for the development of a comprehensive plan to address the safe and responsible
use of the Internet is a recognition of the reason for which Internet access
is being provided in schools. When a district establishes Internet service,
the purpose is not merely to provide students and employees with general purpose,
personal access to the Internet. The district system has a very specific purpose:
to enhance the delivery of education.
On a specific purpose
system, some uses or activities are considered unacceptable not because they
are bad activities, but because they are not appropriate on that particular
system. Students have an obligation to use the district system in a manner that
supports their education, self-improvement, and career development. District
employees have an obligation to use the district system in a manner specified
by their employer and to not abuse the use of public resources.
There are several
important reasons to be concerned about how students and staff approach the
use of the Internet in school.
For all of these
reasons, it is highly appropriate for districts exert control over the use of
the district system and to establish that the system is for a limited educational
purpose. If students or employees want greater freedom, they can obtain such
freedom by acquiring their own personal account through a private provider.
What is an "Educational
The district or
schools must describe what is considered to be "an educational purpose"
and outline what activities are considered acceptable and unacceptable on this
specific purpose system.
Instructional Related Activities that are clearly acceptable are instructional
related activities, continuing education, and career development activities
for students and professional development and communication activities for employees.
and Lobbying Commercial uses are generally considered unacceptable. This
would include the actual purchasing of purchasing products or services. Most
states place a restriction on the use of public resources for lobbying. Therefore,
lobbying as defined by state statute would be an unacceptable use. But this
limitation should not restrict students or teachers from using the system to
communicate their opinions to elected representatives.
Learning Explorations Questions emerge related to independent learning explorations,
which may range from serious research to "Internet recess" kinds of
activities. One approach would be to restrict student use to specific class-related
activities. But this would be equivalent to establishing a school library and
then telling students that they can only use the library for instructional related
activities. This approach defeats the purpose of seeking to assist students
in learning to use the Internet for their own personal enrichment and learning.
It is recommended that high quality, non-entertainment-related, personal research
be included in the definition of educational purpose.
What about "Internet
recess" kinds of activities. It should be recognized that the vast majority
of school libraries contain material related to popular culture, such as sports
magazines and books about rock stars or movies, or entertainment materials,
such as joke books or books about hobbies. The Internet also contains a vast
amount of popular culture materials which have some, but limited, educational
value. Innovative teachers may actually be able to make great educational use
of such materials. Access to such non-educational or entertainment materials
may be considered to be outside of "educational purpose" definition,
but schools should allow the use of such materials for teacher-directed instructional
purposes. Also many schools establish periods of "open access" where
access to such materials is considered to be acceptable. In the Internet Use
Policy and Regulations provided in this Planning Guide, these materials are
classified as "Limited Access Materials."
If a districts
or school does allow students to access the Internet for either entertainment
purposes or personal research activities, it would be advisable to establish
priorities of usage for computers that are available for multiple uses, such
as those in the library or an open use computer lab. Students who require access
for class-related activities should have priority over other uses. A mechanism
could be established so that students who are not using the computer for class-related
activities could be "bumped" by any student requiring access for a
collect data on the manner in which the technology is being used in the multiple
use areas. If schools are finding that an excess amount of the use is for "Internet
recess", this is a clear indication that insufficient attention is being
paid professional development and other activities necessary to support the
effective use of the Internet for educational purposes activities.
Even sticker questions
emerge related to personal electronic communication. Can the principal send
an e-mail to her husband asking him to pick up some milk for dinner? Can the
science teacher subscribe to a gardening group discussion? Can a student communicate
with a former classmate who recently moved? Can students communicate with each
Schools may use
different approaches to address issues of personal communication. One approach
is to accept that a small amount of personal communication is to be expected
but indicate to all users that overall electronic communication traffic should
not be excessive. Any user who engages in excessive traffic that is not to be
expected in light of their activities or position may be subject to questioning.
Users should not be allowed to participate in group discussions, such as mailing
lists, unless there is a direct professional development or curriculum-related
All district users
should be reminded that their electronic communications reflect on the district
they should guide their activities accordingly. One way to emphasize this is
to require district employees to establish an e-mail signature that identifies
their position with the district and to require students have a signature that
includes the name of the district.
Measure and Use for Educational Purpose
in many districts, the decision to install a Technology Protection Measure may
actually lead to complacency with respect to maintaining a focus on educational
activities. Installing a Technology Protection Measure will not address the
issue of educational purpose and use.
A study published
by N2H2, a company that provides a blocking product clearly demonstrates this
phenomena. N2H2 analyzed data relating to student use through their system .
The report presents disturbing implications related to the degree to which the
Internet is being used in schools for actual instructional related purposes.
N2H2 studied the top 300 sites by number of page views. These 300 sites accounted
for "roughly half" of the total page views. N2H2 considered their
data to present a "representative picture of use." N2H2 indicated
that an analysis of data by average per-page viewing time presented the best
approach to analyzing how students were using the Internet. N2H2 provided the
data in terms of categories and average viewing time. Additional calculations
of percentage of viewing time (last column) were added by the author of this
Reference & Computing
Here are N2H2's
definitions of the categories, followed by comment:
Reference, & Computing. Sites that could be use for specific instructional
purposes by teachers or students, general research and reference resources,
and computer network resources.
One may ask why
computer network resource sites were included in this category, since such sites
are not instructional purpose sites. We would have a clearer picture of use
if the category had been limited to instructional and reference. If computing
sites were eliminated from this category, this would decrease the percentage
of time spent on instructional sites below the already abysmally low 16.7 %.
News & Sports.
Online versions of national news, sports magazines, local news.
sites should probably be considered an instructional related activity. Sports
magazines are more of an "Internet Recess" activity. There is no way
to distinguish the amount of access to news versus sports sites.
Finance. Financial news sites and online brokerage firms.
activities may involve access to business news and finance sites. (It is hard
to determine the value of this category. One might query whether N2H2 was also
collecting staff usage data.)
E-Services. Commercial sites offering products or online services.
It can be assumed
that most of this access was not for instructional related purposes.
Search. Sites that attempt to branch out and connect users with content.
The amount of time
that such portals and search sites was used for instructional related purposes
is probably roughly equivalent to the overall use levels.
& Fun. Sites geared towards entertainment and leisure.
These are "Internet
Recess" sites. It can be assumed that most of this access was not for instructional
Sites providing content targeted to specific demographic groups and typically
containing a large amount of user generated content such as chat and message
It is also likely
that much of this activity was not for instructional related purposes.
N2H2 was only able
to classify the data by its descriptive criteria. N2H2 had no data on how such
sites were actually being used. It is true that innovative teachers can make
effective use of entertainment or commerce sites for instructional activities,
but based on anecdotal reports, it is not likely that much of this use was for
What we can reasonably
conclude, based on this limited data, is less than 16.7% of student use was
on sites that were clearly instructional related. It is also highly probably
that a good portion of the 39.9 % of student use in the Commerce and E-services,
Music, Fun & Games, and Communities categories was not for instructional
related purposes, rather were "Internet Recess" activities.
Clearly, the picture
of use presented is unacceptable. How many school administrators have installed
filtering/blocking software thinking they have solved the problems of use of
the Internet in their schools with the resulting patterns of usage such as the
above? This is likely an example of the false security and complacency that
often results from reliance on technology tools. One of the most aggravating
comments the author of this Planning Guide has heard around this issue came
from a school administrator who said, "We have to install filtering software
because our teachers are not prepared to handle student use of the Internet."
Why shouldn't we
simply set the Technology Protection Measure to block access to categories that
are not instructional related? There are several problems with this approach.
First, setting a Technology Protection Measure to block access to the same kinds
of materials as are provided in the school library is at the very least inconsistent.
These kinds of materials are interesting to many students and promote interest
in reading and inquiry.
Second, due to
the broad-brush manner in which Technology Protection Measure sites label content,
setting the measure to block "Internet Recess" categories may result
in limiting access to material that is perfectly for instructional purposes.
For example, limiting access to sites in the "sports" category would
limit access to sites discussing the history of the Olympics, certainly an appropriate
topic for instructional related study.
Third, many innovative
teachers are using popular culture sites in ways that stimulate student learning.
Therefore such use is clearly instructional related. These creative learning
activities should not be prevented because of concerns with non-instructional
Forth, the more
categories that are selected to be blocked, the greater the risk of blocking
student or teacher access to perfectly appropriate educational material.
to Promote Instructional Use
Development The most essential step necessary to ensure that the district's
Internet system is being used effectively to support enriching instructional
activities is professional development of the teachers!
When teachers are
well-prepared to lead students on exciting learning adventures on the Internet,
virtually all problems in the use of the Internet disappear. Students become
engaged and excited about what they are discovering. The demand for the available
computers for completing the assignments will be so high, that "Internet
recess" use will simply not be acceptable. If students do not police themselves,
their peers -- who are waiting to get access to complete an assignment -- will.
When "Internet recess" activities are diminished, the opportunity
to engage in misbehavior is substantially reduced.
There are many
excellent resources for information related to professional development. At
a minimum, a district strategic plan for professional development for teachers
- Basic technical,
productivity software, and Internet skills.
uses of technology and the Internet -- where the use of technology and the
Internet is integrated into the curriculum. Professional development in instructional
uses of should include opportunities for demonstration and practice, as well
as ongoing mentoring and support.
- Easy access
to Internet-related lesson plans and activities. This can be accomplished
through a district, state, or regional web site or through links from the
district site to such resources. Districts can also establish subject or grade
oriented mailing lists where teachers can be encouraged to discuss curriculum
issues or share lesson plans.
Site/Portal The second strategy to enhance the use of the Internet for educational
purposes is through the use of an educational web site or portal. Unfortunately,
an insufficient amount of attention has been paid to the creation of "good
places" for students to go when using the Internet.
The single best
step that could be taken to improve the quality of use of the Internet in schools
by students, and to limit potential concerns about such use, would be a national
effort -- led by educators -- to establish an educational gateway onto the Internet
for students. There are some good quality commercial services, such as Education
World's portal . There is also a good federal resource for information created
by federal agencies through the Federal Resources for Educational Excellence
. Many states have created excellent sites that provide resources for teachers
and that have some links for students, such as the Texan Education Network TENET
However, none of
these resources provide a comprehensive, commercial-free high quality research
environment for students. Such a resource is clearly needed.