How schools can implement digital media policies

04/01/2012
Student Safety
Marsali Hancock

Queen bees buzzing around Facebook ganging up on classmates. Teens texting — or worse — sexting during class. Term papers purchased for pennies on the web.

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The much-publicized hazards of technology can be enough to make educators want to disconnect their mouses and travel back to mimeographs and chalkboards. But, of course they realize that would be a mistake. The doors opened by technology are too wondrous to not take full advantage of every opportunity.

Technology in classrooms is becoming more accessible, thanks to generous grants and donations that can help underwrite equipment costs, and E-Rates that can help defray the costs of connectivity.

In these days when schools are watching every dollar, E-Rates can make a sizable difference, covering between 20 and 90 percent of internet access; web hosting; and the local, long distance and cellular phone service purchased by the school.

E-Rate Update

But changes in E-Rate funding will take effect in July 2012. The FCC has released rule revisions for the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that incorporate the E-rate provisions of the 2008 “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act.” 

The most important aspect of the update states that Internet Safety Policies required of all applicants applying for discounts on anything more than telecommunications services need to “...include monitoring the online activities of minors and must provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyber bullying awareness and response.”

This revision will require that schools take a holistic approach to e-safety and digital literacy training.

Enter Generation Safe: a suite of services that allows schools to exceed those requirements, offering a paradigm shift through a digital literacy program that comes from a positive approach, rather than one based on fear mongering.

The result of a collaboration of more than 100 leading global experts through the Internet Keep Safe project, Generation Safe helps the entire school community navigate the digital environment by providing a comprehensive set of resources which include professional development, incident management and self-assessment.

Generation Safe is the only scalable, cloud-based system of its kind that helps schools integrate media literacy into their curriculum and policies. It’s a tool designed to guide stakeholders through all phases of cyber incident management — with the ultimate goals of stopping lawsuits before they start while creating a vibrant, tech-healthy staff and student body.

E-Rasing the Pitfalls that Hinder Qualification for E-Rates

The government will soon be shining a light on schools’ practices to make sure they adhere to the impending changes. Among some key E-Rate provisions that Generation Safe can help schools address:

Updated Rule

The order clarifies that the determination of what matter is considered inappropriate for minors is a local decision to be made by the school board, local educational agency, library, or other authority. Of prime importance to schools, the FCC found that social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, fall outside the categories of sites that must be blocked.

Child development experts are increasingly agreeing that blocking a social network is not the answer. Rather, students need to be educated and continually refreshed with best practices for successfully navigating through these online realms.

Generation Safe offers curriculum and a rich resource library to help educators, students and parents use technology in a healthy and appropriate manner. (It even offers a comprehensive glossary of terms in this era, where “spam” does not refer to faux luncheon meat; “surfing” has nothing to do with catching waves; and “trolls” don’t live under bridges.)

Lessons the Resource Library Covers

Protecting digital security: Schools must take a whole school approach, working with students and parents, to achieve digital security for everyone within the school. A study conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance found that a security breach is likely when faculty or staff are not fully educated on their important role in maintaining security, and over 75 percent of educators had received fewer than six hours of professional development on cyber security or other cyber issues over the past year.

Similarly, students need to protect their own digital security using steps such as securing their device, securing their data and backing up their data.

Building a positive reputation: Educators desire to help youth build an online reputation that is an asset rather than a liability. It is now common knowledge that colleges and businesses alike consider online activity when learning more about an applicant. Students’ online profile, aggregated across websites and discussion rooms, can help trumpet achievements and foster self-expression — in either a positive or negative manner.

Maintaining healthy and safe relationships: Digital media are excellent tools for forging and maintaining connections. For example, “Social Networking Web Sites and Teens: an Overview;” conducted as part of the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Jan. 2007, found a very positive effect of technology to be that 82 percent of all social-networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person and 49 percent use the sites to make new friends.

An update to the study in 2011 found that 69 percent of social media-using teens say their experience is that peers are mostly kind to each other in social network spaces. As with all tools, how they are used will determine whether they provide positive opportunities or expose users to risk.

Protecting personal information: Interacting with strangers online exposes students to risks if they share too much personally identifying information. Exploring scenarios with students can help remind them that the person on the other end may not be who he or she says. Other personal information to safeguard includes financial information like credit card numbers and PIN numbers.

Balancing digital usage: Adults and students alike struggle with the need to balance online activities. Educators can explore with their students how screen time can limit other, more important activities and possibly overwhelm real life and how to realistically assess the amount of time they spend using digital media and decide what is healthy.

Practicing ethical digital usage: Students have unprecedented access to third-party content like other students’ term papers, questionable Wikipedia entries and apps that let them download media for free. It’s all out there and oh-so-tempting. Responsible, resilient digital citizens know to operate under the same good judgment online that they use in their offline lives. Educators can work with students to understand the dangers of plagiarism and other ethical dilemmas that flourish in digital environments.

Updated Rule

The FCC clarified “...that selecting a telecommunications carrier as a service provider does not absolve schools and libraries of their obligation to adhere to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements when they use USF funding to obtain discounted Internet access service.” 

Even schools with a robust program to educate students on appropriate internet protocol know that things can and do go wrong. Generation Safe has developed a proprietary Incident Response Tool and Flowchart which guides administrators through all the steps of incident management: fact-finding, documentation, reporting, engaging the appropriate school officials and other stakeholders, as well as outreach to parents, students and staff.

The Incident Response Tool also helps administrators through the investigation process where they need to ask the right questions to shield the school from liability and secure the best outcome for the victims, perpetrators and bystanders of any cyber-incident.

It can be used for both potential and current cyber incidents, reducing the risks of civil and criminal litigation while increasing the odds for positive outcomes for bystanders, victims, perpetrators and school officials.

Updated Rule

Applicants must retain Internet Safety Policy documentation — including both the policy itself and the adoption records — for a period of five years after the end of the funding year that relied on that policy. 

This is where Generation Safe’s 360 Self-Assessment comes into play by guiding schools in their quest to develop a vibrant policy in the first place.

The Self-Assessment is intended to help schools review their e-safety policies and practices. It offers a process for identifying strengths and weaknesses and opportunities for commitment and involvement from the whole school. It also provides a continuum for schools to discuss how they might move from a basic level program for digital citizenship to one that is innovative and meets the highest standards.

Using the Generation Safe 360 Self-Assessment helps schools and districts to create and implement safeguards by creating effective policy, procedures, education, expectations and practices designed to increase digital citizenship for students, parents, staff and administration.

As it walks a school through a very thorough self-evaluation process designed to include all stakeholders and to address a wide variety of technology and digital citizenship issues that administrators are likely to be faced with in educational settings, it allows educators to take a proactive rather than a reactive position regarding technology in learning.

E-Rates and E-Realities

The tools offered through Generation Safe not only help schools comply with the upcoming changes in E-Rate funding, but also and more importantly, allow schools to benefit from resources while avoiding the pitfalls of the digital environment through training and clearly defined action steps for the entire team, so there is learning – not liability – where students and technology intersect.

As president of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), Marsali Hancock speaks nationally and internationally on digital citizenship issues, including safety, security and ethics. She was featured recently at the Yahoo Digital Citizenship Conference, University of Maryland’s C3 Conference, US Department of Justice (Project Safe Childhood, Missing & Exploited Children National Task Force, NCAC Conference on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention.) She partners regularly with industry leaders such as Google, Yahoo, Comcast, and AT&T to improve their education initiatives. To learn more about iKeepSafe, please visit http://ikeepsafe.org/.
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