When interacting with the web, there is always the potential for students to come across inappropriate content. Some schools and districts try to solve this problem by putting in place various filters and blockers that prevent students from accessing a large amount of inappropriate content. However, this simultaneously prevents students from accessing pertinent and useful information and tools that happen to be lumped together with the bad. It is also not a fool-proof way to avoid this inappropriate content - sometimes the bad stuff has a way of sneaking past these filters, despite best efforts to prevent this from happening. I think it is better to teach students how to seek appropriate information and what to do in the event that they accidentally come across inappropriate content, rather than taking it upon yourself to protect them from everything. Although I do not yet have any children of my own, I believe the same can be said for many things regarding child safety. As the saying goes, give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. Likewise, if we teach our students how to be responsible members of the Internet community, then they will be much more successful as they grow and become more independent.
When students publish to the web, the first matter of importance is protecting students' privacy. As Richardson (2010) explains, "Most states now have laws that require parents to decide on how much personal information about their children may be published on the school Web site" (p. 13). Our school has a similar form, although we have found that this permission form is not specific enough. Called the "Student Publicity Release Permission Form," it simply gives parents the option to allow or forbid that pictures of their students be published, without specifically stating where they may be published or why. Some parents interpret this to mean that their students' pictures can be published in the yearbook, some parents believe it means their students' pictures can be published in a local newspaper, and even others understand it to mean that their students' pictures can be published to the web. We already have a plan in place next year to make this form more specific and to include the safety precautions that will be in place for each level, e.g. not using students' last names and using pseudonyms for students with unique first names. This can help balance protecting the students' anonymity with the sense of pride and ownership that students feel when they publish to a worldwide audience online (Richardson, 2010, p. 14).
As I stated earlier, I think that teaching students about online responsibility is a better strategy for ensuring Internet safety than trying to take on the task of protecting students behind the scenes. Luckily, there are many resources available that help teachers in this venture. For example, Common Sense Media has created a K-12 curriculum for digital literacy and citizenship, including topics such as Internet safety, privacy and security, relationships and communication, cyberbullying, digital footprint and reputation, self-image and identify, information literacy, and creative credit and copyright. This goes hand-in-hand with a second strategy for keeping students safe on the Internet, which is professional development. In addition to their digital literacy curriculum, Common Sense Media has also created several resources for professional development in the area of Internet safety, including training on their curriculum, a MOOC (massive open online course) for digital citizenship, webinars, in-person trainings, online communities, e.g. Edmodo, and even a certification program. ReadWriteThink has also created professional development materials for Internet safety, including strategy guides, a professional library of resources, meetings and events, and convenient online professional development. Some schools or districts such as mine may also have a subscription to the online professional development powerhouse known as PD 360, which has countless articles, videos, courses, and other resources for Internet safety professional development. Another strategy for teaching Internet safety is parent outreach to help parents and caregivers understand how to discuss these topics with their children and reinforce what is being taught in the schools. Common Sense Media has once again provided materials for parent outreach, as has the FBI, the National PTA, and many other organizations.
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful Web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Publishers.