Is openness and sharing in our schools a good thing?

This week during EC&I 830, two teams debated the statement

Openness and sharing in our schools is unfair to our kids

Initially, I fully disagreed with the statement because I think that it is openness and sharing that makes this era of education exciting and unique. Through Twitter, blogs and Youtube, I have been able to connect with parents and students and share what goes on in the classroom. As expressed by Team Disagree, sharing promotes connectivity and is the reality of today’s childhood experience. We have all this cool technology nowadays, so why wouldn’t we use it?

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This is the point when I begin to realize that maybe technology and sharing in the classroom is not always so great. Team Agree explained in their opening statement that sharing in schools is not always negative.  But then they asked the question, “Are we being ethically fair and responsible with the amount of sharing?”

This question gives educators a chance to reflect on how we ask for parent/guardian permission to post photos of their children on the Internet. One of the suggested articles states,

“The challenge for schools is to balance their (and parents’) desire to publicize the great things that are happening in their organizations with their responsibilities to protect children and satisfy parental concerts about student privacy and safety”.

At my school (and schools in my division), a ‘media release’ form goes home at the beginning of the year that asks parents/guardians for permission to distribute photos, video, use a variety of social media platforms, etc.  My school has created a culture of sharing and celebrating student successes through social media, and we are very aware of which students can or cannot be included. In my role, I teach every student in the entire school, so I very quickly figured out which students I can include in my photos and videos at the beginning of the year. In past years I have a tried to use a blog to share what is going on in the Arts Ed classroom, but I have found that Twitter is a lot easier for quick sharing AND has the bonus of engaging with families and other educators.

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But, Team Agree then made me realize that when I post images on Twitter of students and student work, I am basing my decision on whether or not a media release form has been signed by the parent/guardian.  I rarely ask the student if I can post their image on my Twitter account – a discussion of permission usually only takes place when an older student expresses that they do not want their photo taken or posted anywhere. Upon reflection, I feel like I am doing a disservice to my students by not explaining the rationale for a post or including the students in the decision. I didn’t even think about the fact that these students will inherit a digital footprint that they had no part in creating.

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When did the sharing culture shift to feeling like we have the right to post any picture on social media simply because it was a photo taken by the poster? In the early days of social media, I remember asking my sister if I could post certain images of my nieces and nephews, but now it isn’t even a conversation. A BBC poll showed that 70% of adults believe it is not okay to post photos of anyone else, including children, without permission, and 56% of parents avoid ever posting images online.  I think that if were to take this same poll, I would agree with these statements. But in reality, my practices do not reflect my opinion.

So, something needs to change. A good piece of advice by a spokeswoman for the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) urges parents to consider the fact that “each time a photo or video is uploaded, it creates a digital footprint of a child which can follow them into adult life”. 

There is a lot of good advice in this suggested article  like parents should advocate digital consent and ownership so they can help teach their children to value it as well. Another campaign is the #talkb4sharing movement which asks parents to talk to their children before posting their images online. While this is directed towards parents, educators could use similar practices to encourage consent among their students.

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(As a side note, Team Agree really struck a nerve when they discussed the fact that any innocent photo could be used by Internet predators. In fact, 50% of images posted on child pedophile sites were sourced from parent social media profiles. Shudder)

Where do we go from here? The first step is to think before we share.

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Team Disagree helped calm my mind a bit and helped me to remember my original opinion that I think openness and sharing among our students is a good thing. In one of the suggested journal articles, the benefits of social media in education are explored and how it can be used to promote student engagement. Certain web-based applications can simplify the communication among students, between student and teacher and with parent and teacher. One could also note the negatives of this easy communication, especially with parent-teacher communication.  Boundaries are necessary so the ability to be in constant communication is not abused.

An exciting point about social media in education is that is fosters collaboration and allows students to work together to achieve a common goal. Recently, my students participated in an activist art project with students in both RPS and RCS school divisions. We connected on Twitter using the hashtag, #YQRActivistArt as an outlet to share our work. While it was not used by a lot of schools, the hope was that it would be used to engage our students and see what other groups in the city were doing to create socially aware art projects.  Collaborative learning is meaningful for students and social media is one way to let students share and express their ideas.

Finally, Team Disagree helped me realize that, yes we need to be aware of what we post about our students online, but we have an opportunity to help our students build and keep a positive digital identity 

The EdTek White Paper explains that educators are very important in building students’ understanding about how technology can impact personal and future professional lives. Educators have a responsibility to teach our students how to create habits that will lead to a positive online identity. The article uses ISTE standards to provide recommendations and questions to help students:

  1. What info am I sharing?
  2. How secure is it?**
  3. Whom am I sharing it with?
  4. What am I leaving behind?
  5. What are my rights?

**Security online is expressed using the STEP method:

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Our role as educators is to give students the skills they need to protect themselves online and create a positive digital footprint.

Let me reflect on the debate statement again:

Openness and sharing in our schools is unfair to our kids

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I feel like the debate this week took me on an emotional roller coaster. First I disagreed with the statement, then Team Agree made me fear and question my teaching practices. Am I bad educator for not asking my students their permission to post photos? And what about the gross idea that pedophiles could be taking these images? But then Team Disagree calmed my nerves a bit and reminded me that openness and sharing in our schools promotes engagement and collaboration.  As a responsible educator, it is my job to inform and teach students ways to create a positive digital footprint and to help students understand consent and permission to post photos and work online.  I can do this by modelling good online behaviour and discussing sharing online with my students. I still have a lot of work to do in these areas and intend to implement some of the good sharing practices shared by both teams.

 

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

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8 thoughts on “Is openness and sharing in our schools a good thing?

  1. msreedvp says:

    Great post, Catherine! Although I was on Team Disagree this week, I actually totally agree with your thoughts. I think that we, as educators, need to embrace sharing through technology in this day and age. However, like everything we do, it needs to be done ethically, and with a conscious effort to balance advancement with safety.
    Further than that, I think many of us would agree with your “oops” comment, about posting for students that have media release without their permission. Of course, we always did it with good intention. However, the empowerment of students giving their own permission and maintaining ownership over their own digital footprint and online image is essential.
    Yesterday, my students walked to the Legislature to rally for more youth mental health funding. While I had media releases for all the students, I confirmed multiple times with the students at several junctures whether I had permission to take their pictures and post to social media. Because this activity had possible future policy ramifications for my students, I wanted to make sure that they were personally good with my social media posting and also the stories that were to appear in the newspaper and television. One student (you know… THAT guy) said “no” to my request. I replied that I respected that decision and would not include him in the pictures. He quickly reneged on his comment though, and wanted to be included. I think he was surprised that I was giving him ownership over the decision.
    I like your comment where you said that, “As a responsible educator, it is my job to inform and teach students ways to create a positive digital footprint and to help students understand consent and permission to post photos and work online. I can do this by modelling good online behaviour and discussing sharing online with my students.” This approach to technology and posting is evolving for us all and with conscientious reflection about what and how we share.
    Thanks for the great reflections!
    S

    Liked by 1 person

    1. catherineready says:

      Thank you for your comments! I think one thing educators need to be aware of is that the education landscape is continually changing. So we need to adapt and be current, especially with technology and social media. Even privacy agreements with certain apps continue to change, so it is a good reminder that our work is never done. I think that if we give our students the opportunity to feel empowered (just like you did during your rally), they will be more aware about the implications of posting online. That is one way we can model for our students about how to create a positive digital footprint. Like you said, embrace these changes but balance it with safety 👍🏻

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe McGurran says:

    Hey Catherine! Well done with this post!
    I was on the agree team myself this week. Funny thing is, as I mentioned in my own blog post, I was building an argument against my own preconceptions. I came into this topic with a mind that has been shifting over the course of a few Edtech courses, and a very deliberate attempt to alter my practice.

    I do, now, see and live the extremely powerful benefits of intentional use of social media platforms, like Seesaw. This debate has helped me to see how far I have actually come, and I had a moment much like yours: “I didn’t even think about the fact that these students will inherit a digital footprint that they had no part in creating.”

    The scary facts that my team slapped together are the kinds of facts that used to keep me away from social media entirely (at a personal level, much less using it as a tool for educational purposes). Yet here I am, a year later, embracing social media in some learning contexts. The facts haven’t changed, but I guess I have.

    This was a useful moment of pause for me to remember the potential risks out there. You have it right in the final leg of your post where you cite strategies for responsible use and education. We can’t live in cave, but we also can’t be the ones to unintentionally put students’ well-being at risk by not doing our part in shaping responsible digital citizens.

    Thanks Catherine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. catherineready says:

      Thanks for your comments, Joe! It’s interesting how our practices evolve over time with social media use in schools (and personally). This week was a good reminder that I shouldn’t be too relaxed about what I am posting and sharing. It doesn’t mean stopping entirely, just that I need to reevaluate why I am posting in the first place. I agree that for things to change, I will need to make a deliberate attempt to adjust how I share and seek student permission for posting online.

      Like

  3. wileywonders says:

    I think the fact that these debates make us reflect on our own beliefs is what makes them so great. You make a great point about posting based on media release forms and not always asking the student first. I think if we use the Stop, Think, Empathise, Post method it can help us better evaluate whether we should post or not. I don’t often ask students either. Typically I tell them when I am posting before taking pictures and if I am not sure about a photo I try to ask the student first. Most don’t mind, but if they do we just retake the photo or not use it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. catherineready says:

      I think it is just a matter of getting into the habit of asking first. This will take a little bit of time to consistently implement, but the STEP method is an easy way to remember!

      Like

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