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?
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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:
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
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.
how chat areas and e-mail can be part of academic research.
how students can develop information literacy by examining controversial
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
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:>.
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
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
Work to change AUP's so that they do not affect your ability to design
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.
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.
Students should not put pictures, names, addresses, or phone numbers in
their Web essays.
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
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
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
Encourage students to integrate library, web, and online databases in their
Use exercises such as the following to help students learn how to evaluate
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
The four considerations for regular use of copyrighted materials
1.The nature of the classroom use
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.
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
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
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.
Where to place copyright and credit information for images:
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)
If possible, incorporate the copyright information into the image
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
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: 769-787) and her book _The Construction of Authorship_ (Duke
UP, 1994). ]
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.
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.)
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:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Parental Permission Slips
"Old Email Doesn't Fade Away"
Explains how some use e-mail against others.
Allows you to digitally encrypt your e-mail. The recipient needs the
same software to decode it.
Tests filtering programs
Information on blocking software
Information on "contouring"
Fair Use Issues
Acceptable Use Policies