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,

(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, ). 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. 🙂 )


What Parents Should Know Part 1: Basic Understanding of Social Media & Digital Communications

May 27, 2013
Image of boys on bikes jumping over stack of social media logos.

Using Media is like Learning to Ride a Bike  (J. Hengstler, 2013)

Friday, May 24, 2013, I was on the Bill Good Show (CKNW 980, BC). ( in the 11:40-12:00 segment). In preparation, I thought more about what a parent or care giver should know about social media & digital communications. It fell into 3 broad categories:

  1. Basic understanding about the nature of social media & digital communications
  2. Potential risks and vulnerabilities when using them
  3. Advice for parents & care-givers

This post is Part 1. It addresses some “Basic Understandings”. Parts 2 & 3 will follow. (Be warned, I readily admit I’m still raising my own kids and shaping their use of technology, so you’ll have to check back for updates on Part 3!)

Understand Social Media is Not for “Free”, It’s a Trade

Nothing is free–despite what Facebook says–especially with social media. While the sites/services may not charge you, don’t be fooled. You are participating in a trade: your information and content for access to their services. This is something that many people–especially kids–don’t understand. If we understand that we’re entering a trade–we can try and strike a bargain we can all live with.

There are people somewhere writing code for those websites and services, running servers where all the information is stored, using up electricity water, space, etc. All those things must be paid for–and they are paid for when the service provider is able to take the information we provide and sell it to advertisers or other 3rd parties. Some services exploit their trade partners more than others. You can usually figure this out by which sites have been in the news for privacy issues, or just read it in the fine print of the site/service’s Terms of Service or End User License Agreements. If they lay claim to everything you post–with the rights to sell it at will to others, use it for advertising, etc.–keep your eyes open and be careful what you post there. Also, look at their privacy agreements:

  • Who gets access to your information?
  • Which pieces of information?
  • Will they sell it to third parties?
  • What happens if the service/site goes out of business–will your information be sold as an asset & how will it be protected if at all?

When an app or 3rd party add-on asks for access to your information, stop and think, “Does it REALLY need that information to provide the service to me?” If not, then it’s likely it really needs that information to collect your data and possibly sell it to pay for creating the app or add-on–and make a profit. Is it worth exposing your information for that service? Sometimes the answer is yes. For example, I let Google Maps know where I am so that I can get directions when I’m lost, but I don’t let my Camera app have my location data. In fact, I don’t let most of the services I use these days get my location data. Location data is a great marketing tool to target you for adds in your local area. Companies pay good money for it. Bad people like that kind of data too. Thieves, robbers, and pedophiles like it when your picture uploads are date and time stamped so they can figure out the best times and places to victimize you.

If you want to know more about the trade versus free perspective on social media, take a look at how Chris Hoofnagle (director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology’s information privacy programs and senior fellow at the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic) is trying to get the United States FTC to level the playing field in it’s use of the word “free” for these services: (Be prepared: article is not your average easy read and is pretty academic.)

Now that you know it’s a trade, protect your assets and deal with reputable sites/services–and make sure they keep their trade promises to you.

Understand the 5  Critical Characteristics

Social media and digital communications are:

  •  Persistent
    • What you commit to digitally, is basically there forever. For the not so technically literate, think of it as carved in stone.
    • All that you post online creates a digital footprint.
    • Who needs private investigators? With the amount of information we’re sharing online–our activities, interests, friends, family, locations, etc., the average person can find it in minutes!
  • Readily replicated & distributed
    • Anything you do/say online, can be copied thousands of times and sent around the work in a blink of an eye—and you thought bunnies could breed fast?
  • Always On
    • Move over New York. The World Wide Web in all its incarnations, is truly the “City that Never Sleeps.” With multitasking, we’re talking more than 24/7 and it’s virtually everywhere (pun intended).
  • Searchable

And we have

  • Limited Control
    • While you may be able to tame it, you are merely a lion tamer. You will never have full control, and one day the lion can turn on its keeper.
    • The only control your are assured of is your control of yourself, your behaviour, and what you capture digitally or put online. Control those and deprive anyone of ammunition.

Understand 5 Key Ways Digital Worlds are Different

(Note: the first 4 of these terms were taken from a reading–that I am trying to locate. Will source appropriately when I locate it. Abstraction as concept is from another reading–which again I have to locate. I’m feeling especially conscious of this, in the midst of a MOOC in online cheating where plagiarism is a bit component. Apologies.)

  • Context
    • When we talk to a group in the physical world, we can generally see who we’re talking to. That has all types of implications—like what we consider appropriate to share with that specific group.  In the online world, we may think we’re interacting in a specific context—but in reality, that context is much larger than we think, often extending to the entire world. People might think they’re in a “safe” and “closed” environment, but everything you do is just a cut & paste away from public  view. What you think only a few are seeing, might actually be seen by hundreds or thousands.
  • Appropriateness
    • As mentioned in context, when we’re talking to groups in the physical world we know what’s “OK” to share in terms of content, jokes, personal comments, etc. When we’re online, we may think we’re in a specific context—talking to a specific group—and determine what’s appropriate to share with them. Online we can have many unintended audiences, so we’d better tailor our “appropriateness” to Grandma, our next employer, our scholarship review team, etc. If it’s not OK for a future employer or Grandma to see/hear, don’t post it.
  • Distribution
    • In the paper based world, it took effort to make duplicates on a photocopier and then you’d have to mail them out, post them up around the neighbourhood, etc. In the digital world, all it takes is a post on a site to move out and replicate around the world.
    • Don’t trust “private” communications like direct or private messaging functions. They only stay private as long as the person receiving them likes you and is willing to keep them private.  Your “private” content is just an angry cut & paste away from being public.
  • Access
    • In the paper based world, it took effort to “find” things—records, comments, minutes from meetings, etc. In the digital world, just about everything is a URL (web address) away from you—and if you don’t find it, someone else will and share it with you. Search engines are constantly working to make sure every bit of data is as accessible to the world as possible.
  • Abstraction
    • When we communicate with people face to face, we get many clues—body posture, facial expressions, eye contact or lack thereof—that help us understand how our message is being received and processed. We know we are communicating with another human being. Most of the time, online communication lacks many of those clues. The person on the receiving end of the communication becomes a bit less “real”, distanced from us, and more of a concept. Because of this, there may be less consideration of how people will react or deal with our online activities. People can treat others differently than they would face-to-face–generally with a lot less empathy.

Understand that Age & Maturity Matter

It’s like learning to ride a bike.

Think of how your child learned to ride a bike. Likely s/he started on a tricycle–lots of balance, feet can touch the ground when seated, probably not straying too far from you. Fast forward to the first 2 wheeler–probably with training wheels (or for you more modern folk–with a low seat and pedals removed to coast). You probably had to put some time and effort in beside him or her–maybe holding the back of the seat to help with balance–until suddenly there s/he was pedaling away from you. Then it was an issue of where they were going, with whom, and for how long. Using social media and digital communications is a lot like that. I’m guessing you wouldn’t stick your kid on a two wheeled bike with pedals and no training wheels before s/he was ready. So don’t give them free range with social media and digital communications until they can show you they can act responsibly with them.

Part 2 to follow soon.

Trying to Raise Techno-Responsible Kids: Story 1

April 10, 2013

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?

Planning to Use Technology in a New School: What to Consider

February 16, 2011
Plan! on a computer screen

Planning to Use Technology

Technology provides significant levers for teaching and learning, but to use it effectively teachers must be prepared. Beyond knowing a specific technology, or having a certain skill set, discrete explicit planning is necessary. Moving between schools, or entering a new school—either as a teacher or as a practicum student—you encounter different ways of doing things, different tools, and different rules. Think of it like a morning routine. Generally speaking,  you might expect that people wake up, get dressed, wash, eat breakfast, & brush their teeth before leaving the house each morning. In reality, the order of those activities vary—in fact the inclusion of some of those activities vary—from house to house and person to person. How technology is handled from school to school is a bit like that. Each time you enter a new school, you need to get your bearings and reorient yourself—especially to the school’s policies, resources, infrastructure, & learner population.

When you plan to use technology, you can come at it from a couple of different directions. You  can start from the technology end (the policies, hardware, software, etc. existing in the school) or you can come at it from your learner end (the content area, potential activities, learner needs). I like to know my constraints first.  I like to look at the rules of what I can do, what I’ve got to work with—so that I can then plan what’s possible within those technology limits. This planning framework is derived from my approach. This is what I would recommend to student-teachers in my Faculty of Education @ Vancouver Island University, or anyone else who asked me.

Julia’s Points to Consider When Planning to Use Technology in a New School: (Version 1)

  1. Policies:

    1. AUPs: Find a copy of the school’s acceptable use policy or AUP if you haven’t been given one. This document is critical as it governs what can or can’t be done on the school’s systems. If you want to access Facebook for a class, but the AUP prohibits it, you could have issues if you try to use it. If you want to use a tool that is outside the AUP parameters, you can always develop a rationale and have a discussion with the school administration. You might be able to put forward a proposal for a pilot project. Note: If your school does not have an AUP, you should work with it to draft one. If you are interested in AUPs, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask for AUP in school or district front office. You can also ask administrators, or school technology staff.
    2. Media Waivers: Determine if the school has any media waivers for students and parents/guardians. This will govern whether you are able to use student images in your online/offline publications. You also need to be aware of who has NOT signed a media waiver as you are responsible for preserving that individual’s privacy. There may be serious safety issues—e.g. hiding from an abuser—or other reasons. Note: If your school does not have a media waiver and uses students’ images or content online, you should work with it to draft one. If you are interested in waivers, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask for waivers in school or district front office. You can also ask administrators, or school technology staff.
    3. Permission Slips: Some schools require permission slips for certain online activities like posting in a Wiki, or using a social networking site. Find out if your school does. If they don’t, it might be something you consider. Taking students out on the web is tantamount to taking them on a field trip off campus. It should be treated with the same seriousness. Permission slips allow families to make informed decisions—and to participate to a certain extent—in decisions about their student’s online lives.  Your school might have a generic template, but more often, a teacher might draft one and have it approved by administration. Note: If your school does not have a permission slips for online activities, you should work with it to draft some. If you are interested in permission slips, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask about  technology/online permission slip templates in the school or district front office. You can ask administrators, or school technology staff. Remember that colleagues may have online permission slip forms as well.
    4. Approved Services: Some schools specify which online services may be used in a school. For example, one school may allow teachers and students to use an class portal like Engrade, while others may consider it a privacy risk. Some schools use Google Documents while others do not. You need to determine if there is an “approved” list of
    5. Other: Some schools have discrete policies governing areas that may not be covered in an AUP. You need to determine which—if any—other policies exist, so that you can be aware of how they might affect your use of school technology. If you are interested in other policies, take a look at the links here.
      1. Ask about additional technology policies beyond the AUP, in the school or district front office. You can ask administrators, or school technology staff. Remember that colleagues may have online permission slip forms as well.
      2. Some potential stand alone policies:
        1. Email use
        2. Social networking
        3. Dealing with a technology incident of concern (e.g. cyberbullying)
        4. Communicating with families & community online
        5. Privacy protection
  2. Resources & Infrastructure:

    1. Available Hardware: you need to do a quick survey to determine what types of hardware are available, the extent to which/where it is available, & when it’s available (if a shared resource, determine how you book it).
      1. Ask school or district technology staff about available technology. Colleagues might know as well. You can also ask in the front office.
      2. Some types of technology to ask about:
        1. Computers: does each classroom have a teacher computer? Other computers? Computer labs? Are labs portable or in a fixed room? Do computers have sound cards? Internet access? USB slots? Etc.
        2. Digital projectors
        3. Speakers
        4. Document cameras
        5. Web cams
        6. Video cameras
        7. Interactive whiteboards (e.g. SMART Boards) or tables
        8. Clickers (a.k.a. student response systems)
        9. Mobiles (netbooks, iPods, iPads, smart phones, tablets, etc.)
        10. Note: If you are planning to use mobiles—whether they are the school’s or borrowed from the district—and want them to have internet access, make sure you check with your school or district’s technology staff to ensure they can get online. Sometimes this involves the creation of accounts, opening networks, etc. and can take time.
        11. Other?
    2. Available Software:
      1. Many types of general productivity software are available in the “cloud”—for example, Google provides word processing, presentation, spreadsheet and form making software online for free. These may require specific browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari). Other times, you may want to work offline and need specific software installed on a piece of hardware. You should do a quick survey to determine the types of software available, the extent to which/where it is available, & when its available (if it’s on a shared resource, determine how you book it).
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about available software. If something portable isn’t available at the school level, you could ask at the district level.  Colleagues might know as well. You can also ask in the front office. Sometimes, district or school technology staff list available software information on a website.
        2. Some types of software to ask about:
          1. Internet browsers & add-ons (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, etc.)
          2. Email—does the school provide email accounts for students & staff? (Outlook, Entourage, Thunderbird, etc.)
          3. Word processing (Word, Pages, Google docs, etc.)
          4. Presentation (Power Point, Keynote, Prezi, Google docs, etc.)
          5. Spreadsheet (Excel, Numbers, etc.)
          6. Audio editing (Garage Band, Audacity, etc.)
          7. Video editing (Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, etc.)
          8. Web authoring (Dreamweaver, iWeb, Kompozer, etc.)
          9. Web conferencing (Skype, Elluminate, etc.)
          10. Interactive Whiteboard drivers & software (e.g. you may need SMART Board drivers & SMART Notebook installed on your laptop if you are using a SMART Board.)
          11. Response system drivers & software
      2. NOTE: Sometimes hardware is installed in one  or two classrooms only, and while it may be the actual property of the school, the resident teachers feel ownership. You need to tred carefully in this circumstance. This does not mean that the technology is out of bounds, but you need to use your SOCIAL graces to gain access. You might ask to observe the colleague using the technology a couple of times, then ask if that teacher might have a day, block, or period when the technology is not in use—so that you could try it—alone or with your class. In general, if a single instance of technology is installed in a school, it is good practice for the administration to make some provision for a mentorship and sharing model-along with getting the technology comes a professional responsibility.
    3. Internet Access: Access to the Internet is an important aspect of technology use & can be affected by a number of factors. You should determine:
      1. Bandwidth—this will affect how much data the school/district can send/receive at any given time. Ask what the school’s bandwidth will support in terms of whole class or group uses. For example, what happens if 3 groups want to Skype with classrooms in Taiwan? What happens when your whole class uploads a video to YouTube.
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about Internet access considerations.
      2. Filtering—Are there content or specific site or service filters in place? Determine if the school/district is blocking any sites you want to use. Some schools block YouTube, Facebook, etc. If you really want to use those filtered sites or services, you may need to negotiate some pilot or one-off projects with your school administrators and technology staff.  It is also good to know how attempts to access banned sites or content is logged and who has access to that information. For example, in a practicum placement, a librarian overseeing a mobile computer lab expressed concern to a university supervisor that a student-teacher was attempting to accessed blocked content.  The librarian could not say what content or site. People can assume the worst, so it’s imperative that you know the parameters of what you can use according to your school’s AUP, and its filtering procedures. This student-teacher may have simply been trying to show an educational YouTube video in a school that blocks YouTube—but the librarian wouldn’t know that.
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about Internet access considerations.
      3. Storage: Determine where students can store data. Is there virtual storage on the school/district server? Are all students responsible for carrying data on memory sticks or flash drives? Also determine the limits of that storage and whether it can be increased for special projects. If students are creating digital products, you should have some idea of the maximum size of the files or folders to determine how that data will be stored. For example, what do you do if students are creating videos but can’t save them anywhere because the files are too big? Determine where you can store data as a teacher and what your storage limits are. If virtual storage is available, ask if/how you can access it from home. If you can access your storage from home, can students?
        1. Ask school or district technology staff about storage.
    4. Computer Permissions: Nothing is more frustrating than attempting to download a software the day before a class, only to find out you don’t have administrator rights on the hardware. In many schools & districts, the ability of download & install new software or hardware is reserved for specific technology staff. You should always know what permissions—or rights—your account has. If you need software downloaded, but don’t have administrative rights, you will need to plan with your technology staff where and when the installation occurs. Remember, some software/hardware combinations may not be possible because it conflicts with existing software/hardware on the system. Don’t let your lesson or activity plan hinge on technology, until you know it is compatible and can be installed in time. If you need the installation in 1 week, I like to ask for it 2 weeks in advance. This allows a cushion of time in case the technology staff have to deal with some other critical issue. I then check-in by email about 2 days before the scheduled date, to see if the technology staff will get to it ‘in-time’. In reality, a lot can go wrong with technology, and the support staff may have lost sight of your item’s due date. I like to use email—rather than a call or a face-to-face discussion—because it creates an item in someone’s inbox while a call or discussion can be readily forgotten.
      1. Ask school or district technology staff about permissions for students and staff. Permissions may vary by hardware or software—try to determine the permissions specific to the tools you are using.
    5. Available Support: Determine who is available for support with regard to the specific technologies you might use (hardware, software, online service, etc.). These would be  your go-to people when a specific hardware or software crashes. In smaller districts you may have one or two people responsible for a broad range of hardware & software. In larger districts, there may be more staff—and they may specialize. When you have some idea regarding the hardware and software you are likely to use, it is a good idea to know who in the school or district supports it if you have issues.  It’s also helpful to identify any colleagues who are using the same or similar hardware or software—as they might be able to provide some initial level support.  Sometimes specific hardware or software may come with vendor support. If the hardware or software you are using came with vendor support for the end user like you, get the name of your contact with that company & his or her contact details (email, phone, etc.). Be aware, though, that some vendors only provide “tier 2” support. This means they expect you to access your school or district go-to person. If that person can’t solve the issue, it’s that person who contacts the vendor—NOT you.
      1. Ask school or district technology staff about the support available for the tools you are using. You might also ask the front office who they consider the “techie” teachers—as they can be good names to know if you are looking for some other support venues. Be sensitive to these teachers’ workload. Often “techie” teachers are providing a great deal of professional support to a school ‘off the side of their desk”—meaning the school has not provided them with release time or funding to provide this support.
  3. Learner Context:

    1. Demographics of the class or school: these should be a formal consideration in your technology planning & use. You need to determine the extent to which students have extracurricular access to the technology you plan to use. This determines whether you complete all technology components in class and whether you plan technology access time before school, during lunch, or after school. If demographics indicate that students need additional time for access in-school, you need to structure this in a way that does not marginalize the “have-nots”. Such additional access time should be framed as an “everybody welcome” time. You could partner with another teacher using technology and trade-off supervision times. Think about other activities that could occur during that time—like some technology mentoring. Maybe a tech savvy student could mentor YOU in something!
      1. Ask for your demographic—especially socio-economic indicators and access to technology in the region’s homes if they have it—from the school’s front office or counseling department. If they don’t have it, they’ll know where to point you. Your school district office or local statistics branch might also have useful information.  You can always ask your colleagues, but be cautious of those who may use lack of technology access as an excuse not to use technology, or others who presume that everyone has a computer and internet access at home.
    2. Specific learner needs: Technology is one of the most flexible tools to address a variety of needs. First, you must know what needs your learners have. Review the makeup of your class so that you can determine what—if any—specific needs there might be. For example, do you have students who need to use audio? Your planning might involve finding podcasts on a topic—or have them create podcasts on a topic. Visual learners might benefit from a video demonstration of a technique—or creating one. The general population of students also benefit from being exposed to these types of resources and activities. In providing variety, you should not marginalize any students. If resources and options are available to all—no one stands out as a ‘special’ case.  When you begin to incorporate multimedia, or specific software, you need to determine the hardware, software, and internet infrastructure necessary to support their use. For example, your school’s internet connection may not support 30 students trying to stream a YouTube video. That’s not something you want to find out on the day you run the lesson! If you know this, you can find tools that allow you to download the video and show it off line. You will need to know the students’ needs to plan what technologies would be the most beneficial to your area of study & your students. Then you need to cross reference that with what resources are available.
      1. For specific student needs, check in with your school’s learning assistance teacher, Special Education teacher, or Education Assistants assigned to your class. Most schools have a person responsible for contacting teachers at the beginning of each year or semester with specific cases. If you aren’t contacted by such a person, determine who heads the Special Education efforts in your school. Stop by to see that person or fire off an email as a “check-in”—along the lines of “School [or semester] start-up is such a busy time for us all. I’m sure you’re quite busy seeing to all your students’ needs. I thought I’d just get a jump on my planning if possible. Is there anything I need to know about my [insert class name here—so s/he doesn’t have to guess] class this year/semester? I’d like to make sure I address any specific needs in the class.” You can also ask any teacher who might have had your class or group before. Again, be sensitive to any potential biases.
      2. Once you determine the learner needs, & identify potential technologies to use: Make sure they comply with school policy. If you would like to use something outside of policy parameters, meet with the school administration to see if you can get permission to run a pilot project. Ask your school technician or technology guru, “I’d like to do [insert item here] with my class. Are there any issues that might interfere with this? If there are issues, are there any alternatives or work-arounds you could recommend?”

How to Praise Kids–Better

November 18, 2010
Pat on the Back & Thumbs Up

Credit: under Creative Commons

I was going through my back magazines and found this little snippet that I clipped. It’s been floating on my desk & I want to remember & share it,  so I thought I’d put it in my blog.  As both a teacher, teacher of pre-service teachers and a mom, it has many applications for me. It’s even a handy reminder for administrators! It reminds us that as adults, our praise of children–or of others–should be genuine, meaningful, and specific to what the person did.

The table is adapted from Parents magazine (November 2007, p. 9):

When you say…

It means…

Instead say…

“You’re the best writer in your class.”

The other kids are not as good as you.

“I can tell you’ve been practicing really hard. The characters in your story are so interesting–I want to read more.”

“Good girl!”

Nothing much.

“I noticed that you said please and thank you when asking to share rulers. You’ve really been working on your manners.”

“You’re a great soccer player no matter what happened on the field today.”

The adult is not being honest with you.

“I like that you kept trying even though your team had a rough day.”

“Wow, that’s the best drawing I’ve ever seen!”

The adult thinks every little thing you do is great.

“Those flowers are very colorful, and I like how your picture tells a story.”

Parents As Partners in Safer Technology Practice

November 4, 2010

These days we are more conscious of safer technology practices for teachers and students. Often we forget that some of the foundational learning around technology occurs at home and outside of school. Parents and older siblings are often a child’s first exposure to tech use via observation and some hands-on sharing.

In the early years of school, there are many bridging programs that support early literacy and numeracy activities in the home. These are designed to better prepare our young students for their later years. We do little formal or informal home-school bridging around technology use. While we might rightly assume that most children live in a house with others who can read, write & do math at the basic levels required by society. (Of course, there are notable exceptions.) Assuming that older members of a child’s home are technologically literate and practice “safe surfing” is a much bigger stretch—one that we as educators should rarely make. I would suggest that every school or district provide a home technology literacy strategy that reaches beyond the “did-you-see-&-sign-our-acceptable-use-policy” approach.

Here’s my first suggestion. Create a tip sheet—or section—in your newsletters at the beginning of school. Add to it throughout the year. If your school’s on board, do it via the school newsletter. If it’s not, do it in your newsletter. Tips you might include are:

  • Keep the computer your child is using in a “public” space.
  • Monitor your child’s activities on the computer.
  • Talk to your child about what s/he is doing. For example, “How did you hear about this site? What’s so great about this site? What kinds of things can you do here?” This lets them know that you are actually paying attention and are interested in what they are doing with technology.
  • Activate the parental controls via your Internet Service provider or internet browser to block adult content.
  • When young, establish a “screen name” for your child & do not let them use their full—or even close to full—name so that strangers cannot identify them.
    • Periodically check that s/he is keeping this up.
  • Access to online sites & services should be phased in developmentally appropriate steps:
    • For a young child to grade 3/4, you as the parent should set up accounts on your child’s behalf on the sites you approve. Have your child participate along with you or through your account. You would keep your login information & physically login for your child when s/he wants to use the site or service. You would select any “friends” or buddies that connect with this account.
    • As your child gets older and more technologically mature (grades 4-7/8), you may allow her/him to set up accounts for her/himself on sites you approve using the screen name you established. The child would have to share the usernames & passwords for each service with you. If any site required an email address, your child would always supply Mom or Dad’s email (or a Teacher’s email address—if it’s a class thing).
    • As your child becomes more independent, and technologically mature (grade 7/8 onward), she/he may acquire her/his own email address and accounts as you deem appropriate. This would be after your child has already learned and demonstrated proper and safe internet practices. Even so, from time to time, you should check in with your child, ask him/her to show you what s/he is doing on the sites, ask how s/he found out about the site, discuss activities, things on the site that may have upset him/her, things that s/he may have liked.

At the beginning of each year, set up a strategy for supporting “acceptable” technology use at home. Maybe your school would sponsor a parent-tech night—where a tech savvy faculty member can go over tips, show parents how to set controls on browsers, what sites are used in the school, etc. In your letters, newsletters, and other communications, share tips with parents. When the school’s acceptable use policy goes out for students & parents to sign, send out a ready-to-go template (paper & electronic) for a “home-version”. If your school or district isn’t onboard—you could do it just for your classes.

Here’s what I might send out as a “home version” for elementary students. (I invite you to share yours if you draft one.)

Our House Rules of Using The Computer & Internet

  • I know using the computer & the internet is a privilege. As long as I follow the rules, I will be able to use them.
  • I will treat the computer carefully.
  • I will keep any account usernames & passwords secret.
    • I may only share them with Mom & Dad and maybe my teacher– but no one else.
  • I only use a screen name when online.
  • I only connect with my approved friends because I know I can trust them.
    • If anyone else wants to contact me, I will check with Mom & Dad or my teacher first.
  • I keep my phone number secret from people online.
  • I keep my address secret from people online.
  • I do not put pictures of myself, my friends or family, online.
    • If I want to share a picture, I will ask Mom or Dad to do it.
  • I will be polite, & use appropriate language on the computer.
  • I will not say, write or put anything bad about other people online.
    • If I see, read or hear bad things about others I know, I will let my Mom, Dad or teacher know about it.
  • I will not visit sites that talk about or show gambling, drugs, alcohol or naked people.
  • If I see, read or hear things that are not good for kids, I will let my Mom, Dad or teacher know about it.

Do you, your school, or district have a home-school bridging strategy or technique to share? Please do.