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Issues in Educational Technology

Case Study

Mrs. Gonzales likes to supplement her instruction with visual aids (e.g., PowerPoint™ presentations, digital images, Inspiration) and often tries to use a CD-ROM full of clipart images, purchased with her own money, to enhance her presentations. Today she was unable to find an image for her lesson on dissecting a frog. She thought it important to have relevant images so that her students would get the proper overview before cutting into their own frog specimens. Fortunately, Mrs. Gonzales was able to remember a tip she’d received from another teacher about finding images on the Internet. She visited and was able to search for and find many images of frogs in various stages of dissection. The dilemma she faced was that she was not sure if she was allowed to use the images she had found, or whether she would be violating copyright laws. What would you do?

Identifying current issues in technology is a constantly evolving process. Those of today will be solved by tomorrow’s technology. Moreover, the essence of lifelong learning can be readily applied to issues in technology. Thus, identifying current issues in technology is an exercise in and of itself. As a classroom teacher, you will confront many technology-related topics that will rely on your ability to develop meaningful solutions. This chapter presents many such issues that teachers encounter every day. The current issues covered in this chapter include those of legal, ethical, and social nature. Some have emerged because of the current technologies and some have existed much longer than the current push for technology in schools.


Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright is a term used to describe the protections given to authors, musicians, artists, and others who create products from their original work. The current copyright laws were written in 1976 to ensure that individuals who create a work have ownership over their works. (See for the US Government Copyright office. This site has much information written for the general public.) What this means to you in the classroom is that you need to get permission if you are going to copy a product you find.

Educators rely on the various resources they find. Most teachers have the students’ interest in mind when they choose to use a resource in their classroom. A teacher may have videotaped a good PBS television series to show in an American history class each year. Or a teacher might have found the perfect image on the Internet to use in a PowerPoint™ presentation for current and future lectures. Both of these scenarios are in violation of copyright laws, but you can tape a program and use it one time. You cannot tape shows from the television to show in your classroom year after year. Also, just because you can find images freely available on the Internet, this does not give you permission to then copy them to use again and again. This chapter will discuss a concept called “fair use.” The fair use guidelines will give you some parameters for what copyrighted works you can use and how you can use them.

Under certain circumstances, called fair use, people can commit minor violations of the copyright laws if they are doing so for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research (see Fair Use box of text below). This means that depending on the circumstances, the classroom teacher can use small portions of copyrighted works without obtaining permission (see Figure A). Fair use does have some flexibility, similar to most laws on the books, and it is this lack of specificity that creates confusion for those who do not have time to figure out all of the intricacies of the law. In fact, the law does not even provide specific parameters of how the law gets interpreted and enforced. This is largely being left to the courts; however, ignorance of the law can still get a teacher and a school into legal trouble.

Copyright and Computer Software

Copyright laws also apply to computer software. Software piracy is a growing problem and software publishers are becoming more aggressive in how they pursue individuals breaking the law and copying software. All software contains a software license and most require the user to agree to an End-User-License-Agreement (EULA) prior to installing the software on a computer. When software is purchased, the software is really being licensed to the end user, with the software itself remaining the property of the author or publisher. The individual is merely being allowed to use the software in accordance with the EULA. This license agreement will typically explain that the software can be installed on only one computer. Sometimes the EULA will allow the end user to install the software on one desktop machine and one laptop machine, or any number of other options. Each EULA should be read and understood to avoid breaking the law even though the natural tendency is to just click “okay.”

Individuals and schools will typically purchase a software license that is catered to their particular needs and budget. The various software licenses are: 1) single-user, 2) multiple-user, 3) network license, and 4) site license.

A single-user license is common for individuals. This license allows the individual to install the software on only one computer, but there are some exceptions. Purchasing software for many computers using a single-user license is the most expensive way to buy software, because other purchasing methods allow for a bulk rate discount. A more cost-effective method of purchasing software for many computers is called a multiple-user license. The multiple-user license would be more appropriate for a classroom that has five or more computers. This is similar to buying bulk at the grocery store in that the extra product comes at a discount. The school agrees to purchase 5, 10, 20, or more copies of a particular software package, and the vendor agrees to give the school a quantity discount. This helps schools to equip more computers with software and to save money on the cost per machine. A network license works much like the multiple-user license in that the school is purchasing more than one copy; however, the network license allows the schools to install software on a network server and the license specifies the number of other computers that can open the software at any given time. For example, if the network license allows ten machines to run the software, the first ten machines that open the particular application will be able to use it, but any other computers that attempt to open the software will not be allowed to do so until one of the existing machines closes the application. This is a solution for schools that want multiple copies to be used in different locations at varying times. The final license is called a site license. This is another cost-effective method of software licensing, and is often the most cost effective when installing software on machines in an organization (e.g., a school). The site license ensures that every machine at a location will get necessary software installed. For instance, many schools find it wise to purchase a site license for necessary software, such as Microsoft Office or a particular e-mail application or grade book software that is common across the district.


Examples of What Can Be Copied

  • A chapter from a book (never the entire book)
  • An article from a periodical or newspaper
  • A short story, essay, or poem. One work is the norm, whether it comes from an individual work or an anthology
  • A chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture from a book, periodical, or newspaper
  • Poetry: Multiple copies of a poem of 250 words or less that exist on two pages or less, or 250 words from a longer poem
  • Prose: Multiple copies of an article, story, or essay that has 2,500 words or less; or excerpts up to 1,000 words or 10 percent of the total work, whichever is less
  • Illustrations: Multiple copies of a chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon, or picture contained in a book or periodical issue

Figure A Some Examples of Fair Use for Teachers Copyright and Computer Software

Understanding the various licenses and how best to use them is important for schools. Violating the license agreements can result in heavy fines to a school. Therefore, while buying one copy and trying to install it on many machines might seem like a cheap solution, it is, in fact, illegal. The fines, if caught doing this can far exceed the amount that the school would have paid to buy a site license or network license.

Fair Use

. . . the fair use of a copyrighted work . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (This applies to how you intend to use the copyrighted works—e.g., for the classroom and not commercially)
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work; (This applies to the type of work that is copyrighted—e.g., is it creative work? Factual work?)
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; (This applies to how much of the copyrighted work you intend to use—e.g., a small amount is more likely to be okay than a larger portion); and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (This applies to how your use might impact the ability of the copyright holder to make money on the work(s)—e.g., does your use prevent the creator from making money?)

More to consider:

  • You are permitted to use the works that qualify for fair use in the classroom setting only and an online class is likely treated the same way as a traditional classroom, though you should check with your school to be sure.
  • Give credit to the copyright holder and the copyright notice ©.
  • Use the copyrighted materials no more than 1 time. Beyond the first year you must receive permission from the copyright holder.
  • When in doubt, use caution. Limit any fair use to small amounts (e.g., no more than 10% of images from a site and no more than 15 total).
  • These rules apply to your students as well (e.g., student projects, presentations). For more details, visit (Circular 21, “Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians”).


Much of the Copyright and Fair Use issue is resolved by the courts. For a list of more examples of what might be considered Fair Use, see this link.


File Sharing

The website Napster was the first large-scale use of the Internet for sharing music illegally. The site grew to 60 million visitors in just a few short years. People flocked to Napster because they could get free music in the form of MP3 files and they did this by sharing files with each other. The site was easy to use and convenient. Napster was also found to be violating copyright laws and was forced to shut down because this music sharing was not legal. Most people simply sought alternative solutions to Napster. Many newer systems of file sharing called peer-to-peer sharing popped up -- these file-sharing networks do not run through a centralized server like Napster did. The courts could shut down a centralized server, but newer file-sharing systems emerged that allow users to share files from each other and not through the company website; though, the practice is still illegal for users who share copyrighted works. In 2009, Pirate Bay -- a popular bit torrent tracker, had it's founders convicted of copyright violations and sentenced to a year in prison.

Some people will use special software to develop an open or closed network of computers whose purpose is to share files, even beyond music. These networks can be used for positive and beneficial purposes. For example, a group might set up a file-sharing network as they work on a project so that the latest files related to the project are available to everyone in the group. Other networks might share files that are freely available in the public domain. Unfortunately, many of these file-sharing networks are developed for the sole purpose of sharing files illegally, as Napster was. People can use these file-sharing networks to share movies, software, music, and more.

The music industry has been cracking down on people who abuse these networks, with fines ranging into the thousands of dollars. Even though the process of sharing files can be easy, many files are still being shared in an illegal manner and this type of sharing should be avoided. Schools and perpetrators can receive large fines or even jail time for stealing music, software, movies, and other copyrighted works. Individuals can receive a $250,000 fine and up to three years in prison for violating copyright laws using a file-sharing network. Schools can also be fined into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for copyright infringement.

Internet Filters

Schools are legally obligated to protect students from inappropriate content while the students are online. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) stipulates that all public schools and libraries install software and/or hardware to ensure that children do not view inappropriate content while using the Internet. Most schools and libraries have installed filtering systems (e.g., hardware or software). These filtering systems work in many different ways. One filter can use a list that contains the addresses of inappropriate sites having offensive content, and works by blocking these sites from the computer. Another filtering system might work just the opposite, by keeping a list of only the approved sites that can be visited. These two types of filters require much human interaction and time. Some other filters look for keywords (e.g., inappropriate words) and sites with a large percentage of photos. Many filters even examine photo names on the pages for inappropriate and R-rated names.



The Internet has gained much prominence in educational settings. These days, many students and teachers are creating their own websites, which are great ways to share resources and communicate. The Internet is a valuable tool for self publication, that is, one person can post a website that is viewable by hundreds of millions of people. The benefits are many; however, the dangers are readily apparent as well. Teachers need to ensure that great care is taken to protect student privacy. In fact, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a law that was passed to help protect students while online.

The responsibility of protecting student privacy lies with the teacher. Teachers should never post images of students, student names, or any other identifying information on the Internet without prior parental permission. Even with permission, a teacher should be cautious about releasing information about a student beyond a first name. Releasing the name of a child in a certain class could create a safety issue for that child. Most schools have an “Acceptable Use Policy” that addresses this issue. The classroom teacher should understand and follow these rules.

The same care should be taken when using software to record and share student grades and other personal data. Students should only be able to see their own records (e.g., grades). You are not allowed to identify a student by the student’s school ID number or social security number. You should also take care to use software that only displays a student’s records to the individual student and/or his parents.


The issue of plagiarism existed well before the computer and the Internet emerged in schools. The problem has only been exacerbated with the onset of newer technologies. Students now have access to hundreds of millions of resources and various cheat sites on the Internet. No classroom teacher can check every paper or project submitted to ensure that the work is original, but there are tools available to help teachers tackle the problem. Unfortunately, most of these cost money. One site is called A site such as this keeps a large database of online papers and websites so that a classroom teacher can check student papers against the materials in the database to ensure that the work is not plagiarized. This service is very fast and easy to use.

Case Study

Mr. Johnson noticed some higher quality work in one particular paper from a student who did not typically use the vocabulary style in this paper. Mr. Johnson suspected that the student might have plagiarized much of the content of the paper; unfortunately, his school did not subscribe to an online plagiarism resource such as However, Mr. Johnson already had another strategy in mind as he opened up his browser and went to his favorite search engine, Google. He did a search for one sentence in the paper to see if it matched any of the billions of sites being indexed by Google. To ensure that the specific sentence was searched for, Mr. Johnson used quotation marks around the sentence. Sure enough, the sentence matched with a website. Upon visiting the site, Mr. Johnson was able to discover that about 1/3 of the paper had been copied directly from the website.


Spam is a term given to unsolicited e-mails that are typically junk mail, that is, mail sent to many people trying to sell some product. Some people see spam as unsolicited advertisements, while others consider any impersonal e-mail forwards—jokes, pictures, stories, chain letters—to be spam as well. A common theme among most definitions is that spam is an unwanted e-mail.

Avoiding spam is nearly impossible, but strategies are available to help minimize it. When you buy things from online vendors they collect information about you. This same concept applies to online services (gaming sites, subscription sites, news sites, etc.) or any site that asks you for an e-mail address. Many of these vendors and online sites create lists of e-mail addresses, which are often sold to people who send spam. One way to avoid getting spam in your main e-mail account is to sign up for a free online e-mail account (e.g., gmail), and only use this online e-mail account for purchases on the Internet. This helps keep your school or business account from being sold to spammers. You will still get spam sent to your online e-mail account (you can easily delete mass quantities of spam with most online e-mail services), but your main e-mail account will largely remain free from bulk quantities of spam. The best way to avoid spam is to be very careful about giving out your e-mail address. Read the privacy agreement that is provided by most sites that ask for your information. They should tell you whether they share any of your information with other people or businesses. Sometimes they even have options that allow you to choose whether or not your information is shared.


Digital Divide

Perhaps the most apparent technology-related social issue faced by many teachers today is called the digital divide. The digital divide is generally recognized as the gap between those individuals who have access to technology -- specifically computers with internet access -- at home and those individuals who do not. Another digital divide that is emerging more in the U.S. represents the gap among those students who have broadband (high speed) access to the Internet, those students who have slower (dialup) access, and those students who have no Internet access. A Pew Internet study in 2015 found that 67% of all adult Americans now have a high-speed internet connection at home. The percentage of Americans with broadband at home has grown from 47% in early 2007. However, the report also notes that 67% is a drop. At the same time, more Americans have smartphones now and 13% are getting their internet connections only from a smartphone. This is especially pronounced among African-Americans who went from 10% smartphone only to 20% since 2013. As more Americans shift to smartphones as their only source of home internet access, the challenges become pronounced as noted in this snippet from the link above: Those who are “smartphone-dependent” for access do encounter distinct challenges. Previous Pew Research Center findings show that they are more likely than other users to run up against data-cap limits that often accompany smartphone service plans. They also more frequently have to cancel or suspend service due to financial constraints. Additionally, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that those who use digital tools for job searches face challenges when it comes to key tasks such as filling out job applications and writing cover letters.

While computers are appearing in more and more classrooms, the access divide is still very much an issue for many students. A digital divide previously existed between schools in their ability to provide Internet access to students, but this divide has shrunk as the government has made grants available to schools that were without; however, the gap in home access is still apparent. In fact, a government report indicates that 99% of schools have access to the Internet as of 2002 and that 92% of individual classrooms have access (, 2002;

A report (PDF) out of England reveals that even though we have kids now growing up in the "Google generation" -- people born after 1993 who have grown up only knowing a world that is connected -- are not any more technology literate online than previous generations. These individuals are more technology savvy in that they can use Facebook, Twitter and many other social networking sites, but they not better at using a search engine to find valid and reliable information nor do they demonstrate that they know how to use good search terms and phrases. Additionally, the study notes that Google generation is learning how to multitask in meaningful ways, which is to be expected somewhat. But the study also notes that these students are good at cut-and-pasting information and this can lead to more plagiarism; not more learning. So, even kids who are on the side of the digital divide with more technology are still not adequately learning how to benefit greatly from this extra exposure and access.

Classroom teachers may not be able to overcome the digital divide alone, but they should be cognizant of the types of homework given that require a computer or Internet access. One strategy is to allow classroom time for work that requires access to the Internet and to then give a different assignment for homework. Teachers can also work to ensure that students who are not getting practice with technology at home are not being neglected at schools as well. Teachers can help students make great strides in learning and using new technologies if the teacher is willing to use and encourage the use of new technologies in the curriculum.

If interested in trying to bridge the digital divide in a community, the government provides a toolkit for teachers that can help to achieve this goal. This site is


Computer security goes far beyond ensuring that computers are not stolen. Computers also have to be protected from vandalism, computer viruses, and from being accessed by people who are not authorized to access them.

All technology in schools needs to be protected from theft. The high cost of new technologies makes it especially lucrative to thieves. Many schools still use computer labs where many computers are available for classroom use. These rooms should have extra security to help protect the machines.

However, many schools also have computers in various classrooms as well. As a teacher, you will be responsible for the technology in your room, and you should take steps to ensure that your computers are kept safe from theft.

Perhaps more costly than thievery are the cost due to vandalism. Vandalism occurs when computers are left unsupervised. Students can vandalize intentionally (sticking a pencil or pen in the CD-ROM slot) or unintentionally (spilling a pop on the keyboard). The best strategy for preventing vandalism is to not leave students alone with computers. Posting rules for using computers is another strategy that can help (see Figure B). These rules can act as a reminder to students that they are expected to treat the machines with care.

Computer Lab Rules

Students are responsible for using equipment in a professional manner and in accordance with the Acceptable Use Policy.

Labs & Equipment

  1. Absolutely NO drinking or eating in the computer labs.
  2. Report all system problems to the teacher, computer lab assistant, or coordinator on duty. Do NOT attempt to repair or tamper with equipment.
  3. Do NOT remove, rearrange, disconnect, or deface any equipment.

Figure B Sample Portion of Lab Rules

While theft and vandalism are easily preventable by locking away equipment and supervising it when in use, there is another security threat that is not as overt. Some people choose to do harm to other computers by hacking into them or by sending special computer programs designed to wreak havoc, such as a computer virus.


Legal issues related to technology in education can be the most costly to ignore. Copyright violations can cost schools thousands of dollars. Teachers can also be found guilty of copyright violations, so this is not a topic to take lightly. Fortunately, fair-use guidelines do provide educators with some exceptions and minor adjustments to the copyright laws, though care should be taken to understand the fair-use guidelines to avoid any infractions of the laws. Copyright issues also apply to software, and most software publishers provide various licenses to save schools money when buying their products. Rarely do End-User-License- Agreements give an individual permission to install software on more than one or two computers, so teachers and individuals should always read the End-User-License-Agreement that accompanies their software.

Ethical issues pertain to plagiarism and privacy. The Internet and other new technologies provide the means for students to cheat and plagiarize. Teachers can employ strategies to help stop plagiarism, but these methods require the teacher to remain diligent in fighting this kind of cheating. Teachers also have the responsibility of protecting student identities while online and when posting student work to a school website. No student should ever be identified by name or photo unless parents have agreed to allow this, which is typically in the form of an Acceptable Use Policy.

The digital divide is probably the most glaring social issue related to technology in the schools. There are two kinds of divides that teachers deal with in a typical classroom: 1) the gap between those students who have access to computers at home and those students who do not, and 2) the gap between those students who have high speed access to the Internet, those students who have slower (dial-up) access, and those students who do not have any access to the Internet.

Finally, numerous other technology-related issues exist, from computer security to e-mail spam. You can work in your school and district to help ensure that current issues do not become problematic. Developing rules and policies and being aware of various issues are some steps you can take to help ensure a thriving educational environment that takes advantage of current technologies.


Copyright: A term used to describe the protections given to authors, musicians, artists, and others who create products from their original work.

Digital divide: The gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This gap can also represent the gap between those who have access to a broadband Internet connection versus those with dial-up or without any Internet connectivity.

Fair use: Some individuals, including teachers, can commit minor violations of the copyright laws if they are doing so for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Software license: When individuals and/or schools purchase software, the software is not actually owned by the end user; rather, this end user is being granted a license to use the software according to the End-User-License-Agreement.

Spam: A term given to unsolicited e-mails that are typically junk mail trying tosell some product.



Teaching Copyright to Students

The United States Copyright Office

The Copyright Clearance Center. This is where you can go to get permission to reproduce copyrighted works.


The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

Teacher’s resource for privacy issues


Plagiarism resource

Digital Divide

The National Center for Education Statistics. You can search for the current data about technology in schools and related demographics.

Computers for Learning government website

PBS series on the digital divide with teacher brochures and resources

Acceptable Use Policies

Acceptable Use Policies


British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee (2008). Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future. PDF download:

Horrigan, J. B. (2006). Home Broadband Adoption 2006. Pew Internet and American Life Project:

Kleiner, A. & Lewis, L. (2003). “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994–2002.” National Center for Education Statistics.

Toolkit for bridging the digital divide in your community. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology.

U.S. Copyright Office. (particularly circular 21, “Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.”