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October 1, 1995
Vol. 53
No. 2

Caution: Students On Board the Internet

As more and more students venture onto the Internet, schools must find ways to protect them from negative influences without discouraging creative exploration.

Look both ways! Be careful when you cross! Don't talk to strangers! These are the lessons we teach children when they begin to venture out into the world alone. As more and more schools connect to the Internet, students have the opportunity to exchange electronic mail, search for information, access and transfer files, log into distant computer sites, and even chat with others from around the world. These ventures into cyberspace will require us to examine safety issues regarding Internet use in the classroom.
For most schools the Internet is a great frontier, much like the western frontier of the 19th century—a place that must be explored, charted, and eventually tamed. As with many new technologies (such as television, pagers, or cellular phones), this new medium is vulnerable to misuse. Hostile and angry individuals (known as flamers), sexual predators, even hard- and soft-core pornographers already exist in this virtual community.1S. Marcus, (1994), “Avoiding Road Kill on the Information Highway,” The Computing Teacher 22, 1: 38–41. Shielding students from these negative influences is an issue that schools must confront before they can make full use of the Internet's capabilities.

An Internet Management Service

One way to deal with some of these concerns is through a new product called the LinQ, a combination of hardware, software, and information service. The LinQ's software includes the ability to restrict access to certain areas of the Internet that may not be appropriate for students.
Using this program, students, teachers, or administrators make requests for information. After being researched by the LinQ team and filtered to remove inappropriate language and content, the information is then transmitted to the school's LinQ server overnight. The idea is to help schools pan the Internet for the gold it may contain, while sifting out some of the debris. The LinQ also offers the school e-mail capabilities for students and staff, dial-up access for use from home, and a method for making resources available to community users beyond the school walls.
While the LinQ addresses some of the safety concerns of the educational community, it raises other questions. These procedures seem a bit like setting up an off-site library with a librarian you never see. When you want books or materials, you send a request and hope you get the things you need. A software system for filtering material for content sounds good, but does it really work? If e-mail messages are filtered by the LinQ, how can one be sure something important was not removed before it was received? This seems like a form of censorship done by people the school has never seen and knows very little about.

Codes of Conduct

Some schools are dealing with the safety issue by developing technology codes of conduct for the use of Internet accounts and resources. A code of conduct is essentially a contract that details the expectations and consequences for use and misuse of Internet accounts. For example, if a student misuses the account, he or she may lose access to the services and information made possible through the Internet. Before students are given access to accounts, students and parents read the contracts, all parties sign them, and the school keeps the contracts on file. As schools develop conduct codes, good communication with teachers, administrators, students, parents, and the community is essential to ensure that everyone is aware of the safety issues involved.
The idea of behavioral contracts is not new to schools, and may be an effective way of thinking through and addressing the issues involved. Ultimately, however, school officials are responsible for monitoring students' behavior, determining when violations have occurred, and deciding whether consequences should be applied. As with student discipline, conflicts among students, parents, and school officials will likely occur.

The Need for Development

The most promising and effective way of addressing safety concerns is through training and development. As Internet access is established, technology leaders must make sure students, teachers, administrators, parents, and board members are aware of the promise and the possible hazards. Schools must invest time and money in quality staff development for teachers, training for technology leaders and administrators, and effective communication with those school leaders who develop policy and make monetary decisions. Through discussion and planning, problems can be anticipated and strategies developed for meeting the concerns of parents and the community. Effective educational policy, carefully planned and developed, will help to minimize the necessary risks.
As with the western frontier of the 19th century, the Internet promises on-line treasures and wonders to those brave enough to explore and persistent enough to dig them out. This electronic frontier also presents dangers that must be anticipated and addressed. Products like the LinQ, documents such as technology codes of conduct, and effective training and development will help educators make the information superhighway safer for students to travel.
End Notes

2 For more information on the LinQ, contact Quality Computers, P.O. Box 349, 20200 Nine Mile Rd., St. Clair Shores, MI 48080-0349; 800-777-3642.

Max K. Frazier has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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