January 26th, 2012
07:28 AM ET

My View: No surprises with digital devices at school

Courtesy Marsali Hancock by Marsali Hancock, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Marsali Hancock is president of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition . She speaks nationally and internationally on digital citizenship issues, including safety, security and ethics.  She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Brigham Young University.

With students back from the holidays, many new digital devices are in the halls at school. Research from Flurry shows that 6.8 million Android and iOS devices were activated on Christmas Day alone, along with 242 million apps downloaded. Teens wielding new iPads, smartphones and e-readers are discovering the ins and outs of being connected full-time.

With all that holiday surprise in the digital world, schools will need a “no surprises” approach to managing connected devices on and off campus. Educating healthy, resilient digital citizens won’t happen by accident. As educators, we have to be proactive and work with parents to create a culture where good online behavior is the norm.

Here are four surprises you’ll want to avoid:

Surprise 1: Why is the network slow?

Check the security of your wireless network. You don’t want a kid with a new iPad to suck up your bandwidth by streaming movies (or worse) on your wireless network. Check with your network administrator to verify that the network is secure. Ask for a log that shows usage. Most importantly, use a network key or passcode that will be difficult to hack.

Surprise 2: Why is Facebook upsetting my classroom? What do you mean, new laws?

More devices mean more opportunity for digital drama. Harassment or abuse through digital communications, even when it’s off campus, can materially affect your school climate and interfere with students’ ability to learn.

­Preparation is paramount. Now is a good time to review and update your acceptable use policy, or AUP. Develop strategies for managing digital drama, including cyberbullying and harassment, when it happens.  Most teens use social networking platforms like Facebook and YouTube, and for better or worse, these platforms often act as a megaphone for students to express their opinions.

Gather an e-safety committee to think through your school strategies for prevention, detection, intervention and post-incident follow-up. Consider including responsible use policies for the many devices and Web platforms that students frequently use, particularly cell phones. The policies need to be easy to understand. Post them, refer to them, and use them as a consistent guide.

Some states have new laws regarding cyberstalking, harassment and bullying. As of January 1, new laws in California, Illinois and Connecticut expanded the powers of schools to police what students post online. Know what is happening in your state.

Your e-safety committee will also help with prevention of the next surprise …

Surprise 3: You can cheat with an iTouch?

The start of a new year is a good time to discuss our moral compass. Help everyone understand the consequences of misuse of digital devices on campus, particularly for plagiarism and cheating. If you don’t have established consequences, your e-safety committee can determine these and communicate them clearly to students, staff and parents.

Surprise 4: Do your parents know what’s on that phone?

Many parents don’t know how to manage content on wireless devices. A short note in a newsletter or e-mail with a few important concepts can make parents your partners in helping students become good digital citizens. For example: Most cell phone providers offer some parental controls at no cost with more advanced controls for a minimal fee. Other connected devices and computers can be secured with free apps. This will also protect your devices from hackers and malware.

The good news is, research shows that parents are increasingly involved in the digital space with their children and that most parents have had conversations about expectations and limits. These active parents will be looking for guidance.

As digital citizenship is addressed in schools, educators are in a unique position to move the needle for responsible use in the rising generation. The more we present good digital citizenship as the expected norm for teens, the more functional and resilient our students will be in connected environments.

iKeepSafe offers a detailed curriculum for “2012’s Must-Have Resolution: Improve Digital Security Awareness,” at its free curriculum feed for educators.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marsali Hancock.

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • Testing • Voices
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Mitch

    Technology in our world has been turned on, and more significantly turned on within the last 50 years; including the technology learned during the NASA period. To think that one might somehow limit that light from being seen and used in the public arena is a bit fool-hearty.
    That is almost like telling Edison not to improve the first light bulb created by Humphry Davy in 1809. Technology is in and is going to stay in, indefinably. Educate yourself within technology or be left behind.
    The movement is already in place to eliminate the need for paper books. iBooks is here. Whether you use an iPAD or another electronic device, the floodgate has already been opened and a lot of water has already gone under the bridge. Technology is here to stay and evolve. The light is on; don't try to break the bulb, use it and improve it.

    January 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  2. Tiktak

    Another case of old people afraid of new things. Technology is the future, don't criticize what you don't understand...the times they are a changing

    January 30, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  3. me

    let me see a portable computer tha has 24/7 access to the internet, that can take notes, has a calculator, and countless learning apts. nope that has no use at all in a school. let me make it simple. i'll explain it like I would explain fire to a caveman. smartphones are our friends, smartphones are good.

    January 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  4. maryam

    Children bewitched miracle God Sobhan


    January 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  5. Spencer

    I think that technology should be allowed in school when the teacher allows it. Times are changing and we need to accept that technology is a big part of everybody's life now.

    January 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  6. Perry

    I still don't get why any device is necessary in a classroom. Just because they have them doesn't mean they should be turned on 24/7.

    January 26, 2012 at 12:42 pm |