Even though “good” and “bad” places exist, we allow our children to experience the world. But we do want to guide and protect them. The same, say educators, is true inside the world of the Internet.
This week, the Ottumwa school board adopted a new policy for Internet use in the district.
“We’re just updating our policy to be a little more specific with the expansion of the Internet [and its] use,” said Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl.
The new policy fits with The Children’s Internet Protection Act, a federal regulation that must be followed for districts that, like Ottumwa, receive certain government funding.
The policy says the district will monitor the online activities of students, put filters up that keep them out of sites deemed harmful to minors and will educate students about proper online behavior.
“These are things we’re already doing, but [this vote] will put it in board policy,” Eidahl told board members.
Board member Jeff Strunk voted in favor of adding the provisions, but first wanted to know if students are aware of consequences for breaking online rules.
Yes, Eidahl said, both students and parents are informed in writing of how the school district expects online computer users to behave.
Computers today touch many parts of the curriculum. Students can read books or do homework, while parents can see how students are doing in class.
“It gives us access to the world in real time,” said Jody Williams, principal of Wilson Elementary School.
In 2012, students at all Ottumwa schools use computers to enhance learning. Being able to communicate “in real time” can mean the difference between just reading about a culture and actually getting to “meet” other students using an online conference system.
“For example, a class may have pen pals in Japan; we could use the Internet to communicate how our worlds are alike and different,” Williams said.
But there are other, less scholastic aspects of teen life spilling over onto the Internet.
“There are some places in the world that are safer than others,” said Williams. “Those filters and policies help keep our Internet travelers safe; we don’t want anybody making a wrong turn.”
So do the filters ever prevent students from looking up legitimate information?
“Yeah, it happened to me today,” said Jesus Neave, a high school senior.
His speech class is working on their debate unit. Neave’s topic has been in the news lately: Should marijuana be legalized in the United States?
“It wouldn’t let me [view information] because of the word ‘marijuana,’” he said.
Just because the filters aren’t perfect doesn’t mean technology is worthless, teachers and students said Tuesday. Staff members can contact the district tech department to lift a block. And students get a great deal of research done, despite the comparatively rare block of a legitimate item.
Neave and his metals shop classmates get inspiration for projects from the Internet. While he said his class wants their work to be original, the ’net is good for getting ideas.
And they recently used a computer-aided plasma cutter to help build projects like plant holders and motorized vehicles. Their work took first place in the state championships this year.
So on one hand, educators say, teaching good online skills helps prepare students for the real world.
On the other hand, the information superhighway allows students to “drive” anywhere. They can visit a professional research facility in London — or a chat room to gossip for hours with bored teens; a law library at an Ivy league school or a pornography store in Los Angeles; a meeting of advocates fighting teen alcohol abuse — or a service making $50 fake ID cards for underage kids.
Worse — or perhaps better — is the fact that the Internet is always changing, as are the ways it gets used.
During the vote on adopting the new policy, school board member Ron Oswalt, a retired community college dean, made a light-hearted prediction. And though Oswalt’s words drew laughter, no one disagreed with his statement to the superintendent: “You’re going to spend the rest of your career updating that policy.”