Technology has ushered in a giant wave of information and experiences at your fingertips. Students can access almost any information they want and not just in text format as in textbooks and other books. Videos, podcasts, social networking and webinars have all made talking and listening to a variety of teachers, celebrities and influencers with varied opinions available today. Teachers, administrators, students and parents need to understand the legal issues connected to this wealth of information to protect their students and institutions. Here are 7 legal issues to consider:
With myriad multimedia files online, it’s important to know which ones offer free downloads and which ones are copyrighted. Unfortunately, it’s a common practice for students to copy and paste from online sources and turn it in as original work. Sometimes these sources aren’t even authentic and the information is incorrect.
While teachers may spot the wrong information, it may not be so easy to spot plagiarism. Fortunately, there are free, online plagiarism checkers to quickly find out if a paragraph or even a whole essay is copied material.
When teaching students the best practices for online research teachers also need to include information about plagiarism and how to avoid it. It’s also an opportunity to teach students how to tell if a website gives genuine or fake news. There are also fact-checking sites they can use.
2. Cyberbullying and Social Media
While social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are fun for students to connect to their friends and others, some students have used them to humiliate and bully their peers and cause considerable mental and emotional distress. This is called cyberbullying and is illegal. Cyberbullying is anonymous and has no face-to-face contact, which makes it easier to say ugly and hurtful things. Students who do this may not relate to the damage they are causing. Depending on the country or the state, the consequences of cyberbullying can mean expulsion from school, prosecution for harassment and criminal charges for hate crimes, impersonation and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
Students may not tell their parents about cyberbullying incidents. This is one reason teachers should openly address the topic to encourage some students to report any cyberbullying incidents they have experienced or that happened to a friend. People who escape the consequences of cyberbullying may feel free to commit more physical harassment, which could have tragic results.
3. Privacy and Confidentiality
The U.S. Department of Education created the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to outline best practices for uploading personal, sensitive, information on students. Schools need to monitor how the information is collected and being used.
In your classroom, if you record a presentation or classroom session, you need to remember your student’s privacy rights according to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). Students and the parents of children under the age of 18 years, have the right to control how their personally identifiable information appears online.
This may mean you need to notify all parents that a recording will be made in the classroom or send an agreement to be signed by the parents, so the student and parent know about how any recording will be used. For example, it is not legal for a student or teacher to take a video of students for classroom purposes and post pictures or videos on social media without the permission of the person if he or she is an adult or the parents of a child.
If a classroom recording is being made, for example of a special presentation or skit, the students need to understand proper behavior during the filming. It is not the time for one person in the background to start a comedy routine or make suggestive hand gestures.
Students also need to be taught the ethical use of technology. Teachers or administrators need to outline rules for use of technology, including tablets, laptops, smartphones and different types of projectors to create an atmosphere of transparency. Along with the rules, they need to give the reasons behind the rules. The focus can be on the positive uses of technology to enhance student learning.
A few examples, but not necessarily all are:
- Students do not take videos in private places such as the restrooms, locker rooms or detention centers.
- Teachers must have a signed consent form from the parents if a video is to be taken that may invade the private life of the student. This includes exposing a physical condition or emotional behavior that could be publically exposed.
- Parents may give a letter that excludes their child from videos or photographs taken in school
- Playgrounds, parking lots and athletic fields are open spaces, and students cannot have the assurance of protection from photographs or videos.
Hacking is a real problem and schools are not exempt. Even youngsters can hack into school files and get private information. True, there are some hackers that no security can stop, but the problem for schools is student hackers.
Administrators and district leaders should budget for top security for all school computers. If technology is operated internally, the tech team should request and install the latest security measures. If the technology is administered by an outside vendor, the school management should check any legal agreement for security measures and insist on the latest security systems. Management should also find out what the vendor will do if there is a security breach.
5. Tips for Teachers
- The first thing to do for legal safety is to follow your school’s and district’s guidelines for the use of technology. You may have a technology coordinator who will outline and explain any rules and explain security measures. These rules may include how you use hardware, and what firewalls are in place as well as allowable sites and acceptable software. For example, just because you can access a site at home, doesn’t mean you can access it on your school’s system. Teachers and administrators also need to monitor the students’ Internet traffic to make sure they are not downloading and trading copyrighted material on school equipment.
- Many schools have rules for the legal use of YouTube and other video websites. Even though there are so many excellent demonstrations and explanations on YouTube, you need to use them legally. Some school districts have a list of trusted websites. You can use these without concern for legal issues, ethical considerations or approval from the principal.
- Bookmark, bookmark, bookmark. When you find a great site for your subject or lesson that you can legally use, bookmark it and use it often. It will save you hours over the school year if you have a neat list of sites where you know you can find the perfect demonstration of an erupting volcano or an amoeba reproducing.
- You may have to pay to access some copyrighted material if that’s the only way you can get it. Some excellent sites where you can find free material and advice are:
6. Things to Know About Copyright Law and the Internet
The sites mentioned above have made available free activities and teaching advice that you can use in any way you want. There are many other such sites that you may or may not be familiar with. Other online materials are fully protected by copyright law. To use that material, you need to follow the Standard Fair Use Guidelines for Educators. The fair use rules for educational purposes are clearly presented in this document, and if you follow them, you will most likely prevent a lawsuit.
Here are a few common liability concerns that district technical personnel should make sure all teachers and administrators follow:
- Have an Internet use policy that includes information on copyright infringement liabilities
- Make sure all the material on the school website is in accord with copyright law
- Have policies that address issues such as copyright, defamation, invasion of privacy, hate speech and harassment
- Have a procedure to review material before it is posted on a website as well as a website management team
- Have a contact email address or phone number for people to call if someone has concerns about content
- Make sure content and photographs are original and bear a copyright notice or are public domain material or follow fair use guidelines as listed above. If the material is copyrighted, you must have permission from the copyright owner to use it.
- Software is another area that is subject to copyright laws. You can get excellent software management programs for schools from the Software Industry and Information Association.
7. Students Have Rights
We don’t often think of student’s work as being copyrighted, but it is. Teachers should teach their students their rights and how copyright laws protect those rights. If the school publishes work done by a student it should contain a copyright notice with the student’s name for older students and an identifier for younger students. Children may think that no one will know or care if they use copyrighted material without permission. However, if they realize that their drawings, essays, games, reports and sculptures are also protected by the same laws, they may have more respect for the laws and not consider plagiarism.
Copyright law is intended to bridge the balance between the rights of the people who create and innovate with the benefits to society of the dissemination of their creations. With the vast amount of material available online some of which is copyrighted and some of which is free, students and teachers must learn how to use both. Students should learn to respect copyright laws by using online citations. The important thing to remember is to always give credit to the original source.