26 Internet safety talking points

[UPDATE: A PDF version of these talking points is now available.]

For Leadership Day 2012, I thought I would gather in one place many of the talking points that I use with principals and superintendents about Internet safety…

  1. InternetpadlockEven though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.
  2. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
  3. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.
  4. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.
  5. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
  6. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
  7. The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement, and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.
  8. Federal laws do not require your draconian filtering. You can’t point the finger somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
  9. Students and teachers rise to the level of the expectations that you have for them. If you expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.
  10. Schools that ‘loosen up’ with students and teachers find that they have no more problems than they did before. And, often, they have fewer problems because folks aren’t trying to get around the restrictions.
  11. There’s a difference between a teachable moment and a punishable moment. Lean toward the former as much as possible.
  12. If your community is pressuring you to be more restrictive, that’s when it’s time to educate, not capitulate. Overzealous blocking and filtering has real and significant negative impacts on information access, student learning, pedagogy, ability to address required curricular standards, and educators’ willingness to integrate technology. It also makes it awfully tough to prepare students for a digital era.
  13. ‘Walled garden’ online environments prevent the occurrence of serendipitous learning connections with the outside world.
  14. If you’re prohibiting teachers from being ‘friends’ with students online, are you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’ with students in neighborhoods, at church, in volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other non-school settings?
  15. Schools with mindsets of enabling powerful student learning usually block much less than those that don’t. Their first reaction is ‘how can we make this work?’ rather than ‘we need to keep this out.’
  16. As the lead learner, it’s your responsibility to actively monitor what’s being filtered and blocked and to always reconsider that in light of learning and teaching needs.
  17. If you trust your teachers with the children, you should trust them with the Internet. Addendum: Mistrust of teachers drives away good educators.
  18. If you make it too hard to get permission to unblock something, you might as well not have the option in the first place.
  19. Unless you like losing lawsuits, remember that students and staff have speech and privacy rights, particularly off-campus. Remember that any dumb decision you make is Internet fodder and has a good chance of going viral online. Do you really want to be the next stupid administrator story on The Huffington Post?
  20. When you violate the Constitution and punish kids just because you don’t like what they legally said or did and think you can get away with it, you not only run the risk of incurring financial liability for your school system in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars but also abuse your position of trust and send messages to students about the corruption of power and disregard for the rule of law.
  21. Never make a policy you can’t enforce.
  22. Don’t abdicate your teaching responsibility. Students do not magically gain the ability at the end of the school day or after graduation to navigate complex, challenging, unfiltered digital information spaces. If you don’t teach them how to navigate the unfiltered Internet appropriately and safely while you have them, who’s going to?
  23. Acceptable use and other policies send messages to students, staff, and parents. Is the predominant message that you want to send really that ‘the technologies that are transforming everything around us should first and foremost be feared?’
  24. Imagine a scale with two balancing pans. On one side are all of the anxieties, fears, barriers, challenges, and perceived problems that your staff, parents, and community members put forth. If you want effective technology integration and implementation to occur in your school system, it is your job as the leader to tip the scale the other way. Addendum: It is difficult to understand the learning power of digital technologies – and easy to dismiss their pedagogical usefulness – if you are not familiar enough with them to understand their positive affordances.
  25. In a hyperconnected, technology-suffused, digital, global world, you do your children a disservice – and highlight your irrelevance – by blocking out our present and their future.
  26. Educating is always, always more powerful than blocking.

BONUS 1. Elsewhere in your state – perhaps even near you – are school districts that have figured this out. They operate under the same laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that you do. If they can be less restrictive, why can’t you?

A huge thanks to everyone who has influenced my thinking and my writing in this area, including folks like Doug Johnson, Sylvia Martinez, danah boyd, Will Richardson, and Tina Barseghian. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few talking points that I’ll just add later. Which one is your favorite (or least favorite)? What would you add to or change on this list?

For other Leadership Day 2012 posts, see the complete list of submissions and/or #leadershipday12.

Image credit: Bigstock, Internet security

34 Responses to “26 Internet safety talking points”

  1. On the subject of letter N – I wonder if the diference is that, in “real life” you have more control over what being a friend to your students means. I would not, for example, invite my friend, the 3rd grader in my reading class, over for dinner, although I would certianly have a conversation with them in the grocery store if I saw them there. Online the differences in relationships are not so clear, and perhaps it is harder to draw the lines that ought to be drawn between students and teachers.

    • That’s what groups and circles and other ‘friend’ management and privacy tools are for, right? Now that means we need to use them… 🙂

      • That’s how I use them, but I understand the people who want to keep their FB or other site private. I put a lot of energy and time into self-editing and keeping those privacy tools accurate! Which is not to say I think anyone should prohibit those friendships. We just need, as educators, to remember that one size doesn’t fit all online, anymore than it does offline. 🙂

        • Andrea- I still think it all boils down to individual responsibility and I don’t see any difference online or offline. The same person who has trouble navigating online relationships will have trouble offline as well. Scott’s point – and it is a good one – is that we continue to mistake behavior issues with technology issues. And no amount of regulation or policy will ever take away the fact that individuals are – inherently – unpredictable.

          • Just to add to your comment, Dave, the research shows that youth who engage in risky behaviors online typically are those who engage in risky behaviors offline as well. In other words, it’s not the technology. There are other, bigger issues that the students are dealing with…

          • Excuse me, but I want to take exception to the sentence that “The same person who has trouble navigating online relationships will have trouble offline as well.”

            Personally, when it comes to FB and Google+ I see the benefit and the need, but I see even more of a threat. Instead I successfully use business mixers and social get-togethers. I don’t keep to myself in life but I have as many FB friends as I have FB pages- zero.

            Navigating social networks online and offline are different disciplines and work differently for different people. Saying that if you have troubles with one you have troubles with all only breeds resentment just like saying that if you don’t answer these test questions correctly within the given time you are stupid.

      • Thank you for this poignant blog post. I especially applaud your concern that when the FCC has lifted the e-rate blocks on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, that districts have not. Education — not censorship — is absolutely the way to go.

  2. thanks for this thoughtful post; excellent!

  3. With almost every device having a camera attached to it now, I’ve found it important to talk with students and school staff about appropriate use of photos taken on phones, iPads, etc. No scare tactics, but some common sense guidelines for students and things to be aware of for teachers and school administrators.

  4. Awesome list.
    Point N: Exactly. Why is it that if relationships are at the heart of good teaching, we discourage them in a place where valuing relationship & people’s feelings is so important?
    Point G: This drives me crazy. Our local paper had this scare mongering headline on the front page today, “Sick sex stalkers”. It went on to warn parents that students names & schools should never appear online. This was below a captioned photograph of two 7th graders with their full names & school! The newspaper is readily available online. Duh! Let’s educate about positive digital footprints , not terrify parents into become digital ostriches.

  5. Hi,

    Great list and provocative thoughts there which I really like! I miss some very important points which I would like to share with You and which will help You certainly for having much more amplifying:




    Please read the links carefully and You will get an answer for most (blocking…)of the encountered problems, which could get avoided by teaching and educating with best practice tutorials… Advice from one thought provoker to an other one 😉

    Have a great day,

  6. I don’t just want to comment on this; I want to frame it and put it on my wall.

    EXACTLY right.

  7. Two points

    About 10 years ago here, the public library went on-line in a big way and put public access internet everywhere. The machines in the kids areas had nanny/blocking software; others, clearly marked as such, did not. They did, however, run traps on the unfiltered stations. Sure, porn and hate sites were being visited. Very very rarely by minors, almost always by adult males (usually older guys– generally exactly the same demographic that was so worried about the whole issue– goes to show).

    Which mirrors my own experience: I was running a youth drop-in centre, and we put up internet stations for the kids (this was back in the early 90s!) We did not put in blocking (against GREAT resistance), we just ensured that there was little privacy, that users’ backs were to high-traffic areas (if behind glass). And, like the library, I monitored what the kids were looking at.

    Very very rarely porn, and pretty light stuff at that when they did. No hate stuff, no nasty stuff. Mostly bands and clothes and games.

    But then it was a youth centre, not accessed much by middle aged men!

  8. Most excellent. Oh, that we could get administrators and boards and more technology directors to think this way. I’ll surely use many of these in my own efforts to educate both kids and those we trust to teach them.

  9. A lot of interesting and good talking points but a lot of it is just a polarised as those wanting to limit / block access to some areas of the internet that can be very damaging. Most of what is needed is discussion, a level of compromise and a healthy dose that no-one is going to be completely happy about it all really.

    Within England (and to some extent Wales, Scotland and NI) there is still more work to be done to get the balance right but there are some good examples out there.

    If you have no objection would you mind if I copy this onto my blog and respond to each suggestion in turn? Or would you prefer to do it on this post instead?

  10. Scott,

    First of all, fantastic post. I teach at an independent school, and while many of the issues you describe are unique to public schools, we still face many of the same problems. My one quibble is your lumping in of Technology Directors among the folks advocating censorship and the application of stronger content filters. While this may be true in some cases, In know that in the last two schools I have been in, the Technology Director has actively championed less restrictions and more education (with mixed results). In many cases their hands are tied by the decisions made above them. As I read that over, it sounds kind of defensive, but it is not intended to be.

    Again, great post. I have shared this with my colleagues (and administration) and hope to have some great discussions with them on this topics.



    • Thanks, Brian, for the gentle pushback. I agree that some tech directors are strong advocates for enabling powerful learning opportunities for kids. Others, unfortunately, are more concerned with gatekeeping and security. I hear a LOT about both types. This post is aimed at the latter (and their bosses that let them get away with it)! So glad you’ve had good tech coordinators – they can be fantastic allies and resources!

  11. This blog is so relevant and timely. I have just become the president of a development board for a new charter school. Internet policy will be one of our tasks at some point in the future before school opens in the fall of 2013. This will give me some talking points when we begin to develop school policies. Thanks!

  12. About 800 students die in school related vehicle accidents every year. That’s about FOUR each school day. Yet we let teenagers drive to school every day.

  13. In my last blog post I republished Scott McLeod’s 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

    Over the next few weeks I am looking at each point to tease apart the ideals behind them, to try to see both sides of the discussion and to share examples about who others have work on the issues. A lot of this will be from a UK-centric position but hopefully it will provide some insight into the similarities and differences with our friends in other countries.

    Today’s point is about responsibility and accountability.

    “A – Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.”

    This raises an important point. With great power comes great responsibility, and there is a group in schools who have a lot of power. Whatever you might think of your Network Manager or Technician, of your LA Support Manager or even the Academy Technical Director (I will generically use the term NM to cover these and similar positions), how they have gained power / ownership / responsibility / control will be so varied it would take several posts to pinpoint which applies to your case. We would also end up talking about stereotypes and pigeon-holing people.

    In reality it is rarely for it to be one reason as to why a single person might be making major decisions which affect a wide range of people, and it would be wrong to always assume malice, arrogance, superiority complexes on their part. It would also be wrong to assume the ignorance of senior managers in schools, apathy of staff, poor funding and poor communication. However, I am sure all of the above would sound familiar to many.

    Instead, let us look at the idea of responsibility and accountability.

    Yes, the NM is likely to be the expert in the field as to what technology can work, how it can work, how to support it and so on, but the requirements which set out what technology is needed should not be set out by a single person, but by a group of stakeholders working out what is best for the school (or schools if part of a larger group). This involves planning, communication, compromises, compliance (with laws, local and school policies, etc) and it will require targets / outcomes. This is where the oversight and accountability comes in … and it doesn’t just apply to the NM. It is needed … and should be in place.

    And this is where we hit a number of problems.

    Firstly you might be in a school where there is no communication, planning, team-working, etc and so someone has to effectively be a visionary, trying to guess what is needed or to lead on the choice of technology, almost in a single-minded way as nothing would happen without this. This can effectively place all the power and control with a single person with no oversight. This is not specifically their fault, and Scott’s point, in my eyes, appear to be a shout out to Senior Leaders in schools to wake up, stop relying on a single person and to make it more of a team effort … not a call to snatch back power from someone else.

    Within the UK there is a standard for IT Support (based on industry standards) called FITS. This clearly sets out how the NM, Senior Leaders and other stakeholders can establish the targets, hold people accountable for delivering on projects / work and set out the standards by which systems will work, how changes will be decided and managed, how choices of technology can be made and how this can be measured against the desired impact.

  14. I’ve also put it up on EduGeek.net to allow for more discussion from the IT Support (mainly UK based?) point of view. It might generate a bit of flaming on there, but should also raise some more points.

  15. Today’s point is about Decision Making

    “The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.”

    To use technology you should have a reason, understand what you want it to do and also understand how you can measure whether it is achieving it or not.

    Oh dear … this sound like we are going to talk about planning again.

    In the past a number of choices about technology have been a little chicken and egg with what has been used. There have been pilot projects or innovative schools who have gone out and done something interesting with new or emerging technology. The technology has inspired them to try something new and when it has worked you then find research to look into it on a wider scale. This is where folk like Becta came in … as well as groups such as the Association of Learning Technologies, NAACE, Besa and so on. They took the research to the next level, either as partnerships with schools, those doing the research, with suppliers or as the controller of funds (or any combination) … resulting in ring-fenced funds to allow schools and LAs to implement a given technology.

    So the idea that the technology should be based on your choice has not always been the way it should have been, but it was usually instigated based on good practice and research. How will it was implemented is then debatable and how much that removed control and decision making from individual schools is another point some will raise.

    But where does the technology coordinator (NM, ICT Coordinator, LA Technology Manager) sit in this? To some extent they might have chosen the specific technology based on available funds, with a certain set of features, but the pedagogy behind it all should be pretty agnostic and be able to use whatever is provided. An IWB is an IWB … and whilst specific software might have benefits over other solutions the idea of it being used by learners is common … it is just the method which might change. The arguing point against this is around wireless tablets connected to projectors (removing the requirement for the learner to come to the front of the class … an important feature in some schools with learners who do not engage when in front of their peers) or the ‘add-on’ tools such as voting systems (actually a separate technology in their own right but can work well with IWBs).

    The other arguing point around this is about policies and strategies. I hate to say it but there is a little thing called the law. In fact it is the Law. It deserves the capitalisation. And this varies across the world. There are many things which educationally would seem to be perfect decisions but are then put on hold or stopped because the NM / Tech coord / etc says no. This is not done lightly, nor is it done without consideration for what benefits will be lost and it is usually done with some attempt at compromise. Areas where there will be clashes ranging from safeguarding, copyright and intellectual property, data protection and information management, funding and classroom management. A good NM will educate you about these (if you are not up to speed) and will work with you to get the most out of tech … but they are frequently the gatekeeper as to what tech you can use because they have the knowledge about the bits which will cause problems. In the same way you have people to tell you not to try blowing up the science lab (in spite of how much fun it was when we were at school to see people do experiments that blackened the ceiling), or have people who tell you not to use certain classrooms due to them falling down … you have people who will say not to use certain technologies in certain ways. I’ll discuss the legal side of this in a later post … but just try to believe that a good NM is talking these into account and advising Senior Leaders, classroom teachers, office staff, parents, learners, local community and the random people who ring up the school because of things you post on the internet.

    Yes, the Technology Coordinator works for you, but part of that job is choosing or helping to choose appropriate technology and keeping you safe. Don’t give them a job and then tell them they can’t do it!

    On the other side, your NM should not keep things as a dark art and be the only person making choices. Any choices made should be clearly explained and, as per the last blog post, show where they are held accountable. Likewise the choice of technology should not force you down a particular educational route, but it can be an inspiration for doing something different. Be aware of the differences and look at the early adopters to see what they did and what worked / failed.

  16. Normally I am not entirely in agreement with you Scott, but I believe in each of the things you commented upon. The fact of whether or not we should educate, unblock, provide professional development etc. will raise no arguement from me. However, to write about how to do these things is much easier than putting them into action. Technological skills are not the only skills we are striving to improve and incorporating technology into their lessons is not the only thing the teachers are struggling with. I embrace technology and see huge potential in its use, but we have limited professional development time available to us. We are striving to revamp curriculum to raise the cognitive demands, encourage teachers and students to see learning as a social process and reduce the anxiety both teachers and students feel when technology becomes an integral part of instruction. Unfortunately, technology is often not dependable and students who are living in unhappy situations are not always patient individuals.
    I am not trying to be an excuse maker as we are moving as quickly as we can to address all of your talking points. I have a great technology coordinator and staff, but there are often too few of them to go around. We have increased not only accessibility in our building, but also quality of the technology and technology use. We are still struggling to maintain this despite the fact that we have diverted a tremendous amount of money to technology. We are now purchasing technology rather than replacing books in many of our curricular areas. I applaud those schools who are ahead of us and will continue to strive to move our organization forward. However, I have a tremendous number of teachers who are struggling with the changes I am asking them to make in their assessment methods, grading practices,and the changes which constantly occur in our student management system. Again, good stuff here, and we will strive to do our best to address them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dave. I know that implementation of these is complicated. I’m unconcerned about school organizations that are discussing most of this and are working to make it happen. It’s the school systems that aren’t talking about / working on these things that worry me. And, unfortunately, there are a bunch of them…

  17. > It also makes it awfully tough
    > to prepare students for a digital era.
    Is it taken for granted to be good at all?

  18. Scott, thank you so much for not only posting these, but for providing a PDF to help get the much needed discussions started. I feel like it is a community wide responsibility to educate all stakeholders in a district about Internet Safety. The sometimes sad truth is that we have educators, parents, and administrators (IT, principals, and superintendents) that know less than the students whom they are teaching. Conversations can be the starting point for a safe yet open environment in which all stakeholders can learn 21st century skills. I think FEAR (of the unknown or even the ever-changing law) stops many schools systems before they can even get started.

  19. Just posted a few of my favorite points to my Live Journal with a link to this blog so everybody can come read the rest of ’em. Stressing that some of these (notably point U) are something not at all limited to dealing with the online world!

  20. Here via Kay Shapero’s LJ — all excellent points. I found T, W, and Y particularly compelling.

  21. Much of what you say I agree completely but I have some comments about others:

    C- When I went to college in my 40s, cell phones in classes were primarily cheating devices.

    D- When something is new and misunderstood I see why special rules are used.

    G- Some online ads do try to lure children to a web site.

    K- Don’t ignore the punishable moments either.

    M- The Internet isn’t that powerful.

    N- Offline friendship has limits too and the teacher is punished if they go too far.

    O&P- I like “block less” instead of “block nothing” which is as bad as “block everything”.

    Q- I see a lack of trust of the Internet, not of teachers.

    W- Students need to learn to navigate TOS also.

    X- I worry more about parents who don’t get involved with their child’s education.

    Y- Overstating the importance of today’s events ignores that these events are only a repeat of the past. Today isn’t all encompassing.

  22. Perfect list! I’ve been using Qustodio. Its free and offers a complete parental control solution. Based on content, it blocks sites automatically in real time, tracks data, and also monitors the activities kids engage in on social media sites. Perhaps the biggest advantage I found was that kids have a hard time unblocking sites or finding a work around to gain access to blocked sites. I have found it to be the best in the league of free software.

  23. “Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.”

    “The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.”

    I’d really like some clarification on these points.

  24. Hi Kery,

    Thanks for visiting my blog and for raising the question.

    Unfortunately, there still are way too many superintendents who are very hands-off when it comes to learning technologies within their districts. They’re supposed to be instructional leaders – not just organizational managers and politicians – but for multiple reasons (including their own lack of technology fluency) they delegate nearly all technology-related decision-making to IT support, even when it comes to instructional concerns. IT does have its own specialized terms and knowledge, of course, but so do special education, the business functions of the district, and so on. And yet we typically see superintendents engaging more with those functions of the system compared to technology. I was trying to emphasize in the first talking point the need for superintendents to engage rather than withdraw. This is echoed by initiatives like CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents program: http://cosn.org/superintendents

    The second talking point was aimed at the idea that IT-related decisions always should be made within the larger context of the educational goals and mission of the school system, and that the superintendent has the responsibility for making sure that occurs. Sadly, I hear tales all the time regarding conflicts between IT support and educators in which IT safety, security, and/or control decisions seem to trump learning and teaching needs. I’ve also heard numerous stories of superintendents and principals who – because of lack of knowledge or other factors – don’t stand up for the educational function of the district when these conflicts occur. I’ve also been told multiple times by principals and superintendents that they are worried about standing up to their IT support personnel.

    So there are some districts that aren’t functioning as well as they could be. These two quotes were aimed at some of those aspects and hopefully foster some reflection by superintendents and other central office leaders. If these talking points don’t apply to your district, AWESOME!

  25. Oh, how times have changed. Well, not really. But at least many parents today grew up with computers and at least have a little more common sense.

    In the early 90’s, the Michelangelo virus was the first computer virus that I remember gaining national media attention. My parents were so spooked, that they unplugged the computer (we had no modem at the time, so the entire computer), put it in a box, sealed the box with tape, and placed the whole thing in the attic for a month. They were under the (hilarious) impression that computer viruses were actual living viruses that somehow affected computers.

    Thankfully, by around 1998 or so, they had learned significantly more. Enough anyway, to assume that everyone on the internet who wasn’t a member of our immediate family was either a hacker or pedophile. Or both.

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