Category Archives: Effective Internet Use Management

Preparing Students for a Web 2.0 World – Learning from the Business World

I subscribe to ClickZ, a newsletter that focuses on online marketing. Today there was an interesting article on social media – from a marketing perspective. Social Media and Web 2.0 by Jason Burby.

This article starts off with a fascinating statistic: “93% of Web Sites to add Web 2.0 functionality in 2008.”
So if we as educators are thinking about preparing students for their careers in their future, clearly their future will require insight into how to effectively work within the Web 2.0 environment.

The author noted further”

“Other numbers we can point to indicate a much more interesting change is happening, and there’s a meaningful way we can talk about Web 2.0. For me, it’s summed up in a word: “participation.” The technology is fundamentally the same, which isn’t to say it hasn’t evolved. But there’s been a real shift in the expectations of Internet users — a shift that’s accelerated dramatically in the past two years.

What does this really mean? I asked Ryan Turner, a colleague, social media expert, and blogger, for his take on where all of this is going, and what companies may be risking in their effort to jump on the bandwagon.

“The real change businesses are facing is moving from a broadcast model for the Web to a participatory, relational model, where the Web is a true business channel,” Turner said. “And the shift has huge business impacts that require a rethinking of Web channel strategy, planning, and management. It requires new skill sets (like online community moderation), and new contributions from roles traditionally focused on other channels (like technical support and customer service).”

Hmm. Doesn’t this sound a lot like what we need to be doing in our schools and classrooms? Rethinking strategy, planning, and management. Creating new skill sets and new contributions.

The scary thing is the timing. Note the mention of the shift that has accelerated dramatically in the last two years. School systems have never been known to be very comfortable in dealing with rapid change.

But look at what the marketing expert has to offer as concerns:

Turner shared some of the common pitfalls companies experience when shifting the way in which they communicate with customers and prospects:

  • A tool-centric approach. It’s just so tempting to want to “build community around the brand” using one of the suite of over-hyped tools available today. … None of these is really community. The social Web is comprised of people, relationships among people, and the things people create and share. Marketers must think strategically about their offerings, not be swayed by the purveyors of technology “solutions.”
Same concern in education. Sure we need to figure out how to establish a safe educational Web 2.0 environment, but the technologies are not the”game plan.” We need to know how to manage the use of these technologies responsible – and most importantly, teachers need to know how to assist students in creating and sharing. Or perhaps, teachers need to get out of the way and allow their students to do so.
  • Failure to plan for ongoing engagement.

Hmm. Sort of like building a school network and forgetting the need for effective support, professional development, and curriculum modification.

  • Doing it for the sake of doing it.
I do believe this is a concern educators must pay attention to. Educators must avoid jumping into Web 2.0 learning projects without careful planning related to educational objectives. I have heard of teachers simply setting up networks on MySpace with no real educational objective in mind and clearly no concept of the potential concerns.
  • Failing to measure. There’s always the need to accurately define what success looks like and determine the best way to measure that success. And a corollary to that: misunderstanding how to measure.

Bingo! What will success look like and how will we measure this. Accountability is a key.

In all, this article contains some very helpful insight. I think we can learn from the marketing community – and likely also have some insight to share as we go along this path.


Disclosure of Student Personal Information on School Web Sites

Actions that school staff or students may take that would intrude upon the privacy of a student include posting the student’s name, class work, or a picture of the student on a district or school web site.

There are student privacy issues involved. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act standards are:

“Schools may disclose, without consent, “directory” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.”

Photographers also have to be careful about posting photographs of anyone, especially a child, if that photography was not taken in a public place. Schools are not public places. Generally schools also request permission of parents to use or publish or allow a news organization to capture any photographs of students.

CIPA is also involved: Under CIPA Internet Safety Plan must address the disclosure of personal information of students. (I) IN GENERAL.– In carrying out its responsibilities under subsection (h), each school … shall– (A) adopt and implement an Internet safety policy that addresses– … (iv) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal identification information regarding minors. 47 U.S.C. §254 (I)(1)(A)(iv

Now, putting these two statutes together, CIPA’s “unauthorized” may be interpreted as “not authorized under FERPA.” Thus disclosure is authorized if the parent has failed to opt out of the directory information disclosure. But it is essential, under CIPA, that a district have a policy related to the disclosure of student information online.

My opinion is that relying on FERPA disclosure is not wise. Schools usually request permission to disclose student information in a form that is signed at the beginning of the year. This may be confusing for parents in the context of web disclosure. When parents see the term “directory information” they likely think use of the information in a student directory – to be taken home by other students and to be used to arrange play dates or car-pools. Some districts might think that because they have a parent’s signature on this FERPA director information document, they can also publish this information online. This may be legally accurate. But in the current climate, I do not think this is at all wise.

Parents are simply not very comfortable with disclosure of information about their children on the Internet, especially at the elementary school level. There has been some irresponsible fear-mongering that suggests that predators are tracking down children based on personal information posted online. But no one can point to an actual incident where this has occurred. Nonetheless, parents might fear this is a possibility and be very concerned that a school has posted information that could allow an online sexual predator to track down their child. The very last thing a district will want is to have to deal with this kind of issue in the community. Therefore, regardless of what FERPA might allow a district to do with directory information, the prudent school district will develop more restrictive regulations related to disclosure of student information on the Internet.

Districts should make a specific request of parents related to disclosure of material and information on the district web site. Districts should also demonstrate the same courtesy to staff. There may be some very good reasons for some staff members to wish not to have their identity disclosed online. For example, there may be a staff member who has escaped a domestic violence situation.

The most practical approach is for the district to determine what student information is safe, reasonable, and appropriate in accord with the instructional goals for elementary school students, middle school students, and high school students and their community standards. This set of school level disclosure standards can then be provided to parents with the option to approve or disapprove.

I recommend the use of a “student identifier” – that does not disclose a student’s full name – in elementary school. So my son could have had a student identifier of JJWill in elementary school.

But a high school should be able to disclose full names, with permission. It is a bit illogical to have the online school newspaper report such things as “Jordan scored the willing goal” (my son was high scoring JV soccer ;-)) or “Mary, Sue, and Matt have received scholarships to the state university.” By high school age, students should be well versed in online safety skills, so that such disclosure should not present concerns. Parents who have concerns still have the option of not granting approval. Middle school is a bit of a toss-up. Either the elementary or high school standard could to offered – depending on the community.

The following are a set of recommended standards:

For students in elementary and middle school: Students will use a student identifier that does not disclose the student’s full name. Group pictures without identification of individual students are permitted. Student work may be posted with the student identifier.

For students in high school: Students may be identified by their full name. Group or individual pictures of students with student identification are permitted. Student work may be posted with student name.

There have been some reported incidents where a teacher has independently posted student information, pictures, and/or work on their own personal web site. In one incident that was privately reported to the author, the teacher defended his actions by claiming he had a First Amendment right to post such information. Teachers have no rights to post information about minors without permission of their parent. All teachers should understand this.

Web 2.0 – not Social Networking

I am a guest participant in a debate on the Economist web site. Here is the proposition:

Proposition: Governments and universities everywhere should complete to attract qualified students, regardless of nationality or residence. more
Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have now become a ubiquitous part of many students’ lives. The value of social networking has been defined, in one sense, as the collective power of community to help inform perspectives that would not be unilaterally formed – e.g. the best thinking comes from many not one. Others argue that significant time spent on social networking platforms actually distract students from their studies. So a question emerges, could the introduction of social networking tools be useful in a formal classroom setting? Additionally, is the concept of social networking a progressive, but legitimate, form of student-to-student and student-to-teacher collaboration?

My guest commentary will be posted 1/24. I am also working on a chapter of a new book on effective Internet use management in a Web 2.0 world. (Yes, a new book. The working title is Youth Risk Online: A Guide for Adults Who Work With Children and Teens. I hope this will be a helpful text for teachers and librarians, and other adults, on these issues. Research-based. No fear-mongering.)

Anyway, all of this got me to thinking about these issues. I am thinking that one of the problems is the terminology we are using. Whenever we say “social networking in schools” people will invariably think that we mean that we want students to be able to use MySpace and Facebook at school. The vast majority of us recognize that this approach will likely not fly because these sites are not educational. Note the problem that NSBA got into by not being clear about what they meant about social networking in schools. Even I criticized them for not being clear about what they were advocating.

So what I am thinking is that we may have a terminology problem – that is pretty easily fixed. The term “social networking” has all sorts of negative baggage – much of this grounded in irresponsible fear-mongering, but negative baggage none the less.

What if we switched terms and started talking about the use of Web 2.0 technologies in schools? Read the proposition above, substitute “Web 2.0” for “social networking,” and eliminate the reference to MySpace and Facebook. Wouldn’t this shift the conversation in a better direction?


Shifting from “Blocking” to “Watching”

When schools first established on-ramps for the information superhighway, the common wisdom was that “filters would protect children as they use the Internet.” I never bought into that myth. My position has always been that the best filtering software sits under the hardware that rides on top of the shoulders. Just in case you are wondering about my long-standing perspective on filtering, here is my testimony before a National Research Council committee addressing risks to young people from online pornography.

I do acknowledge that filters are necessary for school Internet systems. But they have to be managed appropriately so that they do not interfere with effective instruction or school safety. It is inappropriate for schools to place heavy reliance on filtering. Filters will not prevent accidental access and “porn traps.” It must be recognized that there are many ways that students can find to bypass the filter. Look here for some insight on bypassing. Further, just because a site might be considered non-harmful for a students does not mean that site is educational. Filtering companies are not blocking based on instructional objectives.
To manage filters appropriately requires that librarian and curriculum experts make the decisions about appropriate blocking of categories related to subject matter. They are the district’s experts in assessing the appropriateness of material for children. Technical staff must address issues of security and bandwidth. CIPA requires only that pornographic images be blocked – everything else is at the district discretion.

It is important to assess whether the filtering company is blocking based on viewpoint discrimination. Potentially controversial topics to investigate include sites addressing sexual orientation and non-traditional religion. Restricting access to all such sites based on viewpoint discrimination would constitute a violation of civil rights laws and the constitution.

The constitutionality of the Children’s Internet Protection Act was upheld only because it was demonstrated that filters can be quickly and easily overridden to provide access to inappropriately blocked sites. It is very important that districts review products based on how easily such products can manage overrides. Districts must also set up a process whereby such overrides can be easily and quickly accomplished, with assurances of accountability. It should be possible to achieve an override within minutes of a request from a teacher who has already reviewed the site or a staff member who is investigating a safe school concern.

A teacher who was developed a lesson at home and finds when delivering this lesson to students that an important site is blocked should be able to have the filter immediately overridden to provide access this site so that there is no interference with student learning. A student working on a class assignment who thinks there is important information on a blocked site, should only have to wait a short time for the librarian or a teacher to have the opportunity to override the filter and review the site to determine its appropriateness. Most importantly, all safe school personnel must have the ability and authority to override the filter to investigate reports of online material that could raise concerns about student well-being or school safety. Filter overrides are recorded. Any staff member who misuses the authority to override the filter should face appropriate consequences.

Given the recognition of the limitations of filtering, it is essential to look for alternatives to effectively manage student Internet use. Schools must ensure that use of the Internet in school is for educational purposes. This includes class work, extra-credit projects, approved work-completion activities, and approved personal research and use. “Internet recess” (entertainment and non-educational personal use) should be discouraged as an inappropriate use of school resources. Internet recess is the time when students are most likely to engage in misuse.

Effective professional development and curriculum planning are necessary to support this educational use. Districts should also provide technology tools that allow teachers to quickly and easily create lesson plans with links to the appropriate sites. This technology should also allow the teacher to “white list” certain sites and limit student access to only those sites. This “white list” technology is especially critical in elementary school. Districts should allow access to Web 2.0 social network, blog, and wiki technologies that are appropriate for educational use and have systems to ensure effective review and monitoring.

It is also essential that student use be effectively supervised by staff. Staff should understand their obligations to supervise. But staff cannot be expected to be able to see what is on every monitor at all times. This is where technical monitoring can play a very effective role.

It is necessary to shift from a technical blocking-based strategy to a monitoring-based strategy to more effectively manage student internet use. The greater the chance that student (or staff) misuse will be detected and result in a consequence, the greater the deterrence of such misuse.

There are two technical monitoring approaches. The use of remote access monitoring systems should be considered essential for every school. A remote access monitoring system allows a staff member to remotely detect what is on the screens of other computers in a lab, classroom, or building. Simply increasing the potential that misuse will be detected by someone at a distance and will result in a consequence will deter most student misuse.

Intelligent content analysis monitoring systems routinely review all Internet use traffic and provide reports to authorized administrators on suspected misuse. These systems capture all suspect activity and allow for human review to determine whether or not such use was indeed inappropriate. Any district that has implemented a 1:1 laptop program or similar expansive use of technology should have such technology in place.

(Putting on my lawyer “hat.”) Why all of the fuss? We are just trying to stop kids from accessing porn, right? No, wrong. Accessing porn is the least of a school’s worries. Some young people are engaging in cyberbullying. Some are engaging in risky, irresponsible, or harmful online sexual behavior. Some are connecting up with unsafe communities, including those that encourage self-cutting and anorexia, or dangerous groups, such as hate groups or gangs. Some are using the Internet to engage in illegal activities, like drug sales or hacking.

Do schools have the legal responsibility to address these concerns? Yes. Schools must take reasonable precautions to prevent harmful activity that could lead to student injury. Is reliance on filtering a reasonable precaution? No. Schools need to restrict Internet use to educational activities and engage in effective supervision and technical monitoring.

What about student and staff privacy? School Internet systems are not private purpose systems. They are limited purpose systems. Use of these systems by students and staff should be for educational activities only. The degree of privacy that should be expected when engaging in educational activities at school is extremely limited.

When students join the workforce, they will likely be using Internet systems at their place of employment. These systems are also limited purpose systems. Many employers are monitoring all employee Internet use. So Internet use monitoring is something all students should understand is to be expected on certain Internet use systems. They must learn to guide their activities responsible in accord with the purpose of the system.

In January (hopefully) I will have a new Slides-N-Audio presentation available for professional development entitled Effective Internet Use Management in a Web 2.0 World. This will be available through my CSRIU web site.