Uncovering Privilege in Online Education

April 21, 2016
privilege_pic.fw

“Tethered.” A. Worner, 2014. CC-BY,SA https://flic.kr/p/ow/Roub

(Download my full paper, “Uncovering Privilege in Online Education: Applying McIntosh’s Lens” here.)

This past semester I was privileged (pun intended) to audit Soci 470, a course in educational sociology given by my colleague, Dr. Jerry Hinbest, in the Sociology Department at Vancouver Island University (VIU). While proximity made the course accessible for me (Jerry’s office and classroom are one floor up from me), the course also made me further question the ‘accessibility’ of online education for students in general.

People who have taken OLTD 506  with me in VIU Education Department’s  Online Learning and Teaching Diploma Program over the past 3 years are aware of my equity concerns when teaching about social media use in education. Equity and access are strong threads in the technology integration workshops I run for our VIU Ed pre-service and graduate students. They are also evident in my Twitter feed (@jhengstler). Yet, it was Jerry’s course, the readings and interactions with his undergraduate students that gave me the tools and time to reflect on my position in greater detail. The paper I’ve posted began as a paper and presentation submitted for Soci 470. In this version of the work, I’ve attempted to refine my thoughts for a more general audience. ( I also use Chicago vs. APA citation style, to allow for a less “academic” reading experience. To someone so programmed in APA, this was a bit of a challenge.)

Below are the “5 Key Assumptions of Privilege in Online Education” that I uncovered in my reflection on the topic. If you want to know more about them in detail, or how these issues could be addressed, please download the full paper here: “Uncovering Privilege in Online Education: Applying McIntosh’s Lens”.  It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0, so you may freely share it and use it under those provisions.

The 5 Key Assumptions of Privilege in Online Education

  • Assumption 1: Everyone Has Internet Access.
  • Assumption 2: Public Schools Level the Playing Field for Online Education.
  • Assumption 3: Online Courses (Like MOOCs) Democratize Education, Especially in Post-Secondary Education.
  • Assumption 4: Online Education is Accessible for Everyone.
  • Assumption 5: You’re Free from Discrimination in Online Education.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the topic.


There’s Regulations & Then There’s Best Practices

February 3, 2016
Image of hand extended holding a light bulb with text: Pondering Best Practices

Image adapted from niekverlaan, 2014, lamp-432247_640.jpg, CC0, https://pixabay.com/en/users/niekverlaan-80788/

(BTW, the ex-high school English teacher in me is making me say: I know, strictly speaking that title is not grammatically correct, but it sounded better. 🙂 )

In this blog, I’ve previously delved (in some detail here) into the nature of BC educators’ compliance (or lack thereof) with BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA, or as some people may remember it, FOIPPA) . I have also mentioned that practically speaking, I don’t think we’ll reach “full compliance” on the Compliance Continuum due to the rate of technological change and our ability to keep pace (access to resources, time, and professional development aside, though clearly important factors 😦 ). What I haven’t really differentiated between is what might be considered “strict compliance” (following the letter of the law) and best practices from an educational perspective with regard to privacy legislation and the use of web-based tools by BC educators. I believe technology savvy educators should reach higher than strict compliance to address students’ & educators’ best interests. In honour of Safer Internet Day 2016’s (2/9/16) theme, “Play Your Part For a Better Internet”, I’m going to share some personal examples of this difference. It’s my way to ‘get involved, inspire, and empower’. I encourage you to share something in honour this year’s Safer Internet Day theme too!

When working with a school staff or faculty, there is what I’ll call a “strict compliance necessity” to make sure that people know their legal obligations like “knowledge, notice, informed consent” when using cloud computing or social media tools–especially those with data stored or accessed outside Canada, or those where the location of data storage is unknown; however, knowledge of such strict compliance requirements is information without context. In my opinion, de-contextualized knowledge doesn’t stick very well–and prevents people understanding why things are the way they are and what makes the specifics important in a particular context. It’s like learning the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem by heart (i.e. a² + b² =c²) without understanding the context of a right triangle. In fact, during school math, I had difficulty with that entire formula until I finally realized that it dealt strictly with right triangles and always referred to the relationship of 2 sides of a triangle to its hypotenuse: while the sides might change, the hypotenuse never did. (A little math lesson, too? 🙂 ) This is one of the reasons I now like to give some sense of the historical context that ‘grew’ FIPPA, its amendments & regulations when I present the topic to BC educators–not only the global context but also regional, as pertains to our particular province. Ensuring educators have some understanding of the context in which FIPPA legislation was written, has been amended, etc., is a best practice.

(Note: If you’re interested in approaches to privacy legislation, you should be following the current developments in the European Union since the “Safe Harbor Ruling” was struck down in 10/15. If you are following the current EU situation, and are familiar with the BC context, there are clear parallels between  the circumstances under which the EU’s new privacy legislation is unfolding and BC’s current FIPPA laws and regulations; BC was just a bit earlier.)

Now for an in-the-field example of strict compliance necessity vs. best practice with students… In strict compliance with FIPPA and FIPPA Regulations, nowhere does it direct educators to specifically provide students (and their parents/guardians where applicable) with the steps to delete accounts after a class or course–though Section 11 of the FIPPA Regulations speaks to providing “the date on which the consent is effective and, if applicable, the date on which the consent expires” (See BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Regulation, Section 11, http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/155_2012 ). It does, however, fit under the legally interpreted aspects of “knowledge” and “notice” for mitigating risks that are critical to the concept of “informed consent”. It is also a practice I encourage my graduate students to use in my OLTD 506  course (#OLTD506) here at VIU (#VIUEd).  When a course/class using a specific online tool comes to an end, providing support documentation or tutorials that walk students through the deletion of accounts or data–as is reasonably and practically possible–would be a best practice not only in British Columbia, but anywhere. In fact, teaching students how to manage the lifecycle of their accounts and associated services/products over time teaches good digital hygiene necessary for a digitally literate citizenry.

If you’re wondering what such a document might look like, here is an example I’ve drafted for our VIU Faculty of Education: Controlling the Lifecycle of Google Accounts_shared .

NOTE BENE: A ‘how to delete an account or data’ document such as this does not replace  the documentation required for obtaining informed student consent to use tools like Google Accounts & YouTube in a BC school under FIPPA. In our case, consent documentation was provided separately along with activity alternatives for students. Controlling the Lifecycle of Google Accounts_shared is provided to students as a supplement to consent documentation.

This document was designed for use with university students in classes where the use of Google and YouTube was encouraged. If you created a similar document, you would need to tailor your content to

  • the specific tool(s) you are using & their processes for deletion/ account closure
  • the level of your audience(s) (i.e. for students and caregivers)
  • your specific school policies, and/or regional laws/regulations

and the document should include the names & contacts for the relevant individuals who can lend support.

Let me know what you think of this post & shared document. I hope it inspires you to do your own thing to “Play Your Part For a Better Internet” on Safer Internet Day 2016.

If you would like to adapt this form for your own use, just contact me & I’m happy to extend permission.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t use CC licensing here, the research I’ve seen shows that “attribution” is rarely given as requested. You’ll see I gave attribution above to the CC0 image I used even though it wasn’t strictly necessary; it’s a thanks to the author from me. If you know of research showing the statistics have changed, share it with me and I’ll be happy to revisit my licensing commitments. 🙂 )


A K-12 Primer for British Columbia Teachers Posting Students’ Work Online

May 17, 2013

cover_capture_sm.fw  There is little doubt in my mind that web 2.0, social media, and cloud computing offer powerful vehicles for teaching and learning—but only if educators use them responsibly, abide by the rules and regulations, and teach their students to do the same. According to lawyer, Pam Portal, “BC’s privacy laws are arguably the strongest in Canada” (Cooper, et al., 2011, “Privacy Guide for Faculty Using 3rd Party Web Technology (Social Media) in Public Post-Secondary Courses”,2). These laws and regulations protect the privacy rights of the individual in British Columbia, Canada. Our unique legal context sets the boundaries for what the K-12 should be doing online with student information, work, and data. If you’re not from British Columbia, or aren’t in touch with what’s happening here, consider us the “Europe” of privacy protection in North America. If you are an American teacher or a Canadian teacher anywhere but in British Columbia–you likely have more permissive regulations in the use of Web 2.0 tools–especially those that are housed in the cloud.

The institution where I work, Vancouver Island University (Nanaimo, BC, Canada), is in the vanguard of addressing privacy issues associated with use of cloud based tools at the post-secondary level in BC education. In 2011, VIU  published “Privacy Guide for Faculty Using 3rd Party Web Technology (Social Media) in Public Post-Secondary Courses” with BC Campus,  and our Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (under Director, Liesel Knaack) has been running numerous training sessions to raise faculty awareness of their obligations in use of cloud, Web 2.0, and social media technologies—especially with regard to students. As part of that effort, and in discussions with Liesel, I began to develop some resources to streamline how faculty in our Faculty of Education and other post-secondary instructors could meet the new requirements–items like forms to guide instructors, and an information backgrounder to share with students.  As BC K-12 educators got wind of what I was doing, I had individuals from BC K-12 schools–public and private, traditional and face-to-face–contacting me to see what knowledge, resources and guidance I could share. At that point I was solidly focused on developing resources I could use with my faculty, and I kept hoping that ‘someone else’ would take on that mantle and deal with providing specific K-12 resources. I happily provided what I had–but it was from the post-secondary perspective. When I shared content, I’d repeatedly ask the recipients to share back what they developed. Many of these individuals were dealing with these issues off the side of their K-12 desks—among many other responsibilities. I checked back with a few of them and their content development had gotten sidelined in one way or another.

Working in a Faculty of Education as I do, I am reminded that I am only a step away from the K-12 context. Our Education students are doing practica in BC K-12 schools–some of them with institutionally loaned equipment—and I need to support their responsible use of technology under current legislation. In September 2013, I will be teaching a course in social media in our new Online Learning and Teaching Diploma (OLTD) Program, and I will need resources to guide my students as educators in responsible use of social media in BC’s K-12 context. Knowing my interests, parents have approached me to describe incidents where students are using social media and cloud based resources in their local schools without any permission forms or information being sent home. One parent described Googling her child’s name only to find a Prezi with scanned family photos and information—yet the parent had never been approached for permission–much less had discussions or handouts on the activity and its potential privacy risks. I have heard numerous accounts of teachers doing great things with Google docs and their classes–using Facebook or Twitter, but when I pause to ask them whether they sent out and obtained written permission slips, I either meet a dead silence or am told, “Oh, our school media waiver covers that.” The likelihood that a school media waiver meets the key criteria set down in our BC law and regulations for ‘knowledge’, ‘notice’, and ‘informed consent’ with regard to these types of activities in these technological environments is slim.

So, last month, I decided that “someone” was going to be “me”. I’ve spent about a month drafting this document I call “A K-12 Primer for British Columbia Teachers Posting Students’ Work Online“.

This document was possible only with the support of these key individuals:

  • Liesel Knaack, Director, Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia
  • Rebecca Avery, e-Safety Officer, Kent County Council, United Kingdom
  • Mark Hawkes, e-Learning Coordinator, Learning Division, Ministry of Education, British Columbia
  • Dave Gregg, e-Learning Officer, Learning Division, Ministry of Education, British Columbia
  • Larry Kuehn, Director of Research and Technology, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
  • John Phipps, Field Experience Supervisor, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia

Consider this document Version 1.0. I hope you find it useful and that you feel moved to comment and share your insights for a future version. You are free to duplicate and share it according to the Creative Commons: Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike licensing.

Julia


Trying to Raise Techno-Responsible Kids: Story 1

April 10, 2013
Image

Digital Footprints Copyright 2013, Julia Hengstler
(Permission: image may be reused with attribution and a link to this page)

  I just read a piece where a parent was dumfounded by what kids post on Instagram. The author called for parents to check all their children’s Instagram accounts–those of their friends, etc. So many people get hung up on what people–including kids–are posting on Facebook, what they’re putting on Instagram, what they are putting here, there and everywhere, that they can’t see the forest for the trees. People are focusing on what users are doing with specific TOOLS. Kids–and adults–need general guidelines to help frame behaviours. Kids are literal—they grow into the ability to transfer knowledge and think abstractly. (That said, I know quite a few adults who are still pretty literal.) You give them a rule for one tool—and it’s just that, a rule for ONE tool. As adults, and for myself as an educator, I feel an obligation to think wider and deeper than the implications of behaviour with or in one tool. We, socially, and as individuals, need to take a step back from focusing on the tools and look at the behaviours we want to encourage. Some additional details may be needed for specific tools, but the bedrock needs to be a general guideline or value. Ultimately, I have no idea what tools my kids will be using in adulthood–so I need to try to prepare them in a way that deals with current technology and will accommodate future ones as well.

This is the first of what will likely be a few posts on what I actually do with my own kids when I’m wearing my tech-savvy parent hat. I hope it makes you think.

When My Kids Got Their iPods

The first thing I did before handing over the iPods was to tie them to my personal iTunes account. I consciously set it up so that I would manage and monitor their devices and approve any app purchases and installs. The boys were 6 and 8 at the time.  [I haven’t yet decided when I will let them do some downloading and managing on their own. I’m not there yet.]

I knew from all the social media training, research, writing that I do—images are powerful tools. That’s nothing new—“a picture says a thousand words”.  As soon as my kids got their first iPods with built-in cameras about a year and a half ago, we had a couple cardinal rules from the very beginning:

  1. no pictures of naked bodies or naked body parts EVER;
  2. no pictures of any other kid without permission from the kid’s parents.

These were rules writ LARGE.  I explained that we don’t want people doing things with our images without our permission and that there were bad people out there who could use our pictures to do bad things.

I added another rule after the first week or two, because the boys were getting app recommendations from friends for first person shooter games, gang themed apps, etc:

3) we don’t download apps to do things electronically that we would have issues with in  real life.

Under this rule, I’ve allowed my boys to virtually kill dinosaurs to protect villages, and mow down zombies to protect the living—but no hurting virtual humans.

The boys had been SOO excited to get these ipods. In the first couple of weeks, my younger son absolutely bombarded me with requests to download this or that app. I couldn’t take it, so I designated every Friday as “App Day”. (Since then, the novelty has worn off and I just take the requests as they come.) About 3 weeks after my boys got the iPods in their hot little hands, we were commuting on the ferry to school and work. As we were waiting to disembark in the car, my older son asks me if I would download an app his friend had called Office Jerk. (We had a later incident with another app recommendation from the same friend–for a later post). Not liking the implications of the title, I asked my older son to explain to me a bit more about the game. My projections from the title weren’t far off. Basically, you virtually bully a character in a virtual office. When my older son finished his explanation, this is how our conversation went:

  • Me: “Isn’t that bullying?’
  • Older Son: “Yes.”
  • Me: “Is it OK to bully people in real life?’
  • OS: “But it’s not real! It’s just a game.”
  • Me: “What’s our rule?”
  • OS: “No apps for stuff we wouldn’t really do in real life. [Pause…..] So is it ok that Younger Son took a picture of his penis and used it as an avatar on the Star Wars game?”

I was dumfounded. “WHAT????” my inner voice screamed for about 3 real seconds.I do this stuff for a living, and here my kid was doing exactly what I thought was a HUGE techno no-no. What kind of tech savvy parent was I? [Let me just note here, that the Star Wars app in question was NOT networked or multiplayer and only functioned on the device itself. Thank heavens!]

  • Me: “Give me the iPod, YS. Right now! I want to see that.”
  • YS: “I already deleted it.”

He handed it over and the picture was gone. I kid you not—mere SECONDS  had elapsed—and  my youngest ( a fairly sharp laddie) knowing I was about to blow a gasket, had deleted it. As if that would mitigate his situation….

  • Me: “What rule did you break?”
  • YS: “The one about no picture of naked body parts.”

There was no hesitation in his response–so it was obvious to me that he knew and remembered this rule quite clearly.

  • Me: “What were you thinking?
  • YS: “I don’t know…”
  • Me: “That’s it. You are not getting your iPod back for 6 months. This is major.”

I could not believe that MY son could do this: I mean I train adults and students on technology use all the time. It’s my job–did I already say that? You’d be amazed by how many more times I was to say that to myself.  I was literally side-swiped. (Just realized the pun in there when reading for errors!)

So, within weeks of getting the iPod—a device he’d been pleading for for months, of hounding me for the latest and greatest apps in the first 3 weeks of ownership—my youngest found himself cut-off from the coveted device. By the time school and work had ended, and I was back home, I did relent somewhat. In discussion with my husband, I reduced the banishment to 3 months. For 3 months that iPod sat in plain sight on the highest kitchen cabinet where YS could see it daily and repeatedly. Periodically, my younger son would look at the iPod high on the kitchen cabinet and say to me:

  • YS: “It’s been 3 months, right?”
  • Me: “No. It’s been 2 weeks.”

A week later,

  • YS: “Friend X said that it’s been 3 months now. Do I get my iPod back today?”
  • Me: “Friend X can say whatever he likes, you have almost X more weeks to go.”

This little dialogue was a refrain in our house for quite a while—with the calendar check-ins dropping off until we got closer to the actual device return date.

From the day it happened, I spoke about this incident with my friends, parents of my kids’ friends, and colleagues.  Every adult in YS’s circle knew why he had lost his iPod and that he’d lost it for 3 WHOLE MONTHS! OMG! OS learned his lesson by proxy—and I think quite a few other kids did too. My friend, Kelly, said, “Do you mind if I use you as a cautionary tale?” A colleague, Sally McLean, was doing some professional development about the time that this took place. When I told her what happened, she asked if she could use my story during her session. I spoke about what I had done during a radio talk show. The host accused me of being a bit hard on my son.

I was hard enough to ensure that my son has the basic concepts that will help him deal with the major and far reaching issue of sexting when it comes up in his pre-teen & teen years. I have taught him that I take certain technology rules very seriously. I have taught him that images are powerful things and that images–especially those of children–require special care and handling. When the whole Amanda Todd  story arose, and I explained the course of events as I understood them, I asked my boys what Amanda might have done to have changed her story. Both boys promptly answered that she shouldn’t have shown her breasts on the video chat when the stranger asked her to.

I can happily say that we’ve not had any more explicit picture incidents in the last couple years. We’ve had about 2 issues with taking pictures of other kids—even friends—small potatoes in comparison with the first big rule situation we had. I’ll post about how I handled those another day. I’m happy to say that I have seen YS at school picnics asking parents if he could take a picture of a friend–and asking the friend too.

Hope this helps you frame some responsible device use for your kids and students! Let me know what you think or what you do to help guide responsible device use.


Digital Citizenship Tips for Families of Kids in Digital Environments

October 18, 2012

If you follow me on twitter @jhengstler, you may be aware that I have been fairly vocal about the Amanda Todd cyberbullying case. The case is a tragedy and my heart bleeds for Amanda and her family.

While this case has provided a rallying point for the issues of bullying, and cyberbullying, I have been working to widen the discussion to the notion of “digital citizenship” for BC schools. As a society, it seems much easier for us to identify inappropriate or unacceptable behavior, then to define good social norms (expected appropriate behaviors, etc.) for our use of technology. I believe that some kind of K-12 initiative around digital citizenship that defines core values and expected appropriate behaviors might be a good approach for schools to take to empower our society to deal productively and safely with technologies well into our future. It is clear that a discussion of cyberbullying, sexting and the like will need to be included, though exactly what “digital citizenship” might look like in our BC context is a matter for wider discussion (that I hope will happen soon). That said, I believe it needs to be strongly centered on our social values.

As with any issue that deals with values and how we behave, parents, guardians and families have a significant role to play. Below are some suggested digital citizenship tips and strategies that might help frame children’s use of technologies. These tips and strategies are adapted from my tweets on October 11, 2012 in response to a question posted to me by @LorraineJLola. 

Digital Citizenship Tips for Families of Kids in Digital Environments

1) Be clear on your family values—e.g. respect, tolerance, etc—discuss those with your child.

  • If you’re not sure where to start, look at some of the 8 universal values identified by the Institute for Global Ethics like love, truthfulness, fairness, respect, tolerance, responsibility, unity, freedom

2) Model what you want your children to do on or with technology. Show them through your use of technology the values and behaviors you expect.

  • Connect your behaviors to those values and speak to that connection.
  • You may have to get up to speed on a technology, but probably not your family values!

3) Teach that whatever we commit to digital environments is permanent & can/will be connected to us

  • There are no “do-overs” or “take-backs”—just damage control & taking responsibility.
  • No one is every truly anonymous–they share enough information that they can be tracked down.
  • Make sure what you do/say/post reflects well on you.

4) Teach that any information shared in “confidence” in a digital format is just a cut and paste away from being common knowledge for the world

  • If you want to share sensitive information with others, it may be best in face to face conversations.

5) Draft some rules for behavior and etiquette centered on your family values for how members of the family are expected to use technology in the house & out of it

  • Reinforce that the values & rules of behavior expected in face-to-face life still apply in ALL digital environments and with ALL technologies
  • Just because you can’t see a person you interact with, or know his/her real name, you are still responsible for dealing with them civilly and accountable for what you say & do

6) With smaller children (say pre K to grade 3?), have them interact on digital environments through you or while you directly supervise.

  • Discuss what they want to say, post, share before it’s done—when and how content or conduct is appropriate or not,when and how others’ posted content or conduct is appropriate or not.

7)  If you give younger kids access to their own technology, or time on their own with technology, create some type of approval system for accounts, app downloads, etc. where you talk about why kids are permitted or not permitted a particular one.

  • Don’t download apps or create accounts on systems that go against your basic family values.
  • Discuss how they violate your values and expectations.

8) If you allow children to connect with others online, start with people they actually know in the real world–people they might talk to face to face.

  • It’s easier to think of a person you connect with in the face to face environment as being “real” online–with feelings, thoughts, etc.
  • If there are issues that arise online with people they really “know” they could talk about the issue in person, you could contact the parent/guardian, etc.

9) If working with older kids, talk to them about what types of apps they are running, content they are posting online.

  • Have critical discussions about whether the way they are conducting themselves in these digital environments represents the values you expect.

10) Before cutting children “loose” in online ‘big people’ social networks with their own accounts, think about allowing them to use “fenced”  systems where memberships are restricted, you define who they connect with, and content is monitored–by the service and by you.

  • Have critical discussions about whether the way they are conducting themselves in these digital environments represents the values you expect.

9) Teach kids & yourself how to do screen captures from whatever technology you’re using should they ever need to capture “evidence” of an event.

  • You might want to capture a record of good conduct, behavior, community contribution for a child’s digital footprint, eportfolio, or school project.
  • You might want to capture a record of inappropriate behavior your child experienced–or committed–to discuss or protect.
  • NOTE: Adults must be very careful when evidence of sexting is involved—as adults collecting sexting evidence involving minor children could be identified as pedophiles. It has happened before to some school officials who were later acquitted. Contact the local police if you are made aware of evidence of sexting.

10)   Know your school’s policies for dealing with technology. 

  • What does their acceptable use policy look/sound like? Can you see your values in it?
  • Is there a code of etiquette or behavioral expectations? Does it resemble yours?
  • Is there clear language to deal with digital aggression–discipline, data collection, etc.?
  • If you feel the policies need revision (or creation!)—work with the school to draft new language–or locate people who can help.

11)   Know your children’s friends & cultivate their trust. Discuss your family values with them if they are visiting your house.

  • Your child’s friends might tell you things about your child—even if your own child won’t.

12)   Know that cyberbullying—digital aggression—is significantly different from any schoolyard bullying you might have experienced

  • It’s 24/7 & follows you everywhere. There is not walking away from it.
  • “Just turn it off” or “Just delete your account” is not a sufficient response.
  • People may believe that they are anonymous in digital environments and may conduct themselves in ways they never would face-to-face.

13)   Don’t be afraid to ask for support to educate yourself or keep your children safe

  • Educate yourself if you think you need to know more about a digital topic: many experts will reply to your emails or posts on their blogs.
  • If you think your child is at risk, involve police, child welfare, mental health professionals

That’s all I have for now. Anything else you would like to add?


Policy Alarm: Beware Collecting Sexting Evidence

September 26, 2011

Fire Alarm altered to read "Policy Alarm: Pull in Case of Sexting"This post is meant ring an alarm bell for all the teachers and administrators out there who might be in a position to collect evidence of sexting from students. But first a little background if you are new to this topic:

What is “sexting”?

Sexting is the practice of sending sexually related content through digital means. Most commonly, sexting involves the transmission of nude or partially nude pictures or videos. It can be over cellphones, through email, on social networking sites, etc. Increasingly, youth with digital tools are sharing this type of content without any thought to the ramifications. A recent research study conducted by MTV & AP found that:

  • about a quarter of all teens 14-17 years have engaged in sexting activity
  • girls are more likely to post nude photos of themselves
  • most share the pictures with significant others (boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.)
  • 29% share sexts with people they never met–only know through online contact
  • 61% of sexters say they have been pressured to do it at least once

Is “sexting” illegal?

Depends on the ages of the individuals involved and where they live. Basically, when it involves images of nude or partially nude children under the age of consent, it is likely covered under your local laws dealing with child pornography. This means that those found in possession of sexting evidence created/transmitted by minors will be treated under the local child pornography laws–e.g. if charged, be required to register as a sex offender, etc. Various US states and Canadian provinces are looking to change the relevant laws so that minors in possession of sexting content from other minors are not treated as severely as adults found in possession of the same.

Why should you care?

If at any point you are made aware of evidence of sexting, you will need to react in some manner. How you react may mean the difference between a future in education or in court. You need to be VERY careful how you handle that evidence–especially how it’s collected, how it is stored and WHERE it is stored. This is a discussion that most school boards and teachers’ associations should be having right now–if they haven’t already. Your district, your teachers’ association, your administrators’ association should be very clear regarding the legal framework you are working under with regard to sexting, collection of evidence of sexting, and transmission of sexting evidence to police, RCMP or other bodies.

What you absolutely don’t what to have happen is what happened to Ting-yi Oei in Virginia. He was a long time veteran vice principal whose entire career and future was called into question when he collected evidence of sexting and ended up in a witch-hunt accused of possessing child pornography.(Read K. Zetter’s piece in Wired,  ” ‘Sexting’ Hysteria Falsely Brands Educator as Child Pornographer.”) In a recent Canadian case, Richard Cole, a secondary school communications teacher in Sudbury, Ontario collected evidence of sexting from student emails on the network and found himself and his harddrive (that contained personal information) the subject of search and seizure. (Read more on the Cole case in Kirk Makin’s online Globe & Mail article.)

Does Your School Have a Policy?

If so, review it! If not, get on it!

If your school or district has a sexting policy in place, be very clear on how evidence is to be handled and collected. Make sure that there is a clear directive to collect evidence from an administrator. For example, a policy, an email–just some record that indicates that YOU personally were required to collect the evidence. Your school should also clearly define where that data will be stored and a chain of custody for that data, and how that data will be transmitted to authorities when necessary. For example, you should NEVER store that kind of evidence on your personal digital devices that you bring to school. If your school encourages–or even just tolerates–individuals using their own devices on the job, your personal devices are not the place for that evidence to reside. Storing on your personal devices can call your motivation into question.

Review your school or district policy for any point at which you might become vulnerable to accusations of possessing, storing or transmitting child pornography.

If you are looking for some examples of how to deal with sexting, take a look at the Miami-Dade School District’s approach here: Empowering Students to Engage in Positive Communication: A Guide to Combat Student Sexting. District administrators are charged with ensuring that the fewest individuals possible handle the evidence, and that it is “immediately labeled and placed in a safe and secure location”. Faculty who confiscate equipment must “immediately“[their policy bolding] turn over the equipment to the principal or his/her designee. Pages 15 and following are particularly relevant. Even schools that already have sexting policies, might have something to gain from a review of the Miami-Dade approach. Their appendix, “Comprehensive Procedure to Combat Sexting Action Plan” (p. 23)  defines benchmarks, action steps, and key deliverables in a manner I have rarely seen with regard to moving from policy to practice and page 24 has a “handout” to raise awareness of the issue.

In all cases you need to be aware of the legal framework within which you and your school are operating. The US National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys published “Sexting at School: Lessons Learned the Hard Way” (February 2010) which provides some excellent ideas for the development of sexting policy and procedures. I wish we had a similar resource for my British Columbia & Canadian context. (I have hopes that we will see something like that soon.) Even if you do have a local legal framework, I firmly believe you also need to be aware of how such cases are handled elsewhere. The time is coming when a “reasonable” administrator or educator could be considered responsible for staying current on how other jurisdictions are handling sexting–especially when such knowledge could reasonably prevented a negative situation.


Cloud Apps: What Horizon 2011 Missed

May 19, 2011

 First, let me say that I have great respect for the work done by the New Media Consortium (NMC) in the Horizon Project. The Horizon Reports produced by NMC fill a very important niche in preparing educators & institutions at the K-12 and Post Secondary levels for new and emergent technologies that will impact teaching & learning. I assigned the K-12 2009 & 2010 reports to my pre-service teachers as required reading in my Educational Technology courses the past few years. I believe that the Horizon Reports provide a critical compass for those interested in technologies that can be leveraged for education–helping with planning, identifying new technologies and tools, highlighting emerging better & best practices with newer technologies.

Which is why I was a bit surprised that in the assessment of cloud computing and cloud tools, the 2011 K-12 Horizon Report seems to have overlooked a key aspect in determining your data/content vulnerabilities in cloud applications: identifying the profit model of the service you are using. “Why is this important?” you might ask. Well, we don’t have to look further than Facebook and Google to see what the ramifications are regarding a cloud service’s profit model. Facebook is, and continues to be, a company deriving profit from exposing user data. The recent wrangling between Facebook and users regarding who had the rights to images uploaded by users–whether Facebook could sell images users uploaded–is a prime example. Though it could be argued that the End User License Agreements (EULA)  or Terms of Service (ToS) for services like Facebook would cover these situations, EULAs or ToSs that reserve the right to change the terms without prior notice or any notice can be extremely problematic. Many cloud services who see their profit model in your uploaded content will include terms in EULAs or ToSs that state that any content you upload to the service becomes the property of that service and may be used & repurposed, repackaged, for the company’s own use, resale, & promotions. (This is one reason I’m always particular about the presentation sharing platforms I’ll post my content on–no matter what one conference organizers may support. )Is it surprising then that Facebook has over 140 discrete privacy settings? In contrast, Google’s model is to look at your user habits and sell prime cyber advertising real estate to companies interested in your demographic. Which is more intrusive? With which model is your data more vulnerable?

The report also seemed to gloss over the issues surrounding use of cloud applications when it simply states:

While the many advantages of the cloud are easy todetail, there are cautions as well. Unlike traditional software packages that are installed on a local computer, can be easily backed up, and are available as long as the operating system supports them, cloud-based applications are online services and require a persistent Internet connection. Entrusting work and data to the cloud is a commitment of trust that the service provider will continue to be there, even in the face of the changing market and other conditions. Nonetheless, the economics of cloud computing are increasingly compelling. For many institutions, cloud computing offers a cost-effective solution to the problem of how to provide services, data storage, and computing power to a growing number of Internet users without investing capital in physical machines that need to be maintained and supported. (Horizon Report 2011 K-12 p. 11)

For any teacher, school, district, institution, etc. considering using cloud services and applications, you need to know that you are committing a valuable resource into someone else’s keeping. Here are a couple of decision making tools and frameworks to help you decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. The University of Oxford has a “Checklist for assessing third-party IT services” that is a handy tool to help teachers, schools and school districts assess whether to use a cloud based service or application. The key consideration points are:

•Availability and reliability
•Continuity of service
•Support issues
•Migration issues
•Domino effects
•Duplication effects
•Strategic and legal considerations
•Rights issues
•Privacy and confidentiality
•Cost implications
For those of us working in Canadian institutions, privacy & confidentiality considerations are mandated under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy  (FOIPOP) acts–especially when the data/content we are dealing with involves minor children. There are far too many K-12 teachers meerily using Google Apps in the cloud with students who have no permission forms from students’ parents or guardians. All I can say to that is, “Yikes!” [Note: there are versions of Google Apps and other “cloud” apps that can be run in a smaller cloud–i.e. from a school district server–where FOI POP concerns are minimized.]
Another very helpful document for making this type of decision is, the UK Office of Library & Information Networking’s “Risk Management for Use of Third Party Web 2.0 Services “:
Risk Assessment Management
Loss of service
  • Implications if service becomes unavailable.
  • Likelihood of service unavailability.
  • Non-mission critical use.
  • Have alternatives available.
  • Use trusted services.
  • Investigate services.
Data loss
  • Likelihood of data loss.
  • Lack of export capabilities.
  • Evaluation of service.
  • Non-critical use.
  • Testing of export.
Performance problems
  • Slow performance.
  • Unreliability of service.
  • Testing.
  • Non-critical use.
Lack of inter-operability
  • Likelihood of application lock-in.
  • Loss of integration & reuse of data.
  • Evaluation of integration and export capabilities.
Format changes
  • New formats may not be stable.
  • Plan for migration or use on a small-scale.
User issues
  • Gain feedback.
 Moreover, the UKOLN suggests that we also need to look at the risks of NOT using a particular service.  They suggests we consider:

Do I think cloud apps are useful? You bet, but we need to consider what we will be storing with whom, what the profit models of those service providers drives them to do, and what our risks are when using the services.