There is lots of excitement for the promise of broadband. But this initiative will not move forward until key barriers are addressed. The first barrier is the overwhelming emphasis on standardized test scores - which stifles educational innovation. Massive amounts have been and could be written on this.
The second major barrier should be more easily addressed. This is the concern about the management of the use of technologies in schools. When the Internet first came into schools the major fear was students accessing online porn. Filtering software was "sold" as the solution. At the same time the Federal Government began funding technologies to bypass filtering - for the benefit of residents in repressive regimes.
In US high schools today, the students can easily bypass the filter to get wherever they want. But the teachers can't. Funny thing. Students simply want to bypass the filter to engage in socializing. Teachers are prevented from accessing material that has relevant, timely instructional relevance.
In most schools, YouTube is blocked. Ditto any "social networking" site - translation "any site with interactive capabilities." Throughout this country there are safe school personnel who can't bypass the filter to investigate potentially threatening material posted by students on a social networking profile. The fear-mongering about social networking by some in law enforcement has generated fear about the use of these technologies in schools.
We need to develop new approaches to managing student and staff Internet use that will allow for the expanded use of these technologies - but also address the challenges and concerns associated with such use.
There are also significant legal issues related to the use of these technologies. (I have written about these issues and am about to release some materials for schools.) These include student privacy issues, including under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This includes directory Information and Personally Identifiable Student Records. But parent's perceptions of safety are also a concern.
There are significant free speech issues related to posting materials, accessing materials, and academic freedom. There is no public mechanism to hold the filtering companies responsible for their blocking decisions. Disability access is an issue that must be addressed - fortunately assistive technology can help.
There are significant copyright issues - including teacher ownership, student ownership, and fair use for transformative purposes. Teachers know all about fair use for educational purposes - but this does not cover fair use for material posted online.
Lastly, here is the challenging issue of potential liability - for copyright infringement or publishing torts (defamation, invasion of privacy). Some degree of statutory immunity has been provided to ISPs and institutional of higher education. But there are no protections for K-12 because when these statutes were enacted no one ever thought that K-12 teachers or students would ever post anything online.
The visions and exciting opportunities are emerging. But we will not move forward until the barriers to doing so are more effectively addressed.
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.- Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
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