Realizing Educational Technology's Potential in the Face of Internet Safety Issues: Instead of Using Scare Tactics and Statistics That Are Misleading, We Must Paint a Realistic Picture and Use Statistics Appropriately. Rather Than Pass Legislation That Puts Constraints on Schools, Congress Needs to Fund Online Safety Education and Public Awareness Campaigns That Show the True Picture

By Wolinsky, Art | Multimedia & Internet@Schools, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Realizing Educational Technology's Potential in the Face of Internet Safety Issues: Instead of Using Scare Tactics and Statistics That Are Misleading, We Must Paint a Realistic Picture and Use Statistics Appropriately. Rather Than Pass Legislation That Puts Constraints on Schools, Congress Needs to Fund Online Safety Education and Public Awareness Campaigns That Show the True Picture


Wolinsky, Art, Multimedia & Internet@Schools


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"You can't get there from here." It's not just the punch line of a driving direction joke. For us educators, whose destination is the realization of educational technology's potential, that punch line sometimes seems closer to the truth than we like.

The journey to that destination began around 1992. Looking back to where we were 10 years ago and forward to where we have to go, it's clear that as technology advances, our destination advances as well. I believe we are further from our destination now than we were at the start of this journey, and I can't help but wonder if we can get there from here.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Take a look at Figure 1, a representational (if unscientific) graph that charts the growth of two factors over time. It begins in 1992, and the two growth factors are the Educational Potential of Technology and the Reality of Educational Technology Implementation in schools. The destination is the intersection of those two lines--as yet unachieved, you'll notice. I'll call the gap between the two lines the Implementation Gap or I-Gap.

As schools began to get online, those of us who wanted to explore the internet did so without roadblocks. The tools were crude and sometimes difficult to use, but with a good road map and some perseverance, you could start out on the journey. The idea of connecting with others around the world was empowering. The ability to display students' work made many early websites celebrations of student achievement. We began reaching out through email to communicate and collaborate. We were on our way. It was exhilarating. The enthusiasm generated by the early adopters made it look as if the I-Gap could be narrowed, and for a while it looked as if schools might be able to close it. But then something happened.

A LITANY OF DANGERS AND FEARS

In 1995, the cover of TIME magazine featured the Carnegie pornography study. The media loved it and the public was alarmed. Suddenly the adult world thought the information highway was the pornography highway. The study was rather quickly found to be flawed and inaccurate, but that revelation had all the impact of a page 11 retraction in the newspaper--i.e., not much.

In order to protect children from pornography, schools began filtering. While blocking pornography was not a problem, overblocking caused by filtering other content put up our first roadblocks. It still looked as if we could reach our destination, but the I-Gap was closing at a slower rate. We could still reach out, collaborate, and celebrate our students' work on the web.

With pornography in the public eye, in 1998 the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) was passed. Schools were pushed into a defensive mode to avoid irate parents and possible litigation. Though COPA was struck down in 2003, the impact remained, and schools began relying more heavily on filters to block a wider range of perceived threats. The stage was set for a cycle of media alarm, legislative action, and school reaction that would widen the I-Gap.

From pornography, the media moved onto privacy as the next threat to our children. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) followed in 2000. Student work began disappearing from school websites. Schools tightened protective measures and the I-Gap grew. MySpace was the next evil. Schools reacted predictably.

Along with increased filtering, the bureaucracy that had to be traversed to get an internet project underway was hurting student outreach and widening the I-Gap still further.

Ignoring the fact that most schools were already filtering, Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which mandated that schools use technology to protect children against pornography and establish internet safety policies ... or risk losing federal funds!

The internet safety policy requirement spotlighted the need for internet safety education in schools. …

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Realizing Educational Technology's Potential in the Face of Internet Safety Issues: Instead of Using Scare Tactics and Statistics That Are Misleading, We Must Paint a Realistic Picture and Use Statistics Appropriately. Rather Than Pass Legislation That Puts Constraints on Schools, Congress Needs to Fund Online Safety Education and Public Awareness Campaigns That Show the True Picture
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