Questions For Committee Meeting:  

Student and Teacher Use of Online and Electronic Communication: Guidelines and Recommendations

Fair Use and Intellectual Property Issues | Censorship Issues | Privacy Issues | Information Literacy IssuesTeacher Responsibility | For More Information | 
In the rush to learn how to use the Web and other online tools, teachers often overlook legal and ethical issues that are only peripherally related to instruction. This publication  attempts to answer questions such as the following? 
  • What are "fair use" restrictions and how they do they apply to the online environment? 
  • What key information literacy skills (such as information retrieval and evaluation)  should English and language arts teachers emphasize? 
  • Are filtering programs an acceptable form of Web censorship?
  • Does publishing student writing to the Web interfere with students' privacy rights?
  • Do teachers have an ethical responsibility to integrate the Web into instruction
 The NCTE Committee on Student and Teacher Use of Online Communication Committee has prepared the following guidelines designed to alert  English teachers issues such as these that they  are likely to face and to help teachers design instruction that mazimizes the potential of the technology while minimizing the risks. 

Censorship Issues 

See Case Study 

Clearly, online communication via  the Internet is different from other the kinds of  censorship issues  teachers face with traditional media. Unlike books or films, that can be pre-screened and for which permission can be gained in advance, the Internet is likely to produce results that a teacher, no matter how carefully he or she has prepared the lesson, cannot anticipate. Problems that result will be harder to explain to parents, unless parents can be educated so that they understand the value of having their students learn how to use online information technologies effectively. 

The Use of Filtering Programs to Block Students from Unwanted Material 
A common practice in K-12 institutions is to use filtering software to block students from accessing unwanted Web sites.  Often referred to as "surf-patrol software," programs such as Net Nanny block sites that contain certain key words related to pornography or illicit behavior, such as "sex" or "drugs." Filtering programs also prevent teachers from accessing materials of use in instruction.  For example, the program "Net Nanny" does not allow teachers to download works by Shakespeare or Mark Twain, for these works have words such as "sex" included in them. 

Filtering programs work in different ways: some work by blocking specific sites; others rely on word matching. Still others (contouring programs) allow teachers to restrict access to "only" those sites that will be used in instruction. Pre-selecting sites and limiting access to just these sites  would allow teachers to develop casebook on the topic of instruction, consisiting of only the sites that they want the students to explore. This kind of screening  is similar to the way  librarians screen other media for inclusion in library collections.  This technique might only be needed for  those students who have not signed a school's AUP, or for those students who are  restricted because they have violated the terms of the agreement.  (Another way of collecting these sites would be to copy them onto the server or to a Zip drive for use during class. See "Fair Use Policies" below for clarification on how long you can keep a copy of these sites without express permission of the copyright holders.) 

Without open access to the Internet, students are limited in the degree to which they can develop their information literacy  skills. Although the  pre-selecting technique would allow teachers to develop pedagogically sound lessons, it does not allow teachers to incorporate such information literacy skills as narrowing a search, selecting key words, and evaluating information into their lessons. If not in an English class, where else will students develop these essential information age skills? 
If you are in a district that does not censor student access to the Web, hold workshops for parents and other teachers in which you show them the benefits students derive from learning how to search for information in an open environment. 

To learn more about filtering software see "Sites to Explore." 


  1. Educate students in acceptable uses of the Web. With appropriate education, students won't be tempted to challenge the boundaries of Acceptable Use Policies in their schools.Filtering software is not the way. We feel that education, not censorship, is the best approach.   Teachers can educate students in effective use of the Web and steer them toward exciting learning opporunities. 
  2. Teachers should have open access to the Web. Develop a statement that urges the local administration to provide teachers with override accounts so that they can access teaching materials such as Electronic Text Centers which include books and out-of-copyright literature that can be re-designed for classroom use. 

Privacy Issues

See Case Study 

How much privacy do students and teachers have when they use the Web for communication?  Can teachers require students to publish their writing to the Web? Students and teachers need to be aware of personal privacy issues and of curricular issues realted to privacy Just as corporations contend that their servers are theirs and that the employees are subject to the rules of the corporation, so schools determine how the Internet should be used during the school day.  However, if the student has a private account, off campus, and the student is  libelous, than offended parties can sue. 

Teachers have found that students who are asked to develop classroom publications for the Web are motivated to write for the new world-wide audiences. Yet this effective teaching technique may lead to problems: students or their families may maintain that open publication is an infringement on their privacy.  Even if students are given the opportunity to decline to publish their works on the Web, teachers may be liable.  K-12 teachers need to send permission forms home with their students. 

Acceptable Use policies have been developed at most schools that lay out the boundaries of Web use during the school day. These may stipulate punishment for violating specific policies. For example, students have been expelled for breaking into computer files which were not 
their own. Parental permission slips can take care of some of the curricular issues: these slips need to be signed  before students  begin working on  classroom publications for the Web.   

Acceptable Use Policies 
To make sure that everyone understands how to use the Internet safely and effectively, schools develop "Acceptable Use Policies" (AUPs). Ideally, these rules and guidelines should be developed and reviewed regularly by committees that include students, teachers, and parents. These policies should be signed at the beginning of the school year and prominently posted in computer classrooms and labs. 

These policies can have instructional values. They can help students, parents, and teachers  learn what to expect online and how to deal with situations such are the following: 

  • requests for personal information 
  • attempts by companies to gain addresses so they can send spam 
  • what chat areas to avoid and how to behave in appropriate chat areas

Many AUPs passed by schoolboards require that students have permission in order to use the Web as part of classroom instruction. These schools treat the net like a field trip, and thus issue permission slips tomake parents and students aware of the rules. Some acceptable use policies (AUP) also explain such issues as: 
  • how chat areas and e-mail can be part of academic research. 
  • how students can develop information literacy by examining controversial sites
Teachers who are developing new media projects and who are attempting to help their students develop information literacy need to be able to incorporate explanations appropriate to their context into AUPs. For example, the AUP could include descriptions of how the classroom use of the Web (for constructivist projects, for example) differs from open-ended roaming on the Web. 

A  teacher who plans to use the Internet may want to distribute an AUP in the very beginning of the school year so the parent of  students  who may not want their using the net can be made aware of the teachers' curricular plans and those students can be placed in classes which will not use the net. 

Ultimately, it has become local policy that local communities draft and create their own AUP's to satisfy cultural needs and mores.  An overview, a guideline, a model can be the best we can do, but in the end it will be the local school, district... which will draft their AUP.  We can provide models, suggestions, and testimonials, not the actual AUP or permission slip. 

Examples of Acceptable Use Policies may be found below in  "Sites to Explore." 

Parental Permission Slips 
The AUP is not inherently a permission slip. Separate permission slips should be developed so that, at  the beginning of the school year or before embarking on an Internet project, teachers can hand out permission slips for parents or guardians to sign. For a sample of a parent consent form, see "Parental Consent Form" <http:>. 

  1. Students and teachers should be made aware how unprivate the web.  For example, they may not realize that ome pages are in a directory called "public_html."  Computer servers, especially those with UNIX operating systems, can locate any communication that has transpired from user accounts.  Mail is more traceable on the net then in regular  mail ("snail mail") or on telephone conversations.Ironically in cyberspace which for many connotes anarchy, we have more control.  Cyber means to govern.  I should think more of an education of the power of UNIX and other operating systems  will help students and teachers understand the notion of privacy as we traditionally know it does not really exist on the net, unless we use encryption software. 
  2. Students and teachers should realize that corporate e-mail is not private either. If a person  wants to keep something  private, then he or she should call them, send them a letter, or meet them somewhere outside of school.
  3. Work to change AUP's so that they do not affect your ability to design effective  lessons. 
  4. Alternative projects can be developed to handle some curricular problems related to parental permission. Just as teachers develop alternative projects for students whose parents object to Christmas or Halloween projects, so teachers may want to develop alternative assigments for students whose parents do not sign permission slips for Internet use. 
  5. Teachers may want to publish only to a password-protected site. Unfortunately, this solution, which blocks the world-wide audience from reading the students' materials, prevents students from developing the pride in writing that comes from publishing to the world.  However, if all parents in the school community have access to the site, then at least the students are writing for an audience larger than their class. 
  6. Students should not put pictures, names, addresses, or phone numbers in their Web essays. 


Information Literacy Issues

See Case Study 

Finding, evaluating, and using information is part of writing and is part of writing across the curriculum. To the extent that the writing studentsdo in our classes prepares them for other writing that depends on sources, we have to help students develop their searching, evaluating, and retrieving skills. 
Whereas teachers can locate links for classroom projects, research paper units usually have as a goal to learn how to locate information. Students need open access to the Web and to online databases if they are going to develop those skills. 

How does one judge the validity of a book, an article, a tv news report?  How many times does one see retractions in a paper without being aware of the mistake or knowing where it was> Or how often do we  read a mistake and never see the retraction?  Teachers need to encourage students to consider the age-old maxim:   "Believe none of what you hear and half of what 
you see." 

No matter how much previewing of materials a teacher does in advance, students are inevitably going to run into problematic sites.  For example,  Paul Becker, a teacher from ___ reports that when one of  his  students went to a site about cloning and that site suggested aliens initially populated earth and cloned themselves while doing it, he had to explain to this student  to check the facts.  When he realized (a looong time later) that Paul  wasn't  buying this site as a viable source he stated, "What about the X-Files and Area 54?"  The class then  spent the rest of the period period dealing with how to prove what  is true, and how websites can post anything they want without checking facts By teaching critical reading and evaluation skills in advance, teachers can help students learn how to "filter out" these sites themselves. 


  • Encourage students to integrate library, web, and online databases in their research.
  • Use exercises such as the following to help students learn how to evaluate online sources:
  • Teach critical reading skills.

Fair Use Issues

See Case Study 

The concept of "fair-use" is the part of copyright law that allows teachers to copy materials for one-time only use in the classroom.  The spontaneity of being able to use a text from yesterday's paper is essential for good teaching. Established Fair Use doctrine allows for a teacher to recreate a class set of copies of any copyrighted material for classroom use only.  The problem lies in the net and its re-publishing capabilities. 

Students and teachers need to be aware of fair use issues and how they differ in print and electronic environments.  Students  need to understand what kinds of information from other sources can be used in their own projects. Teachers need to develop the ability to explain  the need for appropriate documentation of sources in both print and online communication. 

The four considerations  for regular use of copyrighted materials are these: 

1.The nature of  the classroom use 
2.The nature of the work to be used 
3.The amount of the work to be used 
4.The effect on the market if such use would continue
Basically, if your use of material is regular class instruction, and if you do not use more than 10% of a book, you can use the work one time under "fair use" guidelines. 

Since online projects are often multi-media based, the copyright laws are somewhat different and may need to be challenged. In fact, Georgia Harper, legal counsel for the University of Texas system, argues that taking time to deliberate on the ways fair use should apply to online environments will give us all a chance to use the medium; laws that evolve out of actual experience will be far  superior to those based upon theory. In any event, we do not need to wait for the law to develop to proceed on our own (See Harper

Fair Use Policies for Multi-Media  (from the Consortium of College and University Media Centers) 
See "Fair Use in Digital Environments" THE WORK OF THE CONFERENCE ON FAIR USE (CONFU) 

    Recently, new guidelines have been created (Consortium of College and University Media Centers). These guidelines set limitson the amount of a multi-media work that can be used in educational projects which are  "systematic  learning activities" in courses offered at nonprofit educational institutions. 
    Portion of Media Allowed 
    Musical works--10 per cent or 30 seconds, whichever is less. 
    Motion media--10 per cent or 3 mintues, whichever is less 
    Text Material --Up to 10% or 1000 words 
      --poem of less than 250 words, but not more than three by same author or five different works from same anthology 
      --poem greater than 250 words--250 words may be used, but only three excerpts by one poet or five by different poets in same anthology 
    Photographs or illustrations--Entire photo, but no more than 5 photos by one artist 
                        If from a published collection, 10% or 15 images 
    Numerical data sets--Up to 10% or 2500 fields or cell entries, 

    Number of Copies Allowed 
    These guidelines stipulate that teachers should make only two "use copies." Only one of these copies can be placed on reserve in the library. 

    What to Say on the Opening Screen 
    "Certain materials are included under the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law and have been prepared according to the multimedia fair use guidelines and are restricted from further use" 

    Where to Place Copyright and Credit Information  (for media other than  images) 

    • Credit each source at the point in your project where you use the work.

    • e.g. If you use an image from the Web with Netscape's browser showing, you need to say: 
      Property of Netscape Information Systems, xxx. Used with respect for fair-use guidelines for educational institutions.
    • Copyright ownership  information for  portions of a text would appear in a separate section at the beginning of the project as follows: 

    • e.g. ©  The Research Paper and the World Wide Web, Prentice-Hall, Fall River, NJ, 1997. 
    • Optionally, you can combine credit and copyright notice information in a separate section of the project (e.g. a credit section)
    Where to place copyright and credit information for images: 
    •  If possible, incorporate the copyright information into the image

  1. The above guidelines are restrictive. Consider asking for permission to use entire copies in yoru classroom. For example, Ted Nellen, a teacher at Murray Bergstraum High School in New York City, frequently requests permission to place digitial copies of texts on his classroom server (See English Journal, September, 1998). Teachers should push the fair use guidelines as far as they can. As technologies change, it may be possible for publishers to limit access to books so that only one person is legally permitted to read the book. (See recent Atlantic Monthly artticle). Without access to information, students' freedom to learn is affected. This is a freedom of speech issue, as x explains in a special issue of Computers and Composition on Intellectual Property. (volume, issue). Also, see the October NCTE  Council Chronicle for a  very useful article by Libby Miles and Candance Spigelman on "fair use" issues.  One key point they make is simply this: teachers must exercise their fair use rights or they run the risk of losing them at a time when the trend seems to be toward greater copyright restrictions in general. [Other stuff to add: Andrea Lunsford and 

  2. Susan West that appeared in the October 1996 issue of _CCC_ is another 
    good one.  The bibliography for that piece is a goldmine. It includes 
    several works by Martha Woodmansee (who is mentioned in the _Atlantic_ 
    article, incidentally), two of which would be good pieces to include 
    in your pamphlet: her 1995 _College English_ article about copyright 
    in the academy ("The Law of Texts: Copyright in the Academy," _CE_ 
    57[1995]: 769-787) and her book _The Construction of Authorship_ (Duke 
    UP, 1994). ] 
  3. If students are expected to develop their multi-media skills, they need the experience of integrating video and audio into their writing projects.   Teachers need to clarify fair use guidelines so that students understand the limits under which they are working.
  4. Teachers need to learn how to get copyright permission so that they can guide their studetns through the process of obtaining permission, should students wish to allow their projects to be viewed by the general public for more than a short period of time. (See Copyright Control Center in Sites to Explore.)

Teacher Responsibilities Related to Use of Online Communication  

 It should no longer be an option whether or not an English or language arts teachers incorporates information technology into the curriculum: it should be expected. State standards require it (list some states). 
It is a teacher's  responsibility to use Online Communication effectively in the classroom. 


  • To keep up, teachers can read the following journals or visit the web sites: 


For More Information 


Online Use--General 
  • CDA
  •  Electronic Frontier Foundation 
  • Privacy Issues 
    • "Old Email Doesn't Fade Away"

      Explains how some use e-mail  against others. 
    • Outlook Express

    • Allows you to digitally encrypt your e-mail. The recipient needs the same software to decode it. 
    Parental Permission Slips  Filtering Software  
  • The Computer Network 
  • Tests filtering programs 
  • NetParents 
  • Information on blocking software 
  • Information on "contouring" 
    Fair Use Issues
    Acceptable Use Policies