A commonsense guide to safe surfing

Tes Editorial

Straightforward advice prepared by Anglia Polytechnic University's Ultralab research unit to help children (and adults) use the Internet safely.

The Ultralab research unit at Anglia Polytechnic University, which is involved with the national Schools OnLine project, has posted the following safety guidelines on its World Wide Web pages for students, teachers and parents: "This is not a cast-iron protection scheme, but it does offer sound advice that should be the basis of discussion . We strongly recommend to teachers and parents that working with children to develop guidelines for use is the best way to develop safety awareness.

* The Internet reaches across the world and has come of age as a communication medium. This is exciting but also means that the full spectrum of individuals that make our world interesting and occasionally dangerous are also "out there". Commonsense rules that work in the rest of our lives work on the Internet too.

* Never give out identifying information your home address, phone number, school in a public messaging area like chat or user groups. People at the other end of an e-mail are not always what they seem. Someone claiming to be "she" and 14 could be "he" and 40.

* If you come across messages that are deliberately provocative, obscene, racist, illegal, pornographic, threatening or that simply make you feel uncomfortable do not respond to them. In doing so you would be opening a dialogue with the person who posted the message.

* If you receive messages that are harassing or otherwise disturbing, talk about it with people you trust and forward the messages to your service provider with a note about your concerns.

* Just because it comes out of a computer doesn't mean it is true! Be sceptical of information on the Net until you have identified its source. Seemingly credible stories can be invented and circulated for many reasons (for example political advantage). Any offer that is "too good to be true" is probably neither "too good" nor "true".

* Put computers in social areas. Our own (and our friends') social rules and habits are a good check on our behaviour. In schools, don't place monitors facing the wall. In homes, get computers out of the bedroom. The discussion around the screen that will result from the move will make the effort worthwhile.

* Never, ever, ever allow children to arrange to meet someone as a result of an electronic contact unless parents andor teachers are aware of what is happening. If they do meet, make sure the first meetings are in a public place in the presence of friends, parents or adults that they know.

* Don't panic! There is so much that is good, useful and exciting on the Net; working together on projects and tasks will always be less likely to cause problems than just browsing around. Talking about what we all discover and exploring each other's discoveries will all help build constructive use of time. The annotators' pages in Schools OnLine are a great starting point. "

* Safety guidelines can be found at: http:sol.ultralab.anglia. ac.ukpagesschools-onlineuserSupportSafety-advice * Support for parents is also available at: http:sol.ultralab.anglia.ac.ukpagesschools-online * A booklet "Help Your Child with Computers at Home", Pounds 3.95, is available from Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University, Sawyers Hall Lane, Brentwood, Essex. CM15 9BT. Cheques payable to Anglia College Enterprises.

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