Sunday, April 3, 2011

World’s simplest online safety policy

Editor's note: Tom Whitby and I co-wrote and cross posted this piece.  Check the comments on his blog and in Diigo here. If you like this post, you might also be interested in The World's Simplest Social Media Policy

When it comes to upgrading education to the 21st Century, those who are less supportive of change, often hide behind, or are frightened of acronyms like FERPA, CIPA, COPPA. This is sometimes done intentionally for convenience, or unwittingly out of ignorance. Of course in a litigious society such as ours has become, law suits are foremost in the minds of administrators. It is for that reason that a clear understanding is needed by all constituents. Our students need adults to stop being afraid, and stop hiding, so education can get out of the shadows and into the light of the world in which our children live.  

These acts were created to protect children. They were not created to keep students stuck in the past, educated in a disconnected school environment that shares little resemblance to the real world for which we should be preparing our children.  These acts do not say we can’t publish online student’s names, videos, work, pictures, etc. They do not prevent us from using social media, YouTube, email, or any of those things that may be blocked in many school districts. An important goal of education is to strive for creation and publication of content by students. In today’s world technology and the Internet are an essential components of that process.

By blocking students from the digital world, the jobs of administrators and educators are made easier, but if people became teachers, education leaders or parents because it was easy, they’ve selected the wrong profession.While it is true that banninig is an easy way out, doing so is short sighted and not visionary. It does not approach the innovative status that we hear so much about.  If you’re wondering how to navigate these waters and what is really allowed, read on to find a simple policy that addresses the three main acts: FERPA, CIPA, and COPPA explaining:

  • a simple policy
  • how to do it
  • why to do it
  • safety
  • a link to each act
  • a brief overview of each act
  • what it means to educators
  • a real life example of each

World’s simplest online safety policy
Students can access websites that do not contain or that filter mature content. They can use their real names, pictures, and work (as long it doesn’t have a grade/score from a school) with the notification and/or permission of the student and their parent or guardian.


How
Notify parents/guardians that their child’s work, likeness, name will be shared across the year, and let them know the procedure for opting out.  Have the permission release provided and signed as part of the student registration packet that includes things like emergency notification contact.  

As specific projects come up, notify parents/guardians in traditional ways i.e. a note home and/or using methods like a voice or texting notification system to parents, or an email.  You may also want to have updates on a parent page of your school website, or on a class website or class blog.


Why Not Ban?
Establishing a purposeful online identity of which one can be proud is an important skill to teach students. Equally important is conveying the idea that being safe and responsible online does not mean hiding your identity, but rather defining it and owning it.  After all, If your child is not developing his/her digital footprint, who is?  In elementary school students like Armond McFadden  are publicly publishing work and engaging in real learning communities about his area of passion, both online and in life.  Anyone can begin making a difference and contributing real work at any age.


Never before in history have kids had the ability to create and publish so much content, so easily. Never ever  have people had the ability to access so much information without leaving a seat. These are awesome abilities that come with awesome responsibilities. These abilities and responsibilities require skills that are taught and not inherited. Educators need to have the authority to teach these skills. Educators need to be trusted to teach these skills. The world, in which our kids will live, will require their knowledge and skills in this area in order for them to be competitive and relevant.Banning Internet access for misguided reasoning will prevent educators from accomplishing this much needed goal.


These articles provide additional insight and information for parents and educators interested in supporting their children in developing and managing a purposeful and powerful digital footprint.  

What about Safety?
Shows like To Catch a Predator  sensationalize and feed the fear of parents having their child exposed to a child predator. It is a real fear and certainly a serious consideration.The facts however support evidence that over 90% of child predators are family members, close family friends, or clergy. We do not ban family picnics, playgrounds, family reunions, or church functions. There are no laws addressing these issues.The best way to defend our children against these threats is to educate them. Warn or rather teach them of the dangers,make them aware of the possibilities.Or, we can lock them away, effectively banning them from the outside world in which they will eventually have to live, leaving them to use whatever they picked up on their own about responsible digital citizenship, a topic probably not stressed outside of education.

When it comes to sharing student information and student work, there is a lot of misinformation.  The reality is there is no evidence that doing so, responsibly and appropriately, compromises student safety.  Instead, representatives from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee explain that what puts kids at risk are things like:

  • having a lot of conflict with your parents
  • being depressed and socially isolated
  • being hyper
  • communicating with a lot of people who you don't know
  • being willing to talk about sex with people that you don't know
  • having a pattern of multiple risky activities
  • going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, and behaving like an Internet daredevil.
Sure banning is easy, but it is educational neglect to keep our heads in the sand or look the other way. How better to support and empower kids in being safe and appropriate then to be their guides?  We certainly can’t help kids with proper and appropriate use, if the very tools they want to use are blocked.  The best way to ensure students are behaving safe online and in life is to be their partners, guiding and supporting them as necessary. We must also keep in mind that Being Safe Online Is Being Safe In Life. Rules for tools don’t make sense. Rules for behaviors do.


To follow are brief overviews of each of the acts that address online safety along with a link to the original act, what this means for educators and examples of each.  


The Educator’s Guide to CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA

Children’s Internet Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. It applies only to minors in places that apply for erate funds.  The law requires an Internet safety policy that addresses:
  • blocking or filtering Internet access to pictures that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).
  • a method for monitoring (not tracking) activities.
  • access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; the safety and security of minors when communicating electronically, unauthorized access to hacking, unauthorized use of  personal information, restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.
What educators should know:
First, you can and should request that the teacher computer is unfiltered.  There is nothing worse then frustration in not being able to do work because you get blocked at every turn.  I’ve been in teacher training centers where they’ve falsely claimed they could not unblock because of CIPA requirements. Not true.  Educators need to be empowered not only with access, but also with a way to preview sites to choose for use and have unblocked for students.  


When working with students, we want to empower them to independently use online tools not only at school, but in life.  Ensure you have conversations with students about appropriate use and consequences. Additionally, when planning lessons and units, you should have the sites students will use vetted in advance with proper safety settings selected i.e. “safe search” in Google.  You should also consider creating a learning outline or guide for students with directions and direct links to sites.  This helps keep the lesson on track and the students focused.  


There are services like Renzulli Learning that provide educators and students access to thousands of vetted sites that are aligned to students passions, talents, interests, abilities, and learning styles.  This might be a service to investigate.  When doing searches, there are safe search sites such as KidsClick which is great for elementary students and also sorts by reading level.  For secondary students Google is a terrific site where not only can you do a Safe Search, but you can also search by reading level, language, and you can choose to translate the results.


Example:  
I served as a library media specialist in Central Harlem in a Pre-K to 8 school where I complied with CIPA rules by using myself as the method for monitoring and teaching students to use their brain as a powerful filtering tool. I empowered my students to be able to be safe and appropriate online not only in school, but in life.  Sure, there were times when a site was accidentally accessed.  The students knew to hit “ctrl w” to close the window and continue.  We also set “safe” settings on the sites we were using.  Perhaps most important, when working with students, I vetted our list of sites in advance, knowing exactly where students would be accessing information.  I, as their teacher, was their filter and monitor. I had an unfiltered environment at a tough school in Harlem.  Students appreciated the privilege to use the computers and the respect afforded to them.  They didn’t want to lose that opportunity, which they would, had they purposely abused their right to use them appropriately.  


Children's Online Privacy Protection Act
Overview:
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.


What educators should know:
This law makes the job of today’s educators easier putting responsibility on website providers to keep children under 13 years of age safe.  While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents' permission, many websites disallow underage children from using their services because they don’t want to bother setting up such accommodations.  If there is a site which you are interested in using for learning purposes that restricts use of those under 13, consider contacting the site to see if they would be interested in supporting you in using the site with children under the supervision of a teacher, parent or guardian with proper consent.  Many organizations (Google, Wikispaces, Voki, Voicethread, Facebook) are interested in supporting learning and appreciate having educators and parents as partners.


Example:
First grade teacher Erin Schoening knew Facebook would be a great tool to build 21st century literacy with her students and strengthen the home-school connection. She uses Facebook with her First grade students and their parents with the permission of parents, updated appropriate use policies in place with her district and blessing of Facebook in Education Division.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Overview:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Most of the act addresses children’s education records providing parents and students the right to inspect, review, question, and have updated incorrect records.  It also states that schools must receive permission from a parent or guardian to release information from a student's education record. There are exceptions to needing consents such as the case of audits, evaluation, financial aid, judicial orders, etc.


Schools may disclose, without consent, 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 and allow parents and students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose information about them.


What educators should know:
FERPA does not prevent many of the things you hear people saying it does. As long as parents/guardians are informed, schools may disclose, or allow students to disclose, information about themselves as long as it is not a grade or score. Notice permission is not necessary under FERPA.  They only need to inform parents/guardians this is taking place. Parents can ask their child not be included and schools must comply, but schools can still engage in planned activities. Remember though when it comes to websites, under COPPA you must obtain parental permission for students under 13 to share information or work online.


Example:
Students and teachers are sharing successes through videos and pictures at http://innovatemyclass.org. There you will find examples of real projects students and their teachers are doing with technology. Schools have consent forms from parents/guardians and a link to the page featuring their child is sent to parents so they can get an insight into and share the success of their children with others.  



These laws were passed to keep children safe, not keep children out of the 21st century.  With a little common sense we can ensure schools are not committing educational neglect by keeping students stuck in the past.  

For more information:
Check out this interview with the Department of Education's Director of Educational Technology, Karen Cator.   
Check out what educators in Free Range Schools say about working in a no filter zone in this Facebook chat.



Contributors:
Lisa Nielsen, Creator of The Innovative Educator blog, Twitter: @InnovativeEdu   

Tom Whitby St. Joseph’s College, New York.Twitter: @tomwhitby  
My Blog: My Island View
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