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Internet in school

Page history last edited by Dianne 10 years, 9 months ago

Appropriate Recreational Internet Use in the School Setting.


Dianne McKenzie

Written for course requirements for the M.App. Sc. in TL through Charles Sturt University. 2002. Updated 20 May 2002




As more schools go online to meet the information needs of their community a whole set of new problems have emerged with regard to the use of this tool for recreation rather than academic uses.


The internet presents the user with an array of distractions to keep them occupied, but how does this fit with the school setting, and particularly the library where recreational reading is catered for and encouraged and yet in many cases the recreational use of the internet is not only discouraged but penalised in some situations? What is the difference between these recreational mediums and how can schools confront and manage the students desire to participate in online recreation use without compromising their academic and nurturing mission?



What is Recreational Use?

The internet offers limitless opportunities for recreational use through email, instant messaging, chat, online games, interactive games, recreational 'surfing' for hobbies and other interests, shopping, reading the news, gambling, downloading games and music and creation of personal websites. In many schools these types of activities are viewed as time wasters and departing from the schools academic mission, however studies (Northcote & Kendle 2002) have shown that recreational use of the internet in fact helps students to become more familiar with its set up and capabilities and this in turn can help them in their academic pursuits. Murase et al (1999) state that universal access to technology is necessary to promote modern education, communication and citizenship and to promote awareness and confidence in using computer based technologies.




It is known universally that children learn through play, and are more likely to remember skills if they have enjoyed the experience and if the skills were learnt in a context of what was required and needed at the time. The online arcade style games increase hand eye co-ordination, mouse and keyboard skills and allow for greater familiarity with the computer and its workings. Recreational "surfing" allows students to practise researching skills within their interests, extends their keyword searching skills, allows them to explore the internet and its possibilities and gives them a greater familiarity with it. It also gives them practise in information filtering and critical analysis of the online resources. The downloading of information in the form of games and music gives students practice in selecting and retrieving information with the technical knowledge of 'how to". Chat rooms and email improves typing performance, allows learning the nuances of online etiquette with effective online communication the result. The creation of websites gives opportunities for the learner to explore the possibilities of the current applications, be creative both within the limits of the technology and push the technology beyond the known boundaries. The students who have more recreation time on the internet are more technology savvy, far more comfortable with its parameters and have more confidence in themselves and their abilities to make the technology do what they want. (Northcote & Kendle 2002)




If all these positive effects come from recreational use of the internet why do schools limit their use and deem them time wasters? The main concern of the school administration is that if the activity is not based on the curriculum then it has no place in the school setting. Other concerns are:-


  • With many of the onlines games there is a drain on the bandwidth available for other users,
  • The cost effectiveness of supplying an expensive system for recreation.
  • The problem of students introducing viruses and other problems into the school system - either accidentally or deliberately.
  • The opportunity that students have if left to their own devises to 'get up to no good' - sending harassing emails, hacking into websites and illegal activities such as piracy, commercial trading, spamming, visiting pornographic sites and the legal, ethical, and public repercussions for the school if an illegal activity is traced back to the school system.
  • The students playing rather than working on task - wasting their own time.
  • The recreational use is deemed unproductive, unmeasurable and hence not useful.
  • Recreational use tends to be more of a social use - usually there will be observers around the computer to offer ideas, comments and peer support - this leads to noise and disruption for other students.
  • Capitalisation of the system by recreation users to a point where 'serious' users are excluded from using the system.
  • Personal Safety issues with students freely giving out information about themselves, others and the school and the repercussions.
  • Reduce addictive habits - internet addiction has now been diagnosed as a societal problem. (King 1996)



Arguments for integrating recreational use in the school.

There are a number of assumptions made about online use in the school setting, one is that students will be exposed to enough of it through the formal curriculum and that they have opportunities to use the internet for recreation at home. There is an increasing need for students to have online literacy skills in order to complete their school and tertiary studies successfully, however, many teachers do not have the necessary skills to teach the students, nor do they have the confidence in their own abilities to plan for internet access across their curriculum, and this will take a number of years to rectify as the younger computer literate teachers move through the system and the older computer illiterate generation leave teaching.


Online skills are being developed by students themselves in environments seperate from the academic arena and this may not necessarily be at home. Public library and school library access is preferred by people under 18. (Murase et al 1999 ) Teens and children seldom use the internet as a reference tool, they use it fundamentally as a social tool. (Murace et al 1999) They prefer to create social environment for exploring the internet by having multiple children share the one computer - with the children devising the sharing arrangements, with mentoring and collaborating on a problem or game technique.(Murase et al 1999) Having a physically proximate group of other users promotes collaborative learning - the broader the mix of people with varying ranges of experience levels accelerates the process of learning .(Murase et al 1999) Social interaction is important - they are drawn to situations where a collaborative social atmosphere exists rather than work or 'play' independently.


Although they do mainly use the internet for social and leisure reasons, the Pew Internet Project (2001) found that in 94% of cases, the internet is used in research assignments by young people. This shows that if they do need to do serious work, they will use the internet. Reasons given are the convenience, the ease of use, and in most cases the speed of results. The Pew Internet Project (2001) also found that 11% of the respondents had their primary access to the internet at school because they had no access elsewhere. If students who do not have access to computers at home are denied the same opportunities to explore through recreational time, then the school is denying progression and learning to these students.


A problem exists in schools with disparity between policy makers and those who are to comply with the policy - the students. A study conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Authority in 2000 found that young people tend to surf the net without a particular purpose in mind, whereas adults tend to have targeted information requirements. Personal interests and hobbies is a major reason for young people to use the internet. Communication portals and chat rooms were the most frequently visited sites for those over 14 years, with games sites and specific sites such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Neopets being the most popular with those under 10 years old. Children and teens use the internet more for entertainment compared to adults who use it for specific purposes. From these findings the difference is clear - the adults who design the policies are assuming and imposing the same expectations of internet use as they would use it - rather than as the students would use it. Schools need to look at involving students in designing policy - what both parties needs and requirements are and find a workable compromise.


The implications of students learning IT skills through recreational use of the internet reduces burden on staff to not only learn the skills but to ensure they teach the skills. It means that the teachers do not need to spend time on basic skills but can move right along into meaningful lessons, the problem exists where there are differences in


experience and exposure level - possibly between sexes as males were found to use more technology oriented internet activities such as downloading music, creating web pages as well as surfing the net and be more self motivated to learn the techniques for advanced internet use than females. Males tend to 'play' alot more whereas females seem to need a purpose behind the action, creating an ICT gap between the sexes. (Australian Broadcasting Authority 2000)



Current situations

An informal survey was conducted using OZTL_NET and LM_NET listserves with the following questions

  • Does your school allow recreational use of the internet on school computers?
  • If not - what is the basis for the restriction?
  • If so when, and what?
  • Is personal email considered a recreational use?
  • If you have any further comments regarding this issue please let me know your thoughts.


25 responses were posted from all over the world, also Internet policies posted as part of school web sites were also accessed and the following findings seem to reasonably reflect what is happening in most schools with regard to recreational use of school internet connections.


  • Very few of the schools allowed online games which were not of educational value during school hours. Reasons given were system drain with games capitalising the school bandwidth slowing the rest of the system down. The extra software and plug ins required for such games also cluttered up the system. There were a few boarding schools which had lightly supervised recreational use including games in the boarding houses after school hours.
  • ICQ, instant messaging and chat rooms were not at all permitted without teacher approval and supervision. The clause " deemed educationally relevant" was prevalent in many policies.
  • Some of the schools did not allow opportunity for individual emailing or email accounts - only used if it was pertinent to the curriculum and with a teachers direct supervision.
  • Recreational browsing was not permitted in many cases, with those that did permit it having a proviso that those with an academic need to use the computer would have a higher priority of use.
  • Primary schools seemed to be more strict about what they permitted than secondary schools. Many of the schools had a security filter which prevented unseemly sites being viewed, personal email and ICQ being accessed.
  • The schools which did not have a filter had a comprehensive discipline and honor policy in place to ensure students did not breach school confidence.
  • Many of the policies were very specific as to what was and was not permitted, others were more liberal - giving guidelines rather than directives.
  • Some of the respondents commented that the time spent on policing access was difficult to maintain, particularly when it was a large school.
  • Other comments were that the parents would want the school computers to be used for an academic rather than leisure purpose considering the cost of such systems.
  • Email in some cases was considered 'too dangerous' and was prohibited for this reason.
  • One respondent said "Our school board and administration feels very strongly that our technology (approx. one computer for every 2-3 students K-12) is provided
  • as a tool to support academic pursuits, not as a toy for recreational use" and had a acceptable use policy reflecting this belief. (Dell Rapids Public School 2002)
  • One school had unlimited recreational use, but found the cost of supporting this policy prohibitive and changed it to include only online recreational surfing.



Acceptable Use Policy Implications

Schools need to have an acceptable use policy to ensure their practises are reflections of the schools mission and philosophy, however as part of this, the acceptable use policy needs to be a part of the whole school ethos with regards to trust, ethics and discipline. It needs to cover the issues of safety and privacy, codes of behaviour, inappropriate materials, equity of access, existing policies and procedures, effective and secure management, legal requirements and regular review and revision of the policy. (Dept. of School Education 1996)


An acceptable use policy that outlines in specifics what may or may not be accessed may be appropriate for one school but not another. A school which encompasses a total ethos may need only guidelines as to what they deem appropriate. An interesting draft policy can be found at Cyber School (Hall et al 1997) http://www.unc.edu/courses/law357c/cyberprojects/spring97/AUP/frconten.htm

This was developed by a number of under graduate Law students with the emphasis on the students behaving responsibly and helping everyone making the most from their internet experience. Rather than a descriptive policy it is a document which allows students the possibilities to experiment within boundaries. Recreational use of the internet is not forbidden but prioritised and given guidance within school, state and federal laws. A quote from their General Mission Statement

"The Internet is a valuable learning resource for students and teachers alike. In efforts to prepare your children and teachers for the computer-intensive world of the future, the Cyber School System (school) has undertaken to provide access to and classroom instruction concerning the Internet. We believe that the best way to learn is to provide as much access to the information on the Internet as possible. Therefore, our policy is a liberal one, allowing a student to access a wide range of information that interests him or her. Nevertheless, with such access comes the possibility of misuse. Because Internet access is a privilege and not a right, misuse of the Internet will not be tolerated. This Acceptable Use Policy has been put in place to help define and deter such misuse before it occurs, while still preserving a student's freedom to explore, utilize, and learn from the Internet largely unhindered."

Prioritizing access and time allowed seems to be a compromise which could be incorporated into an acceptable use policy.



Management of School Internet Policies

A large part of the problem with the internet and having too many restrictions is the ability to supervise a school full of curious children and teenagers, which is why so many schools have completely banned recreational use of the internet in their school - it is too subjective to determine suitability and takes alot of time and effort to maintain a standard. It is easier to 'bust' a student accessing something when it is so different to what everyone else is doing. How do the schools with recreation use cope?


One school has a comprehensive surveillance system whereby students need to log in and all their internet movements are tracked. Knowing that someone is watching can discourage those who are more curious than others to move into inappropriate areas of the internet. This system will only work if the issue of privacy is open - the school has a right to know what users are doing on their computers as it may affect the whole school community in the short and long term.


This same school has an Honor Code ethos through out the school and reminds students that the internet and their behaviour whilst they are using school computers is part of the Honor code of the school and breaches will be dealt with as such.


Another possibility of management is through school portals where the sites which are selected according to the school philosophy and mission are made accessible through the school OPAC or other portal. This could be particularly relevant for browsing sites and possibly games. Although once out in the internet world it is easy move on from these, but this would fall under the acceptable use policy. This screened approach may work well if it is constantly maintained and updated and the selection is large enough to satisfy curiosity, but in most cases the students will always want to move on from there.



Implications for Teacher -Librarians

As more and more computers are moved into the school library as part of the total school ICT policy the teacher - librarian needs to know and understand the implications of the school acceptable internet use policy and how it will affect his or her role in the library. The library is one of the few places where students can access the internet without direct teacher supervision during their leisure time, and as such the teacher librarian needs to be aware of what policy and procedure will work best in their situation.

If students can access the internet with guidelines and priorities rather than with a very stringent list of don'ts the job of the teacher librarian is made somewhat less stressful as they do not need to be constantly supervising and disciplining students who will continually try to access the internet for recreational uses. If the whole school ethos is supporting the acceptable use policy which includes recreational use, the students will quickly learn what is and isn't appropriate behaviour.




Recreational use of the internet is a powerful learning tool, it enables students to learn skills which are essential to their information literacy in a fun and meaningful way. The skills are easily transferable from the recreational application to an academic one and actually benefit academic use of the internet. Schools need to find a way to incorporate recreational access into their curriculum without compromising their educational objectives and mission.




Questions for discussion

How can an acceptable use policy still incorporate recreational use?


Recreational use allows for incidental learning of important ICT skills. Can schools really use this argument to justify allowing it in the school setting?


What is "educationally relevant"? Can schools afford to be this focused?


The issue of social justice - what role does the school play in providing equal recreational access for all?


The Cyber school AUP - could it really work in practise?






Australian Broadcasting Authority, . (2002, May). Research : Australian families and Internet use. ABA Internet: Internet usage in Australia, the state of play in 2000. Retrieved May 10, 2002, from http://www.aba.gov.au/internet/research/families/usage6.htm#ent


Email Message

Dell Rapids Public School

2/ 4/ 02

We don't allow recreational use between 8AM and 4PM. Our school board and administration feels very strongly that our technology (approx. one computer for every 2-3 students K-12) is provided as a tool to support academic pursuits, not as a toy for recreational use. Our TUP is posted at:http://www.teachers.k12.sd.us/dd045/information/computer_use_policy.htm Cheers!

Brenda Hahn, Librarian

Dell Rapids Public School Library

Dell Rapids, SD 57022-1099



Hall, B, and Hoffman J, McCutcheon K, Kilbourne J, Shaw L, Statile R. (1997, June). The Cyber School Acceptable Use Policy. University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. Retrieved May 10, 2002, from http://www.unc.edu/courses/law357c/cyberprojects/spring97/AUP/



King, S. A. (1996). Is the Internet Addictive, or Are Addicts Using the Internet? Retrieved [10 May 2002 ] http://www.concentric.net/~Astorm/iad.html


Lenhart, A, and Simon M, Graziano M. (2001, Sept 1). The Internet and Education: Findings of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved May 10, 2002, from http://pewinternet.org


Murase, E, and Boutilier S, Sandvig C. (1999, June 17). Strategies for promoting access to the Internet among children and youth: A case study of the San Francisco Public Library\s electronic Library project. Inet 99 Conference proceedings. Retrieved May 10, 2002, from http://www.isoc.org/isoc/conferences/inet/99/proceedings/2c/2c_3.htm


Northcote, M, and Kendle A. (2002, April 2). Informal online networks for learning: Making use of incidental learning through recreation. Informal learning networks online : Benefits for students and academics. Retrieved May 10, 2002, from http://www.aare.edu.au/01pap/nor01596.htm


NSW Department of Education, . (1997). Student access : Developing a school internet policy. Sydney: Curriculum Directorate.


Quinn, Stephen. (1998, August). Electronic Recess : Observations of E-Mail and Internet Surfing by K-12 students. The Online Journal Retrieved May 10, 2002, from http://www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/A1996.cfm



School Acceptable Use Policies accessed

Australian International School Hong Kong

Computer Use Policy


Dell Rapids Public School


Evergreen School District Network Code of Conduct

Acrobat Document forwarded via email 8/ 5/02


German Swiss International School Hong Kong

accessed 6 May 2002


The Norfolk Academy

Policy on Acceptable Use of Technology

forwarded via email in MS word format 9/ 5/02


Roxbury Towns Public Schools



Plus many others


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