Establishing a digital divide

PLYMOUTH — As technology is used more and more in a school setting, lines between what’s appropriate and what’s not in student/teacher relationships can seem blurred. And while schools can monitor what happens on school-owned devices or on the school’s Internet network, text messages exchanged between students or teachers can be harder to track. Plymouth Community School Corporation Assistant Superintendent Dan Funston said that PCSC has an “Acceptable Use Policy” outlining what their teachers can and can’t do when it comes to technology.
“Technology has created a lot of gray areas,” said Funston. “We don’t encourage texting between teachers and students during the school day, but there are some times when it is a good way to communicate. With extracurriculars, it can be a simple thing for coaches just to send a mass text to their students about canceling practice.”
He said that the best way parents can protect their students is by being aware of what they do online or who they communicate with via text.
“Parents just need to remember that it’s okay to grab their kid’s phones and look through their texts,” said Funston. “There has to be that knowledge in kid’s heads that someone is checking through their stuff.”
He added, “If something inappropriate is happening between a student and a teacher, we will take care of it right away.”
PCSC does have many safeguards in place for student computer use.
If a Plymouth student posts an inappropriate photo online, it’s flagged by a sophisticated filtering system that recognizes skin tone in images.
“(The filtering system) scans everything for skin tones, language, bullying,” said Funston. “School administrators are on an emergency contact list, and we are notified when anything inappropriate happens.”
Allison Holland, eLearning coach for grades 5-8 at PCSC, said that parents’ first instinct can be to take technology away from students when they are caught doing something inappropriate. This reaction, however, won’t help students learn how to be good digital citizens.
“Kids list some of their roadblocks to learning as lack of access to technology or too much filtering,” said Funston, referring to an annual survey called “Speak Up” that students take at Plymouth schools and nationwide.
In grades 6-8 in Plymouth 59 percent of students said “There are too many rules against using technology at my school.” In grades 9-12, 64 percent said the same thing. Seventy-five percent of students in grades 6-8 said that their learning is hampered because too many websites are blocked at their school, and 84 percent of high school students also feel that too many websites are blocked. These results are from a survey that students took in 2011.
Funston said that according to nationwide results of the Speak Up survey, most of the students that seem frustrated by lack of Internet access at school live in Indiana.
“In Indiana, we have a need to protect our kids, and family values are very important to us,” said Funston. “Kids wanting access and us wanting to keep them safe is going to be a constant conflict, for the foreseeable future.”
If parents do suspect any issues, Funston said the best first step to take is to contact himself, Superintendent Dan Tyree, or the principal of the school.