Current Pitfalls in Internet Use (page 3)
As it has become a society-wide tool, the Internet also has spawned its share of society-wide debates and problems. In many ways, it is a reflection of the best and worst qualities of our society. Problems with equity and human behavior (and misbehavior) have already begun to emerge. Five kinds of potential problem areas are discussed here, along with strategies that educators can use to make the Internet a safer, more worry-free place for teaching and learning.
Potential pitfall #1: Accessing Sites with Inappropriate Materials
Like a big-city bookstore, the Internet has materials that parents and teachers may not want students to see, either because they are inappropriate for an age level or because they contain information or images considered objectionable. Yet the Internet is designed to make information easily obtainable, and unfortunately, such materials can be accessed all too easily by accident. For example, for years only the domain designator differentiated the website for our nation's Executive Branch (http://www.whitehouse.gov) from one with X-rated images and materials. Because it is so easy to access these sites, preventing students from accidentally landing on them can be difficult.
The Children's Internet Protection Act, signed into law December 21, 2000, is designed to ensure that libraries receiving federal e-rate funds take measures to keep children away from Internet materials that could be harmful to them (McNabb, 2001). Most schools have found that the best way to prevent access to sites with inappropriate materials is to install firewall software and/or filtering software on individual computers or on the school or district network that connects them to the Internet. Firewall software protects a computer from attempts by others to gain unauthorized access to it and also prevents access to certain sites (e.g., Norton Internet Security & SpyWare Doctor). Filtering software limits access to sites on the basis of keywords, a list of off-limit sites, or a combination of these (e.g., Cyber Patrol & Net Nanny).
Potential pitfall #2: Safety and Privacy Issues for Students
Although most social networking sites are blocked in schools today, the dominance of them outside of school and the lack of experience most students have, put young people at special risk on the Internet in three ways:
- Online predators — Some people get on the Internet to seek out and take advantage of vulnerable young people. Young people tend to believe what they hear and read. Therefore, in a chatroom (an online location where people can drop in and exchange messages), they may not consider the possibility that a 12-year-old named "Mary" may actually be a 50-year-old man. Mitchell, Finkelhor, and Wolak (2007) encouragingly report that the percentage of Internet-using youth (ages 10 to 17) who are exposed to unwanted sexual solicitation has declined from 19% in 2000 to 13% in 2005; however, incidents of harassment and unwanted exposure to pornography has increased. Students should be told never to provide their complete names, addresses, or telephone numbers to any stranger they "meet" on the Internet, and they should report to teachers any people who try to get them to do so.
- Sales pitches aimed at children — This is a problem similar to that posed by television commercials. Many Internet sites have colorful, compelling images that encourage people to buy. Young people may make purchase commitments they cannot fulfill.
Potential pitfall #3: Fraud on the Internet
Teachers may find that the fastest, easiest way to order computer products and/or teaching materials is to go to a company's website and order them online. However, most areas of the Internet are not secure. That is, what you do on the Internet can be monitored by others. Some people use this monitoring capability to look for a credit card number or other information they can use fraudulently. As online consumers, teachers and even students must be sure to purchase products only from well-known, reputable sites that offer a secure server. Secure servers have special programs to prevent outside monitoring of transactions. The URL for a secure server usually begins with "https" instead of the usual "http" and has a symbol of a lock in the web browser.
Potential pitfall #4: Computer Viruses and Hacking
Viruses are programs written for malicious purposes. They come in several varieties and are named according to the way they work—for example, worms, logic bombs, and Trojan horses. Two ways to get viruses on your computer from the Internet are through email attachments and downloaded files.
- Email attachments with viruses — An increasingly popular way to send files and programs to friends or colleagues is to attach them to email messages. However, if a computer contains a virus programmed to attach itself to files, the virus can inadvertently be sent along with the file. When the person receiving the attachment opens it, the virus transfers to his or her computer.
- Downloaded files and programs with viruses — As with email attachments, viruses can attach themselves to files and programs and be received along with the item being downloaded.
An additional problem is attacks by hackers, those who seek to gain unauthorized access to computer systems for the purpose of stealing and corrupting data. Using effective firewalls can prevent hackers from entering the system. However, many schools are finding that firewall software designed to protect users from harmful sites also can have the undesirable side effect of preventing students and teachers from accessing harmless, useful sites. Occasionally, firewalls also can prevent those outside a network from reaching users of the network. School systems find firewalls to be an essential, but problematic, component of being part of the web community and a topic of debate as far as who makes the call regarding what should and should not be blocked and the impact it has on teaching and learning.
Potential pitfall #5: Copyright and Plagiarism Issues
The Internet is such a rich and easy-to-access source of documents, images, and other resources that it sometimes is easy to forget that many of these resources are copyrighted and protected by U.S. copyright laws. Also, the growing wealth of written products available on the Internet makes it all too easy for students to locate material and cite it without crediting the author or even to turn in whole papers as their own.
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