The Internet has vastly expanded educational resources and opportunities for students and teachers. Students use the Internet both as a research tool and a means of communicating. The question responsible administrators and teachers need to ask is precisely what sort of research and communication the students are doing. There is a big difference between using the Internet to find biographical material of a local author, for example, and logging onto web sites to find out the latest gossip about a favorite pop music star. More dangerous still, some student use a school e-mail account to join a chat group. Teen-agers in particular may feel that they possess enough maturity to make informed choices about what they are doing, but they may inadvertently lead themselves into harm’s way. The not uncommon reports of adults being arrested for trying to meet up with minors they met in chat rooms are a red flag for most school districts.
Many districts avoid the issue by not providing students with their own e-mail accounts. They argue, quite convincingly, that student e-mail is difficult to monitor and ties up too many resources that could be used for other activities. A number of educators, however, believe that e-mail has become so essential that students should be trusted with the responsibility until they do something to violate that trust. Software programs that filter e-mail and Internet sites is only a partial solution; a student who wants to view a particular site may be resourceful enough to be able to get past such barriers. Beyond those students who might willfully engage in irresponsible activity online, there are also students who may unwittingly create trouble for themselves or others. A student who is not computer savvy might inadvertently disclose personal information over the Internet, for example.