Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Six Guidelines for Safe Use of Online Resources

As teachers and students incorporate online resources and new technologies into daily classroom activities more frequently, it is important to be aware of some laws and policies designed to keep kids safe online.

1. Always protect student information from appearing on public web sites or blogs.

MC900230550Two federal laws, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) require that most students’ personal information be kept private at all times. COPPA states that it is unlawful to collect or display any information that would identify or locate a child (ages 13 and under) without parental consent. CIPA applies to every computer user in our schools and restricts “unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors. [under age 18]” Personal information includes, but is not limited to, first and last names, addresses, telephone numbers, likes/dislikes or other personal preferences, or any other information that could be used to identify and/or locate an individual student. Always check with the office staff in your building before publishing or posting student images on the Web, but avoid listing names, etc., with those images.

Never identify a child in anything that is visible online.

2. Always moderate your blogs, websites, videos, etc.

Protect the EarthOnce again, CIPA and COPPA apply here. If you create a blog, wiki, or personal network for students in class and expect them to contribute to it, or create or subscribe to podcasts or video clips that you share with students, make sure you turn the moderation features on. This will require that you approve all comments, edits, and content before they appear publicly to a world-wide audience. If you have a blog, a wiki, a personal network, a web site, or a podcast, you are responsible for all the content and all the comments posted on it. You are also responsible to remove any comments or content that might identify students’ personal information (see above). Many sites now have ways to turn off all commenting features – find out what they are and utilize them, or ask your building or District technology coordinator (Hi… My name’s Matt…) for ideas.

Always turn moderation features on, and always read through all comments and preview all content before posting.

3. Always offer a paper/pencil alternative to technology-driven assignments.

Excited Student With A Composition Book Not every child has access to technology resources at home, and sometimes your classroom’s or school’s computer resources may not be available to students for a variety of reasons. Therefore, students should always have an alternative way to participate in an assignment or class activity that is not dependent on technology. If you want kids to participate in blog posting, allow them to submit ideas on paper as well. If you want kids to do research, encyclopedias and books often contain much more reliable information than some online “wiki-based encyclopedia-type” resources, and so on. Also, make sure that the paper/pencil option is worth exactly the same credit toward a student’s grade as the electronic option.

Never penalize a student for not having a computer or Internet access at home.

4. Always use your school email for communications with students.

MC900250261According to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), “Schools ... are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors” (below age 18). We cannot monitor what we do not provide. Always conduct any electronic communication with students using your District email account. School districts are required by law to keep an archive of all electronic records involving communication with students. This is an effort to protect students, teachers, and school districts from potential liability issues should the student end up in trouble or endangered through use of an email account. Yahoo!Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and the hundreds of other free online email services do not allow school districts to quickly obtain an archive of electronic communications. Using third-party email services exposes all parties involved to potential legal risk. Therefore, our District’s current policy is, and has always been, to neither provide nor encourage student email accounts for classroom use. We currently have services like Moodle, Learn360, and other avenues to assist you with electronic communications – safely – and we are working to expand these opportunities for you. But for now, to avoid exposing yourself and your kids to these risks, avoid requiring the use of free email accounts with students, and always use your District email for any student-related communications.

5. Discuss your online instructional activities with your school administrator.

MC900439347It is always a good idea to make your building administrator aware of your intention to use the technologies mentioned above, and discuss potential ramifications with them before you incorporate these resources in your classroom activities. Even if you follow all the above procedures and take every precaution you can think of, something might happen that you can’t foresee. Always provide your administrator the URL (or “web address”) of your classroom website, wiki, blog, etc.  They make administrators sit through all those school law classes for a reason, y’know!

6. While it may sometimes be easier to gain forgiveness than permission, it is always easier to gain permission than bail!

(Thanks, Mom & Dad, for THAT pearl of wisdom during my formative years!)MC900334236

The only questions building administrators, District administrators, Technology Department Staff, or even your wandering tech coordinator can’t help you with are the questions you don’t ask. No one wants to see you or your students get into unpleasant situations. There are lots of options that we can help you with that may not be out there among the popular culture but will accomplish the same goal as more commonly-known sites.

Please let us help you find solutions before they become problems!

For more information about laws governing student privacy while online, please visit:

Federal Communications Commission on the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA):
Federal Trade Commission on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA):
OR download their Power Point presentation at

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