Term 4 1999
- Feature article
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Does Your School Have an Internet Usage Policy
Recent correspondence to Connections regarding inappropriate content on the Internet has prompted this article by Nigel Paull and Nielsine Oxenford in dealing with the practicalities of Internet usage in schools.
As schools become part of a networked learning community using the Internet, they need to have a clear Internet Usage Policy (IUP). Some schools are free to devise their own IUP, others have their policies imposed by their governing organisations, and many use a combination of both. There are two major components of an IUP: acceptable use of the Internet by students and teachers to locate information; and publishing information on the Internet.
Understanding the Internet
Schools need to have a written IUP which has been formulated with input from their governing organisation, staff, parents and perhaps students and the wider community. In the first instance the IUP would need to outline:
- the educational benefits of using the Internet
- the difference between the Internet (information available to a world wide audience) and an intranet (information available on a local area network e.g. a school).
Parents would need to understand:
- what the Internet is and the shift to an electronic and information oriented society
- the rationale for incorporating the Internet into teaching/learning programs
- the hardware and software needed
- the specific terms used.
By running workshops on the Internet, parents will be able to make informed choices and take part in meaningful discussion when formulating the IUP.
To shield students from inappropriate material on the Internet a level of protection is usually put into place. This may take the form of:
- only allowing material downloaded by teachers onto an intranet
- using a vetted proprietary site • using filters to block certain material.
Most schools and their governing organisations choose the third option, that of filters. By instigating these options schools have to address the issues of censorship and limited access students will have to the material available on the Internet.
It must be made clear to students what is expected of them in terms of using the Internet and the consequences of misuse.
Many schools ask students, often in conjunction with their parents, to sign an undertaking stating they will abide by the school's rules and that they understand the consequences for any breaches. These rules should be displayed adjacent to the Internet computers. Policy writers must keep in mind that the age of students will have a bearing on what may constitute acceptable use. Inappropriate use may include:
- sending unchecked emails
- answering unsolicited emails, quizzes or advertising questionnaires
- participating in unauthorised 'chat rooms'
- naming students at the school in emails
- sending emails or files that are obscene, racist or slanderous
- accessing pornography, or other sites deemed inappropriate by the school
- attempting to bypass filters that the school may have set in place.
Siting Internet computers in locations easily monitored by staff is probably the most effective step schools can take. Other procedures include: checking the 'history' file on the browser; accessing emails that have been sent; and investigating temporary Internet files or file downloads.
Schools need to ensure that:
- their policy encourages adequate ongoing training for all staff members, particularly new staff members
- staff incorporate explicit learning outcomes into units of work using the Internet
- students should have clear educational goals before using the Internet
- students are taught the steps of the information process and how these relate to the Internet in terms of locating, selecting and evaluating information from the Internet as to its content, clarity, currency and authority
- students are taught the etiquette, or 'Netiquette', for on line usage
- steps are in place for students to report inappropriate sites so that action can be taken
- staff who disable filters for their own searches reactivate them
- frequently used bookmarked sites are checked occasionally to ensure that the content or links have not been changed or 'spiked'
- copyright is protected if staff or students download material
- staff keep abreast of software and technology changes
- the ongoing budget is adequate in terms of personnel and resources.
Publishing on the Internet
When schools are comfortable with applying the information process to the Internet they often move on to having their own presence on the Internet, usually by publishing a website. Due to privacy concerns, or court orders, schools would be wise to obtain written consent from parents before publishing:
- the full name or address of a student
- photographs of a student
- work that can identify a student or their family.
Staff too have privacy concerns and may not wish to be identified on the home page. Teachers should consult with their students before any students' work is published on the school's home page. Some students may not be happy to have their work displayed, and ultimately assessed, by a wider audience than their own teachers and peers.
Maintaining the Home Page
One person in the school should be designated for loading or changing information on the home page and that person should gain permission from the principal, or the principal's nominee to do so. Passwords to allow this should be kept in a secure area and changed regularly. Copyright and intellectual property have to be considered if schools use material they have not created themselves. This may take the form of artwork, music, maps, text or graphics.
There can be no absolute guarantee that problems with inappropriate Internet usage won't surface in a school. However, schools can minimise any unfortunate consequences should this occur by implementing and maintaining a thorough and widely understood Internet Usage Policy.