wasting bandwidth since 1999

Safety is the Smallest Part of the Equation

I’ve ranted before about the law passed by our state legislature requiring all teachers to include lessons about internet safety in their curriculums.

But, while the web is a fast changing place, things move pretty slowly here in the real world: the bill was enacted two years ago.

Virginia public schools will soon launch Internet safety lessons across all grade levels, responding to a state mandate that is the first of its kind in the nation. Even though today’s students have known no life without the Internet, only a couple of states have laws that recommend schools teach online safety.

In Virginia, local school systems have been rewriting policies, running pilot programs and putting final touches on lesson plans to be offered from kindergarten through 12th grade starting in September.

At least the state got it right in one big way. The message must come from the teachers and be integrated with their other instruction, instead of something like a single inoculation-type assembly.

Before they work with the kids, however, the teachers themselves need to understand internet safety and we still have far too many adults who actually believe the email from the IRS about their lost tax refund.

It would be best if we could do that instruction face-to-face, including meaningful discussions about how to best present this to the kids.

But since our overly-large school district has more people involved in instruction than many systems have kids, we fall back on an automated approach. Our teachers will be learning about internet safety by watching a series of online videos.

As you might expect, the material presented in those videos is rather negative. Not at the Dateline/Fox Alert level, but still pretty bad.

However, instead of teaching “internet safety” by warning kids about talking to strangers in chat rooms or posting nasty stuff on MySpace, I wish we could take a more positive approach to integrating this into the classroom.

Internet safety should be part of information literacy, the process of helping students understand that there is good and bad material on the web and how to tell the difference.

We need to teach them how to be constructive web publishers as part of their work in learning science, social studies and the rest of the subjects we expect them to know, not just how to be “safe”.

Because this really isn’t about “safety” anymore. Knowing how to responsibly and effectively add content to the web is fast becoming a life skill.

Many students will be doing just that as part of jobs in their future life, in addition to the recreational publishing activities they’re involved with now (whether we like it or not).

So the bottom line to teaching internet safety is that scaring kids (and adults, for that matter) into responsible use of the web only covers part of what they’ll need going forward.

A very small part.


  1. John Hendron

    Tim, your post reminds me of several folks this year in our county who were duped by phishing emails. The common sense portion that many of us understand when logging-on our computers is lost on some teachers. And its a wonder that they can be very effective teaching net safety.

  2. Tom

    I’ll second that.

    Scaring people doesn’t last for 99% of the people. Even the threat of death doesn’t change people’s habits. Look at the studies of heart attack victims. They’re told if you continue to drink, eat, live like this then you’ll die. People change but usually only for a short time and then they’re back to “normal.”

    The only way they’ve found to create lasting change is by tying in the “healthy life” to positive things, to a better life. The negative threats don’t work but positive motivators do and they last.

    I compare it to my first experience with copyright. We had required training on it and they were all about saying “stealing, theft, you can’t” etc. After about the third super negative I shut down- decided copyright was too restrictive and I would just not worry about it. They didn’t show me ways to make it work, just things I couldn’t do.

    I later got the chance to help restructure our copyright training and we really focused on positives, on how many things you could do, ways to get around the negatives.

    There’s got to be a way to make internet safety make sense and be a guide to things that you should do.

    Since VA’s “leading the way” with school based internet safety, maybe we, as VA ITRTs, can do something to try to turn the tide.


  3. Tim

    A group of our ITRTs decided to create some activities to present a more positive side of the issue, including ideas for using blogs and podcasts in the classroom. I’m sure it will help counter things but, unfortunately, most of the weight seems to be on the negative side.

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