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?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Keeping our students safe online?

"Are we really responsible for keeping our students safe online?" is the title I was after but it seemed too long for a blog post!
In the last couple of weeks I have been doing a bit more thinking about keeping students safe online and consequently wondering about the meaning of the safety nets we have put in place. I think that safety net policies were great back in the day when most things we were keeping our kids safe from were made of solid materials, but the online environment is fluid and there is no way that schools should really be held responsible for students' safety. The safety nets we put in place have gaping holes.

It is not just the imminent arrival of the Education Review Office (ERO) to the school that has me looking again at the school policies relating to cybersafety - though with eLearning as one of the areas they will be reviewing it probably is a smart idea. It was the 9.05 minutes of fame on TV One that really got me started. It reminded me that schools are obliged to have rigourous safety policies in place to protect our students identity online, but there are at least two other groups who seem to live on a plane above us and can do anything they like; the traditional mass media and the paparazzi media.
Our school policies include all the basics advised by the Netsafe group when we publish online or "celebrate children’s achievement" as they phrase it. With parent permission we publish first names only, tasteful photos, no addresses, no phone numbers etc. However in our experience with the mass media they are able to completely ignore this. National television, The NZ Herald and Metro magazine are examples which come to mind where the reporters involved have blithely waved away our offers of obtaining parent permission as 'we don't need it'. These same media are also comfortable publishing students full names. Incase any of you are forgetting, these media publications end up online as clicking any of the links above will confirm.
At the other end of the spectrum we have paparazzi publishings of our students online (and I am aware I am using the term loosely here). We are all aware of issues surrounding students publishing images and movies of each other on Bebo, but we also encounter parents publishing images of other people's children in spaces like YouTube, as well as Bebo, Facebook, Flickr etc. in seemingly harmless contexts. Parents with cameras at sports events, culture events, school productions or even school assemblies all contribute to this paparazzi media who upload whatever they feel like and attach as much information as they choose to the images - about other people's children as well as their own.
Another group of paparazzi publishers I have become aware of recently are the teachers who pass through our school in groups receiving professional development. As part of their visits we usually invite them into the classrooms to observe teachers and students carrying out whatever it is they have been receiving PD on. Often these visitors are slinging cameras and we presumed they were capturing images to jog their memories when they got back to their own schools and were trying to synthesise what they had been learning. Over the last six months (we may be slow observers here) our Google alerts have made us aware that some of these educators are posting our students and teachers images online - without alerting us or obtaining consent - in spaces as diverse as slideshares, teachertube, YouTube, Flickr etc.

Hence I am beginning to feel that our school online safety net in the middle is very porous and that our approach is at times pretty ineffectual.
Fortunately we are a primary school so we seldom have problems with our own students acting as paparazzi media as can happen in schools with older students.
I would be very interested in hearing thoughts from anyone else who has been pondering this. And how effective would you say that your student cybersafety is to ERO in 3 weeks time?

Some of our students photographed these visitors looking at them! These are probably not ones who published photos of our students online!