A first-year teacher needs to become familiarized with three things prior to putting into place any type of electronic communication.
- release forms/parent permission forms for the child to use the Internet. It is not rare to have parents refuse to allow their children to have Net access outside of their supervision.
- district policy on permission forms between teacher and parents for e-communication
- list of approved sites (remember adware, banners, and java-enabled sites may slow down the speed of the district computers)
After all of these factors are cleared, you should also be safe in terms of Internet security. Yet, for first-time teachers of very young students, it is best to go as simple as possible at first.
In the elementary school level, K-1, an effective communication method is through traditional micro-journaling. The teacher asks one question, and sets the rubric on how the student will answer it (complete sentence, with/without detail, etc). The teacher provides feedback to the question, and the communication continues that way until the student is ready to answer more insightful questions. At this point, most school districts start early keyboarding skills. Do not apply e-commo at this point; wait until the student is more academically and cognitively ready to combine schema with tech skills. In the K-1 level the student is barely moving away from the Initiative vs. Guilt phase and they are slowly becoming more autonomous.
By the second grade, ages 7-8 approximately, teachers can start using district-friendly sites such as Gaggle, which is a social network system created exclusively for schools. Gaggle is no different than any other social network site in that users can write updates, send e-mails, and upload pictures and documents. The difference is that, since this is a site made primarily for schools, the settings are much more strict and there are more limitations as to what students can do. However, it is a great way for the teacher to start asking for homework to be uploaded rather than submitted on paper, and it helps tremendously in the learning of nettiquette.
From grades 3-5, students cross from a developmental to a fully-academic stage. It is the Freudian stage of Latency (which starts at age 5), and the psychosocial (Erikson) stage of Industry versus Inferiority. As it is, this is an optimal time to expose students of that age group to the Web 2.0 and to fully explore the extent to which communication tools can be used. It is an important stage to teach full Netiquette, and to explore the do's and don'ts of electronic communication. After rules and parameters are set, then the teacher can make full use of other sites where virtual classrooms can be set up.
Middle and High School students are likely to be quite tech-savvy and may actually know more shortcuts and about more online tools than the teacher. Give a Student Technology Inventory to determine how much each student knows about technology and about the Internet. It is best to include questions that ask to actually write down the URL's or names of sites that they would suggest for e-communication with the teacher. Then, after running the sites through the district technologists, it is safer to take the time to try them out without the fear of inappropriate content.
In all, teachers do not need to worry about Internet security because the job of the District technologists is precisely to find, test, and clear software programs and websites.