Warning! This is a long, but thoughtful post!
Web 2.0 has opened many doors for educators who wish to use technology to enhance learning opportunities. When considering using these technologies, however, educators must keep student safety in mind. The internet is open to the world and there are some things that the world doesn't need to know about our students. So how can educators keep students safe in school and to what extent are they responsible for students out of school on-line behavior?
Teachers need to encourage students to examine, realistically, the consequences of improper use of the web. In my district we utilize a program called NetSmartzKids. This tool encourages elementary students, in a non-threatening way, to evaluate the web and also discusses the importance of privacy and other threats. Since it uses games and songs, it is very elementary friendly, but I do worry sometimes that the some kids miss the message behind the game. When we first started using this, we actually had an FBI agent come and share the tool with the kids. This immediately got their attention and he discussed all the risks as he went through the activities with the children. I also came upon a compilation of on-line resources for teaching kids internet safety at Teacher's First. I thought these would be a great way to have kids explore safety and provide teachers with excellent resources to share with parents. The most important activity for keeping kids safe on the internet is to open discussions between teachers, parents and students. The more students know about internet safety, the more likely they are to apply these skills independently. Educators and parents need to model and discuss proper internet use with students. This includes research skills, copyright information, and appropriate use of personal information.
Teachers also need to be cognizant of the types of internet tools they are using. For instance, many tools have a "private" or "public" sharing feature. Teachers need to discuss specific projects with students and make good judgement calls on when to make student work public or private. Older students need to be encouraged and guided to think carefully about the work they are about to publish and decide whether it should be public or private.
So where then does the school's responsibility end? Cyberbullying is a new phenomenon that surpasses the school's control. In most incidences this bullying is taking place via home computer usage. In the case of Megan Meier the act of cyberbullying is believed to have led to suicide. So what can schools do? Vicki Davis's entry Techlearning blogs focuses on the need for schools to educate students on the fact that virtual worlds have an impact on real life and vice versa. These aspects of their lives are interwoven and students are responsible for their own behavior in both places. Students who are able to make this connection are able to use the web responsibly and develop critical skills necessary for making informed decisions. Student need to think critically before they act, and meta-cognitively evaluate their online behavior before they press "post". For more information about cyberbullying, I came across the book, Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, written by Hinduja and Patchin. I have not read it, but would be interested in hearing from anyone who has read it!