Issues Challenging Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Students On-Line: The Impact of the Internet on Educational Policies, Reform Efforts, and Student Expression

Tripp Doepner
Melva Scott
Sylvia Mason

What is the issue?

Historically, copyright laws have not kept pace with the various ideas and modes of media expression (lyrics of songs, film, television, etc.); thus, educational policies, reform efforts and laws pertaining to the extent to which schools may restrict students' expression have not kept pace with student use of the Internet. In several situations the educational system has lagged behind students' knowledge and application of the Internet; however, the positive and negative effects of students using the Internet will possibly become the responsibility of the educational setting. The impact the Internet will have on (a) educational polices, (b) reform efforts and (c) regulating student expression is an omnipresent emerging issue for educators. On a daily basis the media presents stories of Internet use and allude to the implications for the various educational arenas. North Carolina State University's Annual Emerging Issues Forum scheduled for April 15 -16, 1996 entitled, "The Knowledge Explosion: What's the Payoff for Americans?" (Williams, 1996, p. 1)) will examine how technology is changing the face of education. One of the speakers will be U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley. In this same article Governor Hunt states, "We started the Emerging Issues Forum 10 years ago talking about competitiveness and innovation. . . Now comes a technological explosion that presents a new set of problems and possibilities'" (p.1). These problems and possibilities of the educational use of the Internet comprise the emerging issue this paper will explore.

A. Educational Policies and the Internet

The educational reform movement never met or anticipated meeting cyberspace. If it had, it would have restructured its priorities long ago. The entrance of the Internet into our society has given new meaning to the word Reform. The Internet has been under critical discussion in the political arena, particularly in respect to the roles and responsibilities of Internet users. In the wake of pornography, lack of privacy and copyright wars, these policies come on the brink of what could be termed Internet Reform. As a result, extensive attempts at policy development and implementation have been formulated due to the global communities ' growing concern.

There are many organizations that have contributed to and served as models for most of the current written policy. They include but are not limited to the Internet Society, The Internet Engineering Group, and the Internet Architecture Board. Of these, the Internet Society appears to have the most succinct way of addressing the issue. The Society states that the general public should be " a society concerned with the growth and evolution of worldwide Internet with the way in which the Internet is used and can be used, and with the social, political and technical issues which arise as a result." (The Internet Society, 1995).

Politics is a peculiar animal but Internet politics and policy is a creature all of its own. Part of the volatility generated in the Internet use debate is due to the conflict arising from the desire to protect free expression under the First Amendment and peoples rights to maintain order, promote civility, and protect the impressionable from objectionable material. Its high visibility is a result of its political conflict with First Amendment right of freedom of speech and information and Civil Rights. As a result of this conflict, we are forced to reassess what was initially considered to be "free spirited and uninhibited" force. By law, the Internet could be considered as a modified public forum. The modified forum would be created by the government and could be limited by the Courts. (Internet Architecture Board and Internet Steering Group, March 1994)

In other words, it cannot discriminate between the information produced or accessed on the Net. The challenge will be to find a balance that will protect individual rights while not infringing on creativity. On July 14, 1993, the Library of Congress met with Vice President Al Gore to discuss the censorship and responsibilities of Internet Usage. Gore states, "now that we have automated and turbocharged the system {through construction of the information superhighway}, we have to pay more attention to the process of distillation." (Summary Conference on Delivering Electronic Information in a Knowledge-Based Democracy, Library of Congress, July, 1993] These policy issues have resulted in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Electronic Learners. This document is the outcome of research undertaken by the National Research and Educational Network (NREN) It was initiated to "attempt to change the culture of our educational community by extending traditional values into the new circumstances and relationships that result from information technology." (EDUCOM, Review, 1993). As a result of this project, the Bill of Rights for Electronic Citizens was composed and presented to Congress. The document has four Articles:(1) Individual Rights, (2)Individual Responsibilities,(3) Rights of Educational Institutions and (4)Institutional Responsibilities. Its mission is to "protect the rights and recognize the responsibilities of individuals and institutions. As new technology modified the system and further empowers individuals, new values and responsibilities will change this culture. As technology assumes an integral role in education and lifelong learning, technological empowerment of individuals and organizations become a requirement and right for students, faculty, staff, and institutions. It brings with it new levels of responsibility that individuals and institutions have to themselves and to other members of the educational community. "(EDUCOM Review, 1993)

The Internet has become a critical infrastructure that supports an increasingly widespread diverse community. The responsible use of the Internet and its resources is of common interest for the global community. Irresponsible use poses mammoth danger to its continued availability.

This raises several questions. What types of restrictions should be imposed for Internet use? Should there be topical restrictions? and What type of policy can be developed that gives the freedom of intent, without the slavery of principles? The kinds of issues raised by trying to institute a policy of this nature are not new. With national concern continuing to intensify over this issue, it is important that whatever policy is established speak to the individual and social complexities presented by Internet Usage. In all matters of policy, the intent should be to benefit the entire Internet community while respecting the lawful rights of others.

Within the next three to five years, Educational Reform and 'Internet Reform' will co-exist. The marriage of the two will have significant influence on the Internet as we know it now. It will absolutely change the ways in which the educational environment interacts with the Internet community. It is imperative to keep in mind that the Internet is an explosive and changing milieu. It has provided, for the first time, a direct route for society to reach out and touch the world. it has the potential for growing beyond human comprehension with this new found community, However, there comes a responsibility to learn the rules and etiquette by which individuals must govern themselves. It is not enough to simply develop policy but to develop policy which will give students a framework with which to operate.

Anticipated acceptable use policies at best are unclear. The Internet was intended as an academic arena for research. In this framework, the academic network should be subject to academic freedom. To this end, policy should not take on the form of censorship. It should regard intellectual freedom. It is time to visualize policies that are not ambiguous which supports these principles. Internet standards have generally been focused on technical use of hardware and software. The Internet itself is comprised of billions of systems operated by diverse organizations. Each of these organizations has its own set of expected outcomes, rules and regulations. However, responsible use of the Internet will require that some common procedures be developed and consistently utilized. While these procedures may be different from group to group, their combination needs to be similar for flavor.

B. Educational Reform and the Internet

The alignment of the educational reform/restructuring movement with the information age is yet to be assessed and meshed. The publication of A Nation At Risk(1983) seems to have catapulted education and the need to reform it to the forefront of American societal issues. From the early nineteen eighties to the present time the educational reform movement and the microcomputer applications have experienced expansive growth and development and have collided with each other. The educational reform movement seeks, among many things, to change and enhance pedagogical practices, restructure the school setting, and nurture the concept of independent and lifelong learners. The Internet in the school environment seeks to enhance and change pedagogical practices, restructure the school setting, and nurture the concept of independent and lifelong learners.

Pedagogical practices will never be the same while access to the Internet is available within the school. "The elementary and secondary school community of teachers, media specialist, administrators, and students is a growing population on the Internet" [KC, please link to URL (]. Teachers are seeking to enhance their pedagogical resources within their classrooms. As this paper is being written a teacher is probably linking her class to the Internet. "A recent informal census conducted via voluntary reporting over the Internet estimates the number of teachers and students (individual and classroom accounts) in the U.S. using the Internet, either directly or indirectly, at almost 250,000 [KC, please link to URL (]. When the microcomputer first emerged onto the educational setting, teachers from various disciplines were often afraid or did not make the connection with using it across disciplines. An English teacher taking her students to the computer lab in the math/science department to word process an essay, was an acclaimed interdisciplinary pedagogical approach. Presently, Internet applications are rapidly expanding to all disciplines as evidenced by "the number of education resources, databases, mailing lists, and archives is also growing rapidly" (KC, please link to URL (]. Teachers are taking the initiative to link their classes. "One educator recently lamented on an education mailing list there was too much available, that the sheer number of distribution services was large enough to overwhelm the novice teacher embarking for the first time on a digital professional development" (KC, please link to URL (]. Teachers maybe somewhat overwhelmed by the array of educational services available on the Internet, but they are not deterred by the process to be linked. The Internet is constantly developing as an enhancement for pedagogical practices.

The Internet in the classroom serves to embellish the collaboration model which is a reform of pedagogical practices. "The isolation inherent in the teaching profession is well-known among educators. By having access to colleagues in other parts of the world, as well as those who work outside of classrooms, educators are able to reach the Internet are not as isolated" (KC, please link to URL [http://www.virtual school..../K/12InternetFAQ.html)]. The Internet expands teacher collaboration to a global perspective. "Many teachers are using the Internet to coordinate projects with classrooms in other countries. For example, Helen Bell, the school librarian at Lincoln Junior High School in El Paso, Texas, has been corresponding with Taichi Kameyama, a professor at Gifu University in Japan who assisted in coordinating projects between a local Japanese high school and Lincoln." (KC, please link to URL []. The early advocates of reforming pedagogical practices to encompass collaboration probably did not conceive of the Internet taking collaboration to an unprecedented level.

To say that the Internet has changed the pedagogical practice of the lecture method is an understatement. The Internet use promotes that both students and teachers are simultaneously involved in the learning process. "And as teachers get more familiar with the newest teaching tool, the Internet promises to change the way they do their jobs" (Parsons 1996, p.3). Teachers who familiarize themselves with the Internet is in itself an excellent modeling behavior for students. As teachers exhibit new values (such as the need to use technology to improve work), these values should help shape students' values by example: students are more likely to use the Internet in their work if they are see their teachers doing the same.

The Internet use in a school will inherently restructure the school setting. "It is lunchtime at Jordan High School, and the students are doing what students do: sitting around, talking, carrying on. The object of their attention are the eight Macintosh screens in front of them. And no one in the library is telling them to hush" (Parsons 1996, p.3)". High school libraries have never been the quiet reading setting that librarians always wished for them to be, but the Internet housed in this educational setting will bring about a long awaited desired effect for librarians. The library/media center is not the only educational setting that will be restructured to accommodate the Internet.

Where the Internet access is physically located in an educational setting is crucial for monitoring purposes. "Terminal's in the school's library are in a high-traffic area where adults at the book check-out counter can see the students. In the computer lab in the back of the library, a teacher makes regular round during lunch hours. Students are expected to use 'high standards of behavior' when using the computers. All students who access the Internet must have signed permission slips from their parents. Any misuse can get a student's Internet account closed" (Parsons 1996, p.3). Individual classrooms are currently restructured to accommodate the computer terminal. Not only does the Internet change the physical setting of a classroom, but it also changes the mental setting. "The Internet expands classroom resources dramatically by making many resources from all over the world available to students, teachers, and media specialists, including original materials. It brings information, data, images, and even computer software into the classroom from places otherwise impossible to reach and it does this almost instantly" (KC, please link to URL [http://www.virtual school..../K12InternetFAQ.html]). With the Internet, the setting in the classroom can change from Hillsborough, N.C. to Toyoko, Japan in a matter of seconds.

If an ultimate outcome of the educational reform movement were to nurture independent and lifelong learners, then the educational use of the Internet has become the springboard for this outcome. "Selling the students on the idea of using the Internet has been a snap, as the crowds in the library at lunch can attest. But as teachers are finding uses for the new connection in the classroom, they're discovering that students' are just as interested in using the Internet in class" (Parsons 1996,p.3). With the advent and introduction of the microcomputer into the classroom, students assertion of independence was evident with their natural attraction to the monitor. "Children love computers and computer networks and there are lots of distance learning projects being conducted, ranging from electronic pen pals to collaborative/comparison studies" (KC, please link to URL []). The natural affinity between between student and the Internet has resulted in student centered/student initiated/student directed projects. "Perhaps one of the most interesting uses of the Internet recently for education is the Global Schoolhouse Project. This project is one example of how the Internet can be used to transmit video for educational uses" (KC, please link URL []).

The Internet seems to be breeding a group of independent learners. "A hands-on classroom tool, the use of networks can be a motivator for students in and of itself, and their use encourages the kind of independence and autonomy that many educators agree is important for students to achieve in their learning process" (KC, please link to URL [http://www.virtual school..../K12InternetFAQ.html]). The mystical thing about independent knowledge and learning for the sake of learning is that it often gives an individual on an unquenchable thirst in pursuit of how much more they do not know. The Internet will help the reform movement reach that once elusive goal of developing lifelong learners.

C. The Law and Student Expression on the Internet

The legal history regarding the competing interests of students desiring to express themselves in speech and print and the schools' interest in curtailing such expression is interesting and could, perhaps, provide insight for rulings involving students' use of new media including the Internet. The U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts have provided landmark rulings in cases in which the line of conflict dividing students and school officials arose due to the ambiguity as to which kinds of student verbal or written expression were considered to be protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution and which kinds of speech were considered unprotected or subject to censorship due to the schools' need to protect other interests including personal safety of students, staff, and the general public. The Constitution provides no clauses pertaining to the free expression of minors; therefore, prior to case conflicts, the schools in this country tended to exercise strong control over students' expression. With the advent of the larger Civil Rights Movement, however, students in public schools throughout the nation sought to lessen the restrictions to which they were subject (Imber & van Geel,1993, p.451).

The Supreme Court and the lower courts, however, generally ruled in favor of school officials and recognized the schools' interest to regulate what students could say and write while in the K-12 educational setting. In Bethel v. Frazier (1987), the Supreme Court ruled that schools had the right to limit what students could say in an assembly and that inappropriate speech could be result in punishment. Following Bethel, the Court broadened the recognized scope the schools had to regulate students speech in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988).Mergens v. Westside Community Schools (1989) was a partial victory for students in that bulletin boards and other school areas could be considered "created public forums," but school officials could exercise control over expression in these areas if the school could demonstrate a compelling interest. With the development of more sophisticated electronic data transmission and retrieval systems available to public school students (including the Internet), the arena for student v. school conflict in regard to free expression broadened.

At this juncture, the courts have not broadened nor abbreviated the rights students enjoy nor the powers schools exercise in regard to free expression. While the Internet overall and the World Wide Web in particular draw both the creative student imagination and the concerned mind-set of the school administrator, the electronic medium has not provided a tool the courts have found to be fundamentally different for the transmission of facts and opinions.

One such conflict noted in the press for its possible precedent setting ramifications involved Paul Kim, a student at Bellvue High School in Washington and his creative use of the Web. Paul Kim created a parody of his high school paper on the Web: Mr. Kim's paper included buttons allowing the browser to explore sexually oriented materials Mr. Kim found on the Web and fictitious news articles. Mr. Kim created in the Web page on his own computer and during his own time, but the school principal punished him by seeing that he not receive a National Merit Scholarship and by writing negative letters to the prestigious colleges to which Mr. Kim applied. This case, however, never came to trial: Bellvue settled out of court. The district probably would have lost the suit, but the litigation would probably not have addressed the difference between the Web as a medium compared to the medium of the more conventional "underground" newspaper, but rather on the school district's lack of due process. Had Mr. Kim violated a school or teacher mandate not to set up a parody using school equipment or during school time, one would have to surmise based on prior cases involving print and speech that the courts would have ruled in favor of the school since there are no precedents expanding students' rights should students decide to use the Internet.

Obviously, schools will have to address students' use of the Internet and other on-line services. While one might note that the courts are not ready to address emerging issues regarding students' use of the Internet, our courts have rarely assumed a pro-active role in defining the acceptable boundaries for the application of new technology. One can predict that students and schools will find themselves at odds with each other in what may or may not be considered appropriate use of the Internet. At this juncture, school officials will be well-advised to discuss scenarios in which possible conflicts might arise in the electronic environments within their schools in order to create policies for avoiding or ameliorating such conflicts and to stay abreast to see if the courts offer rulings that depart from the parameters set in prior cases involving student expression through traditional media.


  • The explosion of the Information Age
  • Inappropriate use of the Internet
  • A call for educational accountability
  • The Educational Reform Movement
  • Conflict of interest between First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and intellectual freedom


As Sergiovanni (1995, pp.280-295) and other observers of organizational and societal change note , no one can anticipate all changes to come, but the educational leader has the duty to study the changing environment for emerging sources of conflict and possible resources (pp. 292-294). Drawing from Sergiovanni and the material presented in this document, educational leaders are more likely to provide stronger educational environments in which students enjoy using on-line and other electronic media with less likelihood of compromising the integrity of the school site or district through the misuse of technology.


If the educational community is to reap the benefits of the Internet, it must begin to plan for its maturity. To this end, the following recommendations are offered :

  • Any policy developed must be sure not to regress from the high levels the www has attained with appropriate usage to date.
  • Schools should designate an Internet Resource Person available at the school site to enforce Internet Policies, to assist with Internet pedagogical resources, and to monitor legal educational issues regarding Internet use.
  • Students should have a forum to provide input for policymaking throughout the educational area (Sergiovanni, 1995, pp.160,285)
  • Internet use in the classroom should be aligned with the approved curriculum for the classroom.
  • Internet use guidelines need to be explicit, revised as necessary, and available for students and staff.
  • Individual school sites should have ongoing staff development to ensure that all teachers are Internet Literate.
  • Policy needs to be instituted which will not destroy the integrity of accessing information on the superhighway.


The Internet and other emerging technologies offer educators and students wonderful learning opportunities. Students may scan for vast amounts of information on topics for their classes or for other interests. Students also are in a new position: they are able to share their knowledge and creativity with an increasingly large global audience while formerly most students rarely had the opportunity to share their writing or other artistic pursuits much beyond their school community. Naturally, students will use available resources in ways defying convention, and, at times, defying the norms of their individual schools and districts. Professional educators and others with an interest in education need to be aware of the power available in using the Internet and other on-line services.


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Cases Cited

Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 755 F.2d 1356 (9th Cir. 1985), rev'd, 106 S.Ct. 3159 (1986).

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U. S. 260, 108 S.Ct. 562, 98 L.Ed. 2d 592 (43 Ed. Law 515) (1988).

Mergens v. Board of Education of West Side Community Schools, 867 F.2d 1076 (8th Cir. 1989).

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