Saturday, 06 June 2015 06:33



Note: After reading this editorial, please visit the transcript of the discussion forum to view readers' comments.

Mrs. Wohfiehl was the type of teacher other teachers sought to emulate. She was intelligent, hardworking, and innovative, and she loved to teach. She frequently used Internet search engines and directories to locate materials and lessons related to her fourth grade students' needs, and she identified resources on the World Wide Web that fit with the learning objectives in her classroom. She used e-mail frequently, and she belonged to several listservs, many of which put her in touch with a wide variety of educators -- from inservice and preservice classroom teachers to college professors. Her favorite listserv encouraged friendly, helpful interaction among professionals and discouraged flaming and spamming.

She was shocked one day when she discovered that someone had posted a message to this listserv that contained pornographic images and abusive language. The list manager immediately removed the message from the list archives and took steps to prevent its author from posting to the list in future; she also kept others on the list apprised of the situation and what was being done to resolve it. After some investigation it was determined that the child of one list member had sent the message. No one who knew the child could believe that this honor student had done such a thing.

Mrs. Wohfiehl felt that it was important for her students to have access to the vast resources available on the World Wide Web and to make the most of e-mail. However, receiving the disturbing message on the listserv made her think about the guidance she needed to give her students as they learned to use the Internet. The Internet provided her students with ready access to all sorts of people, and not all of them would model appropriate and ethical Internet behavior.

The next weekend, Mrs. Wohfiehl spent some time searching the Internet for ways in which schools, agencies, and parents had dealt with unethical behavior on the Internet. She soon found herself researching not only how to deal with inappropriate messages on listservs but also issues related to dissemination of misinformation, flaming, defamation, harassment, obscenity, incitement, impersonation, plagiarism, privacy, viruses and worms, security breaches, abusing the property rights of others, spamming, fraud, and exploitation. Though all these things concerned her, she determined that her most immediate need for her students was helping them understand and respond to plagiarism, invasion of privacy, and exploitation with relation to the Internet.

Of course, we are all familiar with the terrifying cases of sexual exploitation of children facilitated by the Internet. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation website describes cases of e-mail transmission of pornographic images of children and of pedophiles who prey on children they meet in chat rooms. And we have all had the experience of conducting an Internet search, only to have our seemingly innocent keywords yield links to explicit websites.

But another, subtler form of exploitation of children involves invasion of privacy. For example, at some websites where contests are sponsored, children are asked to provide a considerable amount of personal information as a prerequisite to winning prizes. Many innocently respond, unaware that their personal data will be used for marketing purposes. In 1998, David E. DeSantis (online document) reported that of the 69 million children in the United States, almost 10 million (14%) had Internet access either from school or home. Children clearly represent a large and rapidly growing segment of online consumers, and companies that produce and market products for children are well aware of this fact.

Besides wanting to protect her students from all forms of exploitation, Mrs. Wohfiehl was concerned about the way they used Internet resources in their classroom research. She wanted to ensure that the students were aware that material on the Internet belonged to the people who developed it. She believed that though children should be encouraged to search for new information and ways of presenting it, they should have a basic understanding of copyright and know how to cite Internet sources in order to give appropriate credit for information they might use.

Guidelines for Classroom Use of the Internet

While searching the Internet, Mrs. Wohfiehl found a wealth of material that gave her ideas for addressing inappropriate and unethical behavior on the web. The next week, she discussed plagiarism, privacy, and exploitation with her fourth graders, and she and the children generated the following list of rules for use of the Internet in their classroom.

Copyright laws and fair use guidelines must be followed when using anyone else's material in research and writing. Sources must be properly cited. Visit any of these pages for help in how to give proper credit for Internet resources:

Electronic Reference Formats Recommended by the American Psychological Association
“Documenting Sources from the World Wide Web” from the MLA Style section of the Modern Language Association website
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions' Library & Information Science: Citation Guides for Electronic Documents

Material created by others has to be respected. No one should delete or change anyone else's material without permission.

Students should not share passwords or try to break into anyone else's password-protected material.

Software, including freeware and shareware, must be given to the teacher so she and the school's media specialist can review it before it is installed on any school computer.

The Internet may only be used for tasks related to classroom assignments.

Students should not download files from the Internet (including documents, browser plug-ins, or freeware) without checking with the teacher first.

Students should not complete any fill-in forms or provide any information about themselves online without first checking with the teacher.

The Internet must not be used for sending or receiving copyrighted material without permission; for viewing or distributing pornographic material; or for sending messages that use obscene, abusive, or threatening language or that violate another person's right to privacy.

Guidelines for Parents

Mrs. Wohfiehl knew that many of her students had Internet access at home, so she sent a note to each child's parents, offering the following guidelines.

Children should be counseled to tell a parent or trusted adult immediately if they come across any Internet content that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Children should not give out any personal information without the permission of a parent or other responsible adult.

Children should never agree to meet face to face with someone they met online without first getting permission from a parent or responsible adult.

The child should not download any software from any source without first checking with a parent or trusted adult.

Children and parents need to work together to establish the ground rules for going online. These rules should include time of day, length of time, and permitted activities or websites.

Filtering the Internet

Despite guidelines such as these, it is all too easy for children to stumble on highly disturbing material on the Internet. There are, however, many software packages that can help teachers and parents prevent children from accessing pornographic, violent, or otherwise offensive material. These packages usually work by searching for certain phrases and words in a data stream coming from a website. If these words are detected, the software prevents the material from being transmitted by shutting down the computer or hanging up the modem, or it blocks display of content from the site. Though there are many such software packages, some of the more commonly known are CYBERsitter, SurfWatch, Cyber Patrol, The Internet Filter, and Net Nanny.

In addition, some Internet search engines and directories now offer special “safe sites” designed for children. Two of these are Yahoo's popular Yahooligans and Lycos Zone.

Making the Net Safer for Students

Mrs. Wohfiehl's research convinced her that there were two ways to make certain the children in her class were safe on the Internet: by limiting the ways in which they could encounter material that did not contribute to their education, and -- perhaps most importantly -- by teaching them how to deal with such material if they did encounter it. She knew that as they got older they would often be put in situations where they would have to decide between right and wrong. Besides relying on the Internet as a classroom information resource, she intended to use it as a stepping stone to teaching her students about safety, responsibility, appropriate behavior, and ethics.

Some Additional Online Resources

Guidelines for Using the Internet

  • Netscape's “Children and the Internet”
  • Children and the Internet, an annotated list of links from the Three Rivers Free-Net
  • A Perfect Match: Children and the Internet, at the site of the American Library Association (be sure to click on the Resource list link)
  • Guiding Children Through Cyberspace -- URLs, an extensive list of links prepared by a Virginia (USA) librarian
  • Children and the Internet, a brief list of resources from the Wisconsin Intellectual Freedom Round Table
  • Internet Safety for Kids from the Harlingen (Texas) Consolidated Independent School District
  • Use of Computing and Networked Information Resources, a policy statement from the West Shore (Pennsylvania) School District
  • Student Network Responsibility Contract from the Chico (California) Unified School District
  • Student Internet Use Agreement from North High School in the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Area School District
  • Filtering the Internet

Netscape NetWatch

Children and the Internet?, a page from the site
Policing Cyberspace, an article from Canada's Maclean's magazine

Chat room: A chat room is a location on the Internet where communication can take place in “real time.” When you've logged on to a chat room, everything you type appears on the screens of everyone else who is at that Internet location to participate in that particular chat. Each participant's statements are labeled with a nickname to identify who is talking. Participants choose their own nicknames and often decide against sharing their real names, either to preserve anonymity or to take on a new persona. Chat rooms are usually organized around a particular topic (for example, ROL has conducted chats about several of its postings) and provide a place to “meet” people who share similar interests.

Flaming: Originally, “flaming” meant to express oneself in an e-mail or post to an online discussion in a passionate manner in the spirit of honorable debate. Flaming well was an art form. More recently, flame has come to refer to any kind of derogatory or mean-spirited comment. A “flame war” occurs when an online discussion degenerates into a series of personal attacks against the debators, rather than discussion of their positions.

Internet: The vast collection of interconnected networks that all use the TCP/IP protocols and that evolved from the Arpanet of the late 1960s and early '70s. Together, the Internet gives access to websites on the World Wide Web, e-mail, listservs, and other forms of electronic communication and transmittal of data.

Listserv: The most common kind of e-mailing list, “Listserv” is actually a registered trademark of L-Soft International, a software firm that developed one of the most popular mailing list packages. The word, usually with a lowercase l, has now come to refer to any group mailing list which a user can join to receive or post messages to other members of the group. Examples include ROL's own mailing list (a list that provides subscribers with “e-mail alerts” of new content at the site) and RTEACHER, a list connected with the International Reading Association's print journal The Reading Teacher.

Spamming: An inappropriate use of a mailing list, listserv, or other networked communications facility to send the same message to a large number of people who didn't ask for it. The term may come from some Internet users' low opinion of the food product with the same name or from a Monty Python skit that features the word spam used repeatedly.

Definitions in this glossary are based on those found in Enzer, M. (1994-99). Glossary of Internet Terms. Available: 


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