Technology can result in greater online safety, but only when combined with training, education, and the flexibility to use it sensibly, according to educators, experts, and private citizens who weighed in on the effectiveness of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a law that requires eRate-funded schools to use a technology protection measure to keep kids safe online.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) invited comments from the public to evaluate whether currently available internet filtering technologies and safety policies adequately address the needs of schools.

NTIA will use the comments to make recommendations to Congress about how to foster the development of technology protection measures that meet schools’ needs.

While some respondents were pleased with CIPA and the use of internet filters in schools, the majority said the law should incorporate internet safety education, flexibility to disable filters, and local decision making.

Others expressed concern that the law fails to address emerging technologies and that it stifles innovation and competition.

“We believe that unless technological protection measures are accompanied by adequate training, allow for flexible usage, and are governed by local decision making, they will never fully meet the needs of schools,” said the National Education Association (NEA) in its comments.

Teachers need technology training, and besides relying on technology to protect them, students need to learn to use the internet responsibly, respondents said.

“Even if computers are physically placed in a room so that teachers can see the students’ workstations, teachers … are unaware of what good computer monitoring entails and how strategies change and develop with students’ grade level maturation,” said the Mid-Atlantic Regional Technology in Education Consortium. “Districts need to educate teachers regarding their responsibility and potential liability and to provide them with effective monitoring strategies.”

Simply requiring schools to adopt acceptable-use policies isn’t enough, respondents added. Schools should actively impress these policies upon students.

“If a school district treats [its] internet safety and acceptable-use policy as ‘yet another form’ that children and parents must sign in the beginning of the school year, but they are not reading, using, or enforcing it, it will not be not an effective deterrent,” said the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

The Cleveland Municipal School District, for example, requires its students to pass a “Student Internet Test” with a perfect score before they can use the internet.

Several respondents said schools need the flexibility to disable filters and blocking technology, because access to critical information often is blocked and CIPA doesn’t permit teachers to disable filtering software when minors are using the computers, even for research or other bona fide purposes.

“We believe that it is appropriate for schools to be empowered to disable the filtering or blocking technology when they believe it to be educationally appropriate to do so,” ISTE said. “Technological protection measures are not effective at every age or grade level, and indeed may hinder educational opportunities by blocking access to critical information. Therefore, we believe that realistic flexibility in the use of blocking and filtering software in classrooms and school libraries is both necessary and appropriate.”

Some respondents said the decision to use a technological protection measure should be left up to local school districts and not the federal government.

NEA pointed out that 75 percent of schools used filtering or blocking technology in at least some circumstances before CIPA was enacted.

“These choices, and the thousands of other choices made by schools and school districts throughout the United States, reflected local decision-making processes and encouraged flexible, innovative use of technology,” NEA said.

Others felt CIPA doesn’t make provisions for newly emerging technologies—such as beaming features of handheld technologies—that also can expose minors to harmful content. Still others said CIPA could do more to encourage alternative solutions to internet filters as a means of protecting students online.

Links:

Comments on the Effectiveness of Internet Protection Measures and Safety Policies
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/ntiageneral/cipacomments/index.html