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3 questions to ask your kid’s teachers about tech

3 questions to ask your kid’s teachers about tech
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

Now that the kids and grandkids have been in school for a while, there are critical questions you should be asking.

Whether your child is getting ready for the end of the semester, or would just like to check in on your child's progress, there are some critical questions you should ask about the school. More specifically, about the school's policies surrounding tech. Here are three areas that your child's school should be addressing.

1. Do they use Wikipedia?

If you have a few hours to kill, Wikipedia is a fun place to poke around and learn interesting facts. However, some of those "facts" may not be facts at all.

Although Wikipedia is chock full of information, the pages you find there are actually written collaboratively by anonymous people. Wikipedia calls its contributors "volunteers," but basically, this means anyone from anywhere can edit the information you see there.

Wikipedia's terms and conditions clearly warn that creating hoaxes is not allowed. However, that doesn't stop people from seeing what they can get away with.

Because of this, Wikipedia isn't a reliable source for academics.

Here's an example. In the summer of 2006, television personality, Stephen Colbert, used Wikipedia for a stunt on his show, "The Colbert Report." In this stunt, Colbert encouraged his national audience to edit information on Wikipedia regarding the population of African elephants. After the show aired, fans quickly followed Colbert's request and Wikipedia soon indicated that the population of African elephants had tripled in the previous six months.

This, of course, is just one example. And pranking Wikipedia isn't always that easy because you must have enough people to back up your story. However, this example does show how the information shared on Wikipedia may not always be reliable.

If your child's school does use Wikipedia as a trusted source, recommend one of these alternatives instead.

  • Scholarpedia: This site works similarly to Wikipedia; however, to be a contributor, you must actually be a scholar. Contributors for Scholarpedia are comprised of university faculty members and researchers. Submitted content also goes through a peer review process.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Online: Remember that hardback Encyclopedia Britannica set you used as a child? Well, now that wealth of knowledge is available online. Plus, there's even more great content your kids can interact with including quizzes, lists and photo galleries.
  • InfoPlease.com: This website also includes an encyclopedia, but contains additional educational material as well. Kids can review year-by-year news, see timelines, check out top 10 lists, study maps of the 50 U.S. states, use the calculator tool, thesaurus and dictionary.

2. Do teachers friend or follow students on social media?

Everyone seems to be on social media these days. An estimated 78 percent of people in the U.S. now have a social media profile. But is it a good idea for teachers to follow or be online friends with students?

There have always been boundaries in the student-teacher relationship. With social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, those lines might get blurred.

Some parents are concerned about how teachers and students use technology to communicate with their kids. Social media is a convenient way to communicate, but convenience isn't everything. The safety of your child is the most important thing.

Teaching kids at a young age about the difference between personal and professional communication is a good idea. Most people speak to each other differently digitally than they do face-to-face. Some online conversations are downright scary.

On the other hand, some would say that teachers keeping a watchful eye on students' social media use could help prevent online bullying.

Former school administrator Hans Mundahl told the Today Show that schools should follow these guidelines:

  • Every school needs to have a social media policy that outlines whether teachers should interact with students.
  • Faculty shouldn't friend, follow or engage directly with students on social media.
  • Texting students is OK about assignment issues as long as it follows school policy.
  • Each school needs a privacy policy that addresses being photographed without permission.

3. How does the school handle online bullying?

Speaking of social media...

Social media sites will always be popular among students since these provide social support venues and validations of personal identity. Due to the instantaneous nature of these online connections, there is one dangerous activity that requires constant attention from both parents and educators - cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying in schools occurs when someone attempts to defame or harass another student, or in some cases, even teachers, by posting abusive statements, rumors or photos online on social media sites.

It is so rampant nowadays that statistics show that more than one in three young people have received cyberthreats and over 25 percent of teens have been constantly bullied through cellphones or the internet. Alarmingly, over 50 percent of young students do not tell their parents when they get cyberbullied.

Sometimes, cyberbullying causes so much harm that it leads to students transferring, teachers getting fired, and even suicide. Here are a few questions to ponder:

Is the school offering a reporting system regarding cyberbullying? Do they provide an open communication line for students but will still provide privacy to protect against retribution?

Are there school rules, guidelines and bylaws that prevent any form of cyberbullying? What are the consequences if someone is proven guilty of harassment?

Does the school encourage students and teachers to use social media?

As you can see, technology in education comes with its own pros and cons. On one hand, it can be used to teach kids new skills like coding and offer teachers new tools. However, it can also open the door to negative things such as cyberbullying, stalking and even addiction. (Click here to see if your child is dangerously addicted to technology.)

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