How schools can rear good cyber citizens

February 11, 2002, Monday

ROBIN RASKIN; Gannett News Service

Educators will tell you that, for better or worse, PCs have entered their classrooms and changed the face of education. But, as luck would have it, the PC was placed -- maybe dumped is a better word -- into classrooms before lesson plans, methodologies and practices were thought through. Now, educators are scurrying to retrofit rules and add structure into this wild and woolly part of their teaching experience.

Some of the issues front and center in teachers' minds are:

  • Keeping kids safe from inappropriate content on the Internet
  • Managing the use of computers so that kids stay on track with lesson plans
  • Measuring the success of the computer as a classroom aid.
  • Giving kids guidelines for growing up digital.

That means having to offer guidance to kids on just about everything from sexual predators to aggressive advertisers, from new rules about plagiarism and intellectual property to how to discern the shades of difference between fact and fiction on the Web. All of these are issues that didn't even exist in the classroom just a few years ago.

And while teachers are all feeling the burden of having one more set of responsibilities, schools are rightly concerned about liability issues as they confront these new problems.

So what are schools doing to put systems and procedures in place? Most schools, 91 percent according to U.S. Department of Education's recent report on the Internet, use a combination of acceptable-use policies, teacher monitoring of kids, software filtering and other things to keep students safe.

Acceptable use policies

An acceptable-use policy is a document signed by students (and often by parents, too) that spell out the rules and policies for good Internet behavior in the school. A typical AUP as they're called lets students know that the privilege of using the Internet will be revoked if the policy is not followed. Many schools couple the AUP with an orientation that students must take before they are assigned a login. AUP's are important because they define what it is your school will allow and not allow as good behavior relative to everything from e-mail to instant messaging, from surfing to the consequences of Web plagiarism.

Parents can adopt an Acceptable Use Policy at home as well.

Filtering and Monitoring

Filtering software blocks that portion of the Net that's inappropriate for kids from appearing on their computers at school. While most educators agree that filtering is far from a perfect solution, many agree that it takes the focus off of this hotbed topic. The downside of filtering is that most schools over-filter, inadvertently blocking kids, especially older kids, from important content.

About 30 percent of connected schools use some form of Internet blocking or monitoring software. Typically, these are not off-the-shelf consumer software packages, but centrally monitored systems designed for schools, such as N2H2's Bess Interent Filtering System ( The sale of filtering software to schools has become a brisk business since the passage of the e-Rate bill. The e-Rate legislation requires that schools use Internet filtering in order to qualify for the federal funds that help pay for technology in the school.

Teacher training

Today, about 75 percent of teachers report attending professional development training to help them learn to integrate technology tools, but when asked whether they felt prepared to integrate technology into their classrooms, only 27 percent of teachers said "yes" in a recent Department of Education survey. Experts who study teacher development and education issues suggest that as much as one third of the money in a school's annual technology budget should be used to train teachers.

Cyberspace curricula

It's rueful that the key ingredient to teach kids about appropriate behaviors in cyberspace -- a technology focused curriculum -- is in short supply. Materials tend to be scattered throughout various educational sites on the Web, forcing teachers to do a lot of rooting around. Recently a few curricula that offer teachers ready-to-teach materials have begun to surface.

CyberSmart (, a new curriculum created in partnership with McGraw Hill, is one of the most complete I've seen for students grades K-8. Unlike many curricula that focus on the problems with pornography, this one deals with everyday challenges to kids in school such as copyright, plagiarism, advertising and research skills. Each section comes with a full lesson plan that teachers can use.

All of these strategies have merit, and they herald the beginning of maturation for schools and their wired students. Personally, I'd like to see more focus on good curricula and a bit less on technology tools such as filtering and monitoring, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we're educating the first generation of dyed-in-the wool cyberkids.

Copyright 2002 Gannett Company, Inc. Gannett News Service