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Using the Internet for Learning Still Creates Fear

Although some forward-looking school districts are using the Internet extensively in school-based lessons and allowing students to roam online with some restrictions, experts still worry that fear of predators is gripping parents and administrators.

Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, says that Internet safety and security efforts shouldn’t overhype or exaggerate problems like child predation, as most young people are making good choices online. “We have to make sure that the information we are providing youth is accurate,” she says.

Michael Kaiser, the National Cyber Security Alliance executive director, agrees that fear-based approaches aren’t the best way. “People need to understand the risks to make informed decisions,” he says. “But we don’t think people should be beat over the head that this is so scary that it shouldn’t be done.”

Nor should the risks deter districts from incorporating promising online educational tools into the classroom like social networking, he adds.

Author and educator Will Richardson says he doesn’t see a “groundswell of support” for social learning and networking tools in class that connect students to people or resources outside of the classroom. And many districts are still wary.

“Fear of parents’ negative reactions and even lawsuits are still causing many schools to basically cross their fingers and hope for the best when it comes to student use of these spaces, and for the most part, classroom teachers still do not have much of a context for learning in these social spaces online,” says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.

In many districts, retired police officers or FBI agents are delivering online safety instruction and “scaring parents and students about the dangers online with little discussion about the benefits of online connections,” he adds.

Richardson believes that administrators should focus on having elementary students learn about the dangers of the Internet, in age-appropriate ways, as part of the curriculum and that students should learn appropriate and effective ways of communicating and collaborating with others, even strangers, online.