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For Educators: Students and Technology

Given the amount of time students spend online both at home and in school, it is critical that teachers provide guidance on safe Internet practices and strategies to help students talk about this important subject with their parents. There is a vital need nationwide for more education on both the dangers associated with the Internet as well as preventive measures we all can take to keep ourselves and our youth safe online. Teachers can play a significant role in addressing this need by becoming aware of Internet safety issues, statistics, strategies and terminology. When teachers work with students on Internet safety issues, is it important that they build discussions and activities that clearly demonstrate how easy it is to be tricked while online, particularly into trusting the identity of an individual who is claiming to be someone they aren’t. According to the 2006 study, Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later (PDF), when young people go online:

  • 13% (1 in 7) received unwanted sexual solicitations
  • 34% communicate with individuals they have never met
  • 11% establish close personal relationships with individuals they meet online

Teachers also need to be aware that their students are even more likely to be cyberbullied.


Cyberbullying is widespread. A 2008 study (PDF) of 1,454 students aged 12 to 17 found that nearly three quarters of students reported being bullied online in the past 12 months (72%) and that they knew the perpetrators (73%).  In the past 12 months:

  • 41% of the students reported being cyberbullied between 1 and 3 times
  • 13% reported 4 to 6 incidents
  • 19% reported 7 or more incidents(Juvonen and Gross, Extending the school grounds?—Bullying experiences in cyberspace, 2008)

However, only 1 in 10 students reported it to an adult. Insults were the No. 1 reported problems, and password theft was the second highest ranking issue. This involves someone stealing a password, logging onto an account and sending or uploading content that makes the account owner look bad. The study also found that:

  • 75% of the respondents were female.
  • Girls were far more likely to use blogs, Instant Messaging (IM), email and cell phones than boys.
  • Most often, cyberbullying was done through IM.
  • Students who frequently used webcams were the most likely to be repeatedly bullied.

The Internet allows anyone to target someone else or to become a target themselves. With today’s phone and Web technology, students can now maintain constant contact with friends and others, but it can also expose them to hateful messages and disturbing images. The majority of cyberbullying takes place outside of school, and so falls largely outside of school disciplinary rules.  Nonetheless, the fallout can spill over into the classroom when hurt feelings, lack of cooperation, and hostility interfere with students’ schoolwork and interactions.

[blockquote]“This new phenomenon raises concerns for school officials regarding the extent of their legal authority and responsibility,” especially considering that this is new territory without extensive case law to inform decision-making. —Willard, N. E.  (2007). The authority and responsibility of school officials in responding to cyberbullying.[/blockquote]

Implications for School Policies – As rates of cyberbullying escalate, many youth are living with it on a daily basis, sometimes to tragic ends.  Stories about the harm done by cyberbullying have surfaced more frequently in the news media, and many states and schools within the U.S. are scrambling to write laws and policies to respond to this phenomenon.  Given the pervasiveness of cyberbullying, schools are in a position to proactively (if not, reactively) address the occurrence of cyberbullying in their schools or districts. Although cyberbullying often occurs off school grounds, the ramifications spill over into the classroom and have a significant influence on a student’s ability to learn. Researchers have also found that many students who view cyberbullying as a problem report that it is rarely discussed at school. These same students also felt that school district personnel were not helpful resources in dealing with cyberbullying.  (Agatston, P. W., R. Kowalski & S. Limber. (2007). Student’s perspectives on cyber bullying.  Journal of Adolescent Health 41: S59-60.) Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use urges school officials to consider their “authority” and “responsibility” in responding to cyberbullying. Willard stresses that:

“This new phenomenon raises concerns for school officials regarding the extent of their legal authority and responsibility,” especially considering that this is new territory without extensive case law to inform decision-making. —Willard, N. E.  (2007). The authority and responsibility of school officials in responding to cyberbullying.  Journal of Adolescent Health 41: S64-S65

Willard is particularly concerned that a failure to address cyberbullying could lead to liability under civil rights or negligence laws. Although many schools have created barriers to prevent students from accessing social network sites or other inappropriate Internet material, or from using their cell phones while on school grounds, many students know how to bypass filters and firewalls, and still use cell phones while on campus. For these reasons, it makes sense for educators to include students in the conversation about how to address the challenges of cyberbullying.  By doing so, many students will gain ownership of the problem and will take on much greater responsibility for their actions. It is important to involve students in policy development in an area that so directly affects their safety and well being.  Some of the specific steps that school officials can take to address cyberbullying include:

  • involving students in identifying cyberbullying problems at the school or district level
  • developing a Youth Internet Safety Team at the school or district level
  • involving students in designing cyberbullying policies to add to the school’s Acceptable Use of Technology Policy, and requiring that teachers, parents and students read and sign the policy
  • adopting bullying prevention programs that include lessons on cyberbullying
  • providing educational materials or trainings for parents and students related to Internet safety and cyberbullying
  • ensuring that cellular phone policies are enforced with consistent consequences for students
  • involving students in developing Internet Responsibility Guidelines for each classroom
  • developing a youth mentoring program for high school students to teach younger students about Internet safety

Ideas for Teachers

Almost any structured curriculum on Internet safety, whether sequential or not, should:

  • map to the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS),
  • be aware of No Child Left Behind requirements,
  • align with the Montana Content Standards for Technology and Library Media/Information Literacy standards,
  • comply with your district’s Acceptable Use Policy for technology integration/usage, and
  • comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Districts that receive E-Rate and/or Title II, Part D: Enhancing Education Through Technology funding, must have an Internet Safety policy that meets CIPA’s requirements.

Ideally, this curriculum and related lessons would involve community and parent outreach components. NetSmartz.org, BeCyberSmart! and Stay Safe Online offer free curriculum ideas to help educators incorporate Internet safety education into their schools and curriculum. The following links provide a variety of online and classroom activities for grades K-2, 3-4, 5-6, middle school and high school:

NetSmartz Safety PresentationsNetSmartz Activity CardsNetSmartz Online and Offline Activities

Teachers and staff can work together to incorporate Internet safety initiatives and media literacy into service learning projects and school safety related grant programs. Schools may also want to consider working with their District’s technology coordinator to utilize anti-plagiarism software/scanners. Programs such as i-SAFE offer Internet safety training for teachers and the Montana Safe Schools Center offers Internet safety awareness programs for parents, students and educators.

Important Themes

Students need to understand that, if they (or someone else) upload photos or information to the Internet, that information can never be retrieved or controlled. Remind your students that once a picture is posted on the Internet, it is impossible to control how that image is used by others or to completely delete it. It is essentially there for the foreseeable future. Teach your students that once something is on the Internet, anyone can access it. Anyone can download it, resend it, print it and even edit or redesign it to look like something it is not. For example, someone may download another teen’s photo, create a fictitious profile on a site like MySpace using the name of the person in the photo, and use this profile to spread malicious rumors or threats. Tech savvy individuals can also download a photo and alter it by replacing the body with someone else’s body or adding other images to the photo. Talk with your students about online dangers and what constitutes being a good cybercitizen. Explain cyberbullying, identity theft, the dangers of meeting someone he or she meets online, and the warning signs that an online “friend” may be an Internet predator interested in sexually abusing a child or teenager. Discuss the benefits, dangers and responsibilities associated with using peer-to-peer networks/file sharing sites. For instance, students need to understand Fair Use and Copyright Law when they use material without permission from the person who created it.

Cheating and Plagiarism*

One of the greatest benefits of technology, as students have discovered, is how it can help with studying. Vast stores of information, descriptive videos, scientific simulations, and more are at their fingertips to help them understand concepts or find facts for reports. Web sites and web-based tools let students publish their writing, artwork, videos and more—and get valuable feedback from others. Students who learn in different ways can find multiple ways to approach nearly any topic, helping them learn in the way that works best for them. Technology also allows students to store large amounts of data on small, portable tools such as flash drives, wireless devices and cell phones. They can solve math problems using online calculators, instant message (IM) a friend for information, conduct a Web search with their cell phone, or download a podcast of their teacher’s lecture to their iPod. On the flip side, students can download essays from online paper mills or find free analyses of novels, plays and poems on sites such as CliffsNotes, AntiStudy and Free Book Notes.com. The wide availability and thoroughness of these types of sites poses a challenge for educators who expect students to do their own work. Instead of forbidding students from using these sites (which is often ineffectual), teachers can instead consider letting the technology work with them. For example, one Montana teacher allows his students to use their cell phones during test time. Akin to the “lifeline” on TV game shows such as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” students can “phone a friend” within a five-minute window for help in answering a test question. To reduce cheating and plagiarism, consider the following ideas:

  • Speak with your students about the proper, legitimate and responsible use of technology for study.
  • Remind students of your school’s policy on cheating and plagiarism, and make penalties clear.
  • Discuss the benefits of citing sources, and analyze with them the quality of essays from paper mills.
  • Let your students know that you have tools — such as Plagiairism.org and Glatt Plagiariasm Services — to detect cheating and plagiarism. Importantly, these tools are not foolproof; some savvy students will find ways to avoid detection.
  • Facilitate a discussion among your students to help them generate their own Internet guidelines. Document these guidelines, post them in the classroom, and revisit them often. Students will take on much greater responsibility for their actions if they have a vested role in defining that responsibility.

*This section based on the article Safety Net: Help your students avoid getting caught up in bullying, cheating, or privacy problems, authored by Russell Grimes and Sindie Spencer Kennedy of the Montana Safe Schools Center, in Cable in the Classroom, July/August 2008.

Specific Classroom Ideas

1. Instruct students to critically analyze reality shows on television to observe bullying behavior, such as exclusion from groups, public humiliation, verbal abuse, etc. The exercise encourages students to develop critical analysis skills and to recognize the prevalence of bullying behavior in popular culture and how this behavior becomes accepted as normal.

2. Let your students teach you what they know about computers. This will open up communication and empower the students. 3. Visit your students’ favorite sites with them. 4. Look at multiple websites with your students and then discuss how to tell if a site is secure and/or if it would be easy for people to create fake identities on a site.

5. Have students Google themselves and share with you what they find.

6. Partner your students with the school newspaper or an English class project to write a series of articles about Internet safety.

7. Have your students talk about their online experiences in a structured, supportive group setting, possibly facilitated by your school counselor. 8. Discuss Netiquette (proper online behavior) with students and guide them to develop empathy and a greater sense of respect for others by taking on the responsibility of cyber citizenship. Allow students to design their own guidelines for appropriate online behavior. Post these guidelines in the classroom and revisit them often. 9. Work with your students to create clear, simple and easy-to-read Internet safety rules, post them near computers and revisit them often. Consider developing safety pledges that you and your students agree on, will commit to and are willing to sign. To get started, see the Netsmartz Safety Pledges.

10. Some districts require students and parents to sign an Acceptable Use Policy before students are allowed to use school computers or the Internet. Some schools view it as requiring students to get their “Internet driver’s license.”

11. Create a list of key Internet-related buzzwords and safety tips. Then have students create informational posters or tip sheets to be shared with parent groups and senior citizen organizations. See the Glossary for ideas.

12. Have your elementary students write Internet safety related letters to their parents as a way of helping open discussion at home on this topic.

13. Have a discussion with your elementary students about the similarities and differences between safety rules in the real world and in the cyber world. 14. Have students create sample screen names and discuss the implications of those names.

15. Partner with your school resource officer to help facilitate discussions on Internet safety.

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