/ap_on_hi_te/sexual_photos_online_7;_ylt=Av%20ItYTmdQTmljWWnwMbt424E1vAI
Stansbury, M. (2007, July 12). ESchool News online ™: Where K-12 education and technology meet. Groups push for media-literacy education:SETDA, Cable in the Classroom call attention to the importance of media literacy in preparing students for an increasingly digital world. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/PFshowstory.cfm?ArticleID=7252 and http://www.setda.org/web/guest/toolkit2007/medialiteracy/nationalperspective
Wells, J. and Lewis, L. (2006). Internet access in U.S. public schools and classrooms:
1994-2005. Retrieved July 15, 2007 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007020.
Wink, J. (2005). Critical pedagogy: Notes from the real world (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.