I have (at last) taken some time to read the entire text of the proposed DOPA legislation, as passed by the US House of Reps yesterday. I am going to encourage all the teachers / parents / adults at my session tomorrow at MTI 2006 on “Safe Digital Social Networking” (DSN) to use sites like Think.com, Imbee, and Moodle to help students learn safe DSN (digital social networking).

I notice in the language of the bill the world “commercial” is prominent. The first sentence of the act reads:

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.

Note the language, “commercial social networking websites.” Now what exactly does that mean? The bill will require the FCC to define the term. The proposed legislation also says:

20 “(J) COMMERCIAL SOCIAL NETWORKING
21 WEBSITES; CHAT ROOMS.–Within 120 days
22 after the date of enactment of the Deleting On-
23 line Predators Act of 2006, the Commission
24 shall by rule define the terms `social networking
25 website’ and `chat room’ for purposes of this

HR 5319 EH 5
1 subsection. In determining the definition of a
2 social networking website, the Commission shall
3 take into consideration the extent to which a
4 website–
5 “(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
6 “(ii) permits registered users to create
7 an on-line profile that includes detailed
8 personal information;
9 “(iii) permits registered users to cre-
10 ate an on-line journal and share such a
11 journal with other users;
12 “(iv) elicits highly-personalized infor-
13 mation from users; and
14 “(v) enables communication among
15 users.”.

Under this definition, it sounds like Think.com (a free resource sponsored by the Oracle foundation to schools) would not fall under this definition of “commercial social networking site.” Neither would Moodle sites that are being run by schools, not for commercial purposes.

Imbee, on the other hand, is a commercial site and although it offers parent moderation options and is a GREAT tool, it might fall under a FCC definition of “commercial social networking sites.” Parents and students could use this from home, but perhaps not from school if DOPA passes.

It is also not clear to me if DOPA would force US school districts receiving eRate funds (which is pretty much everyone in public schools) to block access to Wikipedia from school networks. Is WikiPedia a “for profit” social networking site? Students aren’t blogging there, although they create profiles. This seems to be less clear and up for grabs perhaps.

I am thinking if this legislation passes, schools and educators will still be able to use non-commercial websites to help students learn about read/write web technologies and safe DSN. Think.com, Moodle sites, and blog sites RUN BY THE SCHOOL (actually a very good idea for US schools according to educational law expert Dr. Scott McLeod) would still be fine.

I have added a new category to my blog for DSN. This is something I have written a lot about, and will likely be writing about more in the future… so this seems appropriate.

I know it’s arduous, but this is important legislation and important issues– so go ahead and read the fulltext of the bill yourself, linked from the GovTrack.us site for DOPA. (direct link)

What do you think?

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4 Responses to DOPA might not kill all DSN education in schools

  1. Mark Ahlness says:

    I disagree, Wesley. The folks in the IT departments of school districts in the US are not going to read the fine print. They are already doing global blocks on anything that ends with: blogspot.com, typepad.com, wordpress.com, edublogs.org, learnerblogs.org, flickr.com, yahoo groups, anything with “chat”, all the obvious myspace type places, and anything that HINTS of being a blog. David Warlick is currently blocked in my district. With DOPA the lid will come crashing down on web 2.0 with a resounding thud that will put the future of our kids REALLY at risk.

    The idea that think.com and a few other noncommercial sites are going to prepare our kids to meet the tomorrow that the rest of the world is getting ready for is, well… I don’t think it will work. Will kids buy into it at school? Will kids get any meaningful lessons on Internet safety when they know they have a limited audience and they laugh at the “safe” tools their teachers show them?

    Last, the idea that schools should set up their own blogs is pinning hopes on a phantom level of tech support that simply does not exist outside of a few isolated spots in this country.

    Sorry to sound so negative. Reality, in this case, is very a bitter pill, and I’ll not wash it down with soda pop. – Mark

  2. Tim Lauer says:

    Hi Wes,
    I tend to agree with Marks comments. Also since sites such as Yahoo, Google and just about everyone else on the net give users the option to personalize their experience at their sites, I wonder if they would fall under this. I also wonder when the folks that operate social software sites are gonna wake up and start to lobby Congress. Of course they might not be worried since most students don’t access these sites at school anyway…

  3. Hi again, Mark! Wow, I can’t agree more. I was at a school earlier this week where the tech person is already saying that all blogs are illegal and would result in the loss of e-rate. And that was before DOPA passed! It didn’t matter to him if the blog was password protected either, as he said students would just give the passwords away (insert an unspoken “to child predators” here).

    So here are the options we came up with.

    1) The School Library System I head up had already been working on a blog service – this is now a top priority. We already rolled out Moodle and are in the finishing stages of setting up school library portals with book reviews, comments, wikis, and other fun interactions.

    2) We are also trying to work with commercial sites to see if we can develop a partnership wherein we as a School Library System can host a school version of the software that we provide for our member school districts. For example, JotSpot now has a locally hosted option.

    Granted, this is possible because I came to the School Library System from a background in instructional technology and have the vision and skills to implement these ideas. I have also hired librarians who have not only a strong background in traditional library science, but also a high level of technical and web expertise. We are making the Digital Re-Shift happen as we continue to work on our implementation of School Library 2.0. This is also made possible by a great program in NY State, the School Library Systems. We are a state funded part of the regional educational service agencies here (called BOCES – boards of cooperative educational services). This lets us be a bit of a sandbox where new programs and services can be R&Ded and piloted within libraries before being launched as a subscription service for our districts. We piloted Moodle for use in libraries, and now the BOCES is offering a subscription service for Moodle servers and support as part of the e-learning program.

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    The eRate connection to DOPA is certainly something I should be on top of, since I’ll be involved in attending and giving at least 10 different workshops across the state of Oklahoma on eRate in August and September. I’ll be following this closely. I agree that this will have a chilling effect, and the move is in the wrong direction, but I also agree that schools have other options like running Moodle. And that may be a GREAT outcome of this conversation, if we can get more teachers and students extending their traditional school day conversations into the rest of the day and night via Moodle.

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