Handling Cyber Safety Mandates Effectively

From:  “E-Rate Information.” I-Safe. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://www.isafe.org/educators/erate>.

IT IS NOW OFFICIAL: On August 11, 2011, the FCC released its long-awaited rules amending CIPA to include E-Rate provisions of the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act of 2008. The FCC Order (FCC 11-125) implements the ‘educating’ requirements of the Protecting Children Act effective FY 2012, meaning any school or school district applying for E-Rate discounts (beyond simple telecommunication services) MUST provide Internet Safety Policies that include “monitoring the online activities of minors and must provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyber bullying awareness and response.”

Schools are newly facing the legal responsibility to ensure the instruction of cyber safety, due to a mandate for anyone who would like to apply for E-Rate discounts.  If you are similar to me, you want to do this in an approachable way which does not “turn students off”.  My generation can think back to the days where we received drug education, which was generally didactic.  While they did, indeed, scare me we have two problems translating that concept to the cyber safety mandates.  The first is that it is not one sided:  cyber activity is very much a part of every student’s life and it can be a very positive experience.  We even hear colleges and universities are hoping to find a digital footprint which shines positive light upon their applicants.  The second is that didactic teaching is such a turn-off, yet we still return to that style when it comes to cyber safety.  

Luckily, the mandate does not say how we approach the education of students in these areas and we can each decide how to best teach our own students.  It is my belief that it is best to incorporate the content that we teach into our existing curriculum.  For instance, we have begun to do a lesson each semester in which our ninth graders read a nonfiction article about a theatrical dramatization of Romeo and Juliet which takes place in Tehran.  The students each respond personally to the article and then they gather in small groups to discuss their personal reactions to the content.  Next, the group develops a group response and posts it to the class blog.  Homework is for the students to respond to each other’s comments (individual response) while following a Cyber Etiquette during an Online Blog Discussion rubric.  The main categories of the rubric are that the students need to properly identify the person (or group) that they are directing their comment towards, they need to include a portion of the original quote, the quote must be kept in context to the meaning the original author intended it to be presented, they must be kind and respectful, and they are to attempt to expand on the thoughts through intriguing questions or unique ideas or even providing reference to outside sources.  The students enjoy this project and understand the nature of online comments and the abuse many people afflict upon each other when not responding ethically in an online commenting forum.  While they understand that online commenting forums are filled too often with negative, inflammatory comments, it is rare that anyone models how an ethical response can and should look.  This lesson gives the students the opportunity to follow a rubric which models ethical response and it allows the class an opportunity to look at the responses which were made and decide which student most successfully achieved a quality response.  We have the power to model to the next generation how to ethically interact with each other in the digital world!

I love this lesson because it is an example of integrating cyber safety into curriculum and reduces the didactic nature of such education.  Our school, as with others, must find a way to ensure that all students receive this education.  We are developing the best way to do this and have shared ideas.  With ninth grade, we have discussed adding an article during the Romeo and Juliet unit on anxiety related to texting while in a dating relationship.  We have considered having students research trials related to cyber safety while the students read To Kill a Mockingbird.  We have thought about integrating into social studies courses a project in which students study how often policies with social networking sites change and why it is important to keep abreast of those changes and to understand what they mean.

I ask that you consider integrating cyber safety into your lessons and that you track how and where it is done.  Ideally, you will soon have a program which has high alignment to the real lives of students and guides them into smart decisions which set them up for the greatest success.






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