A few years ago my job was much different from my current practice. As an instructor for a science center, my students were all above average performers, and rarely did the student body include students with a first language other than English. In addition to my classroom instruction I facilitated a couple on blended, face2face and online, classes for professional learning in atmospheric science content. At the start of each term, I discussed with teachers the common requirements for students to ensure Internet Etiquette. Within these discussions, I provided examples of how participating online can mean facing unwarranted behavior of others. Cyber bullying is no-joke; in Florida, a 14 year old girl jumped from a tower to her death, after agonizing about relentless and hateful messages sent to her Facebook account. The view of what is appropriate online behavior is judgmental; a young Georgia high school teacher on summer vacation traveled across Europe - subsequently lost her job after posting her picture with a beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Even a legitimate complaint regarding poor service posted on an online review page can result in a lawsuit. Such was the case for a Chicago woman who was sued by her plastic surgeon after she complained about her obvious botched breast surgery. The doctor claimed the online review was defamatory.
Despite Internet safety concerns for several years now, I never imaged what my current concerns would be for English Learners participating online. Richardson (2010) advices communicating with parents regarding clarity on Web publishing objectives, and
this for starters is problematic. My students are refugees, I first have to translate my lesson plans into several languages, and Google-Translate-Dot-Com does not list Burmese, and only recently added Nepali. Even with the effort to translate my objectives, what certainty do I have that my EL's parents understand the lesson objectives? For this reason I have opted to have my students use an online publishing app for the experience with Web tool technology, but instead of publishing to share their work with an audience it will be saved to a file. Surfing the internet and clicking onto other sites will not be allowed, and this limitation is very necessary to ensure only appropriate content is within view. What some cultures may consider inappropriate could have me viewed as acting outside laws in place to protect US students.
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) enacted by Congress, stimulates school requirements to protect students from obscene and harmful content over the Internet. The threat of being harmful is associated to bully-like behavior. There are states laws that specifically address bullying. Georgia legislation, OCGA Sec. 20-2-751.4, requires local school boards to adopt policies prohibiting bullying, and requires: parental notification, age-appropriate range of consequences for bullying, counseling or disciplinary actions. Judging from recent publicized cyberbullying court cases across the US, these laws are considered weak and legal support to stop bullying is not that likely. The best protection against cyberbullying is to prevent it - according to numerous information Web sites advocating action against cyberbullying, such as Stop Cyberbullying and Teens Against Cyberbullying.
In summary, cyberbullying remains a growing problem.
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful Web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.