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


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.


Why I Wanted a Do-It-Yourself Anti-Spy Shade for My Built-In WebCam

May 12, 2010

If you haven’t heard of the case of Blake J. Robbins v. Lower Merion School District, read up on it @ Wikipedia. Basically, a school district issued Macbooks to students. The computers had security software that allowed remote activation. The security software allowed technicians to capture snapshots of IM, web browsing, music playlists, and written work. The computers had built-in video cameras. The security software could

be programmed to automatically capture webcam pictures and screen captures and store them on the hard disk for later retrieval in areas of the computer’s memory that are not accessible by the student and can be deleted remotely. (Wikipedia, 2010)

Apparently, two student council members voiced concern re. the possibility of the web cams being used without their knowledge. According to the Wikipedia article, neither the laptop program PR materials nor the individual contracts signed by participating students mentioned the remote activation feature. Surprise: The school district remotely activated the webcams. The school stated that it only activated the software when computers were lost or stolen. It is alleged that the school district remotely activated the web cams numerous times over the last two years.

So why Blake Robbins? Well, the lawsuit states that the school disciplined him for inappropriate behavior at his home via a photo taken with the remotely activated webcam. (For more details, see Wikipedia).The claim is that the schools use of the webcams violates Constitutional rights of privacy, Pennsylvania common law & US Civil Rights.

After reading this, I looked up at that built-in web cam in my Macbook Pro issued by my employer. My employer has the right to review how I use this laptop—even when I’m at home with it. Looking at the web cam also made me recall a Criminal Minds episode, “The Big Game” (Season 2, episode 14) where a killer who is a tech support worker, remotely activates computer web cams of his victims. Hmmm….why take chances? So I thought I would create a temporary cover for my webcam.

This is what I did:

  1. Got scissors, black electrical tape, & a piece of paper.
  2. Measured & cut a piece of black electrical tape wide enough to extend about .5cm or so either side of the built in webcam. Made sure it doesn’t interfere with any latches or other vital spots.
  3. Laid the tape on the table & flipped it so the stick side is up.
  4. Cut a piece of paper about the size of the web cam window.
  5. Put the paper in the middle of the black electrical tape on the sticky side. It looked like a bandaid.
  6. Held it up to my computer with the paper piece centred over my web cam window to see if I needed to trim the width.
  7. Trimmed the bottom so that it would not touch any screen—only the metal casing.
  8. Folded a small corner of the tape against itself so I could easily remove the shade when it was in place & stuck it over the webcam.
  9. I remove it when I close the laptop and just stick it to a clean section of the outside casing.

Now I peacefully enjoy my Macbook and my privacy-at least via my webcam & at home. Folks can still see me through my office windows—I leave the blinds up.