Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Future proofing our Web 2 students

ERO is only a few days away so I am still mulling over the internet policies that we have in place. I appreciate the contributions from Myles, Suzie, Allanah, Stephanie, Luke and Debbie to my thinking from my last post. I am completely in agreement with those who pointed out that our students' greatest threat to online safety comes from those who they know, and that the 'stranger danger' predator kind of threat is the least likely, despite what some adults and media persist in promoting. I have seen first hand the damage teenagers can inflict on each other during 'Bebo Wars' and one doesn't need to go further than some of the issues raised in Growing up Online to realise that some of the greatest dangers online to our students come from themselves and their peers.
So it is this kind of social danger that is at the forefront of my mind as I continue to ponder how schools are really placed to provide safety for our students online.
One of the things I have been searching for is how schools are responding to questions about future-proofing the safety of their students - and I haven't found any examples of policies relating to this. You may think that it is sufficient to be responsible for their current safety without worrying about the future! Yet I see teachers across the globe happily posting photos, podcasts and videos of their students online, secure in that they are following their school's policies and have parent permission for this. I am sure that, like my school, they have gained parent permission and have procedures in place to ensure they are acting responsibly.
What I am wondering is, what happens to these images/videos/etc in the future? When the student graduates from the class, or the teacher leaves the school, or in 10 years time....? Are the abandoned blogs still open for comment? Are the videos (and their comments) on YouTube still being monitored? Are those Flickr photos still able to be linked to? What happens when a 16 year old student no longer thinks the stuff her teacher allowed to be posted when she was 9 is cute anymore, but it is still online, and is now being downloaded or linked to by peers in an unkind way. Who do you appeal to to take it down? Who holds the passwords to these online spaces that teachers in 2009 thought were such wonderful ways to engage students in 21st century learning?

Are you and your schools talking about this? What have you decided to do to future proof your students' Web 2 experience? Who holds the passwords to the accounts where other peoples' kids are being published online? What happens when teachers leave the school or change classes? The answer is simple for those of you who work in schools which either don't allow publishing students online OR who do it inside a passworded, and protected from the public, 'walled garden'.

I would be very interested in hearing how those of you who are currently publishing student material out there in the world wide web are future-proofing those 'time capsules' you are happily publishing today?


  1. I have a few more thoughts regarding what you're thinking about.

    Firstly, most of the problems that teenagers (and kids, and adults) face online are problems that exist offline already. Bullying is a great example -- so is inappropriate sexual behaviour, for that matter. What I usually recommend is to find solutions to address the issues globally, independantly of the online/offline component.

    This leads us to the second point: most problems are not solved by policies. I was interviewed recently by the Swiss press because somebody had come up with a great idea to solve all the online problems our teenagers were facing: a chart of conduct! There have been ideas like this in the blogging world (to try to fight against abusive behaviour online), but they just fail. One of the reasons they fail is that the online world, as a medium, invites some amount of transgression (just like it invites some amount of going beyond your limits -- flip side of the coin).

    Thirdly, what about future-proofing? I agree it's important to think about what happens to what we put online. It's particularly important when there is interactivity (your point about monitoring comments, etc.)

    However, one point I think we should not worry too much about is "will they still be happy to see that stuff online in 10 years". Let's try the time-tested method of finding an "offline" parallel situation: baby photos. It's worth what it's worth, but today, everybody finds it normal to have baby and childhood photos available for family and friends in photo albums. I can imagine a time when this very idea could have made people react in the same way as we react today to the idea of having one's school years documented online. It will become normal. And as I read very long ago (I think it was on Anil Dash's blog), we will learn forgiveness: everybody has done silly things in their teen years, and a few years from now, the fact there are traces of these not-so-wise moments online will not be a big deal.

    This doesn't prevent me, however, from strongly warning students and kids against posting everything and anything online: "The web is a public space. Even facebook is more public than you imagine. Putting something online is like making a big poster of it and plastering it all over town and school. Before you put something online, ask yourself: would I be comfortable if my parents saw it? my teachers? my grandparents? the people I talk about? the police? my neighbours?"

    I know I'm not really giving you the answers you're asking for, but I hope this contributes to your thinking!

  2. Not an answer to your question as such, but a thought that crossed my mind. Would parents give consent the way they do now if they were made aware that it could still be online & unmoderated years from now?

    With primary school children their parents consent to publish their work and images is sought - but what about the kids themselves? Do they have a choice? Should they? At what age do we decide that they are old enough to have a say?

    I'm afraid I've come up with more questions rather than answers. To be honest you've raised some interesting points that I hadn't thought of previously. I'm not sure that there is a ready answer. I do think that these are probably ideas that most schools & teachers haven't considered.


  3. @Stephanie Booth, I agree that problems like this are going to occur anyway, online or not. But I do think that there is so much more scale involved and loss of control. Blushing as a teenager over a baby photo at a family event in front of aunts and uncles is one thing, but when the audience becomes limitless, and the technology allows the image to be changed and commented on, and these comments don't disappear into the ether but hang around for ever - then I think it's another thing altogether.

    I think teaching kids awareness of this is one of the keys, as is educating parents about the possible consequences of putting all their summer holiday photos on flickr, for example. That said, is it our role to educate parents about this? Hmmm...

  4. @Craig I agree that this has little in common with the baby photos. The baby photos relate more to Web1.0 technology eg when teachers post student photos on the school website. There is nowhere to comment. It is not the original object(photo) that raises these questions - it is the ability to comment on it, and even alter, that can potentially cause the grief.
    One teacher educating their own class is fantastic. But I have sat in ICT conferences where rooms of teachers have been shown 'how to start a blog' and off they have charged with no discussion around the ethics we are discussing here.
    @Kirsten This brings me to your question about are we really informing parents? Well, if we are not having these kinds of conversations in our staffrooms, then I suspect we are certainly not raising these issues about the future with the parents!
    As @Stephanie referred to in an earlier post, it seems that too many parents are more concerned with the unlikely'stranger-danger'when they come to school to discuss online issues. So what teacher would wave another red rag under their noses :)
    Stephanie your timely reminder about the online issues reflecting offline pre-existing problems is very helpful and something we can and should deal with now. But what about the future? Potentially, if we leave student images online into the future, when the teacher who posted it is long gone (with the passwords), the parent is no longer connected to the new peer group the student(now a teenager)is being bullied by, we are stuck in NZ and the site is owned by a huge corporation on the other side of the world....
    Maybe this will never happen to anyone we know, but I believe it is our responsibility as teachers, working with other people's kids, to have some practical strategies in place as well as the 'we-must-educate-them' mantra!

  5. I am following these discussions with a great deal of interest. We are currently reviewing our policies and are talking about these very issues within our eLearning Think Tank.
    As we use sites like Flickr and TeacherTube with increasing regualarity it is almost as though they are simply an extension of our school's website. But it goes much deeper as you have recognised. Our policies and permission forms need to reflect this and in a lot of cases the parents need to be educated about the possible implications for their families.
    I look forward to future posts!
    BTW...ERO are currently visiting us and so far no mention or recognition of our existing internet/cybersafety policies and procedures. I think perhaps that this discussion is a step ahead of them but is certainly future proofing your school and the students.

  6. This link just came in from Dean Shareski's blog, an article which has some interesting research on the nature and profile of internet predators.

    It claims that the proportion of minors (aged 12-17) on the internet increased from 73% to 93% between 2000 and 2006, and that the proportion of young adult offenders aged 18-25 rose from 23 to 40% of arrests.

    They suggest that "it seems possible that the Internet, and in particular the advent of social networking, has simply increased the prevalence of social contacts between teens and college-age adults, who may in turn be more likely to think of each other as peers, even when the law does not."

    Interesting. Another quote which relates to our discussion here,

    "while parents often worry that pedophiles will use photographs or other personal information on such sites to target kids for stalking or abduction, the authors found no evidence of that occurring. Indeed, all stalking cases the authors discovered involved adults persisting in contacting a minor after the end of (illicit but consensual) face-to-face relationships."

    The article concludes,
    "Still, the overarching finding is that neither the Internet nor social networking sites pose unusual dangers for minors. As has always been the case, the underaged are most likely to be the victims of sex crimes perpetrated by acquaintances and family members, even if such cases are seldom featured on To Catch a Predator."

    It nevertheless requires us to do all that we can to educate our learners (and their families) about being safe online.

  7. @Nick I identify with your "it is almost as though they are simply an extension of our school's website" comment about the Web2 spaces we publish students on. And that is fantastic in a way - we have come a long way if our teachers are understanding the internet like this, particularly the power of hyperlinking and connectedness. A lot has been said here about educating students and parents (@Craig, thanks for linking to that article), but I also think that what you are refering to is a common misunderstanding by some teachers about the difference between the Read Only Web and Web 2. So we need to be educating teachers that when they publish students in Web 2 spaces they need to take responsibility for the ongoing emotional and social safety of students surrounding the content they have published! I agree that policies and permission forms that parents sign are not addressing the implications of what they are agreeing to.
    Last week when a group of students and I had finished a lengthy presentation to ERO about how eLearning impacted the way they learn, apparently after we left the room one of the first questions they asked the 'friend-of-the-school' was 'what's the difference between the internet and a blog!" There is a lot of education still to be done...

  8. Dorothy, This was certainly an interesting post and raised questions that I have often pondered for our school - after e-portfolios, what happens next? Are they online forever with tags and links? I look forward to chatting with you in person when I visit your school on the Apple Bus Tour at the beginning of Term 2.

  9. Sorry Dorothy, entered wrong URL!

  10. @Regan Glad to hear it is giving someone else pause to think... ePortfolios are a great example, although thy tend to be passworded more than blogs don't they? I guess if they have efficient meta data attached they will still be found through search engines though. Still haven't heard that anyone is explaining this to parents ;)