Digital Professionalism & Why I Didn’t Tweet @NSTeachersUnion During Job Action Last Week.

February 21, 2017

Last week, Nova Scotia teachers were in the process of job action that culminated in a strike on February 17. If you follow me on Twitter, you might be aware that about that same time I was preparing to present at WestCAST 2017. WestCAST is the Western Canadian Association for Student Teaching. WestCAST conferences bring together education students and faculty from across Canada with a focus on western provinces. The most recent conference, #WestCAST2017 , was hosted by my Vancouver Island University Faculty.

On the first day of  WestCAST 2017, I was delivering a presentation entitled, “Digital Footprints & Digital Professionalism for Today’s Educator” (If you want to find a version of the presentation and resources, check out the Resources page of The Centre for Educaiton & CyberHumanity @ VIU https://wordpress.viu.ca/cyberhumanity/resources/  ). That same morning, the Nova Scotia teachers and their union were in the news. As an extension of my WestCAST activities, I thought about directing a tweet to the @NSTeachersUnion account on the topic of digital professionalism but decided against it. During my WestCAST session, I discussed with attendees why I wanted to tweet the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, what I wanted to say, and why I didn’t do it.

As a previous K-12 teacher of many years in British Columbia, I have been a long standing member of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and have served on the executive of a provincial specialists’ association (BCTF PSA).  I respect the work that BCTF does to promote teaching and learning in British Columbia. It is not news that the BCTF and BC provincial government have had a contentious history.  (If unfamiliar, check out the decade plus interactions that reached the Supreme Court of Canada: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/b-c-teachers-win-landmark-supreme-court-of-canada-victory ).

My teaching career in BC has spanned a number of job actions coordinated by the BCTF in response to wide variety of issues. I have walked a number of picket lines.  However, during the BCTF’s more recent job actions around 2014, I had been working in post-secondary for a number of years.  I watched from the sidelines as K-12 teachers became frustrated and angry over their ongoing situation. What was significantly different this time was that many teachers had social media accounts and were using them to voice their frustrations—and not always in professional ways. As the Vancouver Sun reported, “Social media has become the online extension of the picket line for teachers” (Robinson, Shaw, & Sherlock 2014). The Sun article went on to cite the BCTF Media Relations Officer Rich Overgaard when he noted that the social media activity was “unprecedented…completely constant and sustained since the beginning of the rotating strikes” (Robinson, Shaw, & Sherlock, 2014). While the BCTF has put time and effort into providing social media and professionalism training for members, whether through ignorance, frustration, or what boyd (2008; yes, she uses a lower case “b”—not a type-o here) would term a lack of awareness of “unintended audiences”—there remained teachers who coloured way outside the lines of what I consider digital professionalism.

In 2014, I’d already been teaching about digital footprints and professionalism here at #VIUEd for some time. During my 2014 presentations on the topics at the time, students raised the issue of teachers’ vitriolic comments, vulgar language, and bitter engagements on social media which involved the government, members of the public, & even fellow teachers at times. (BTW such comments on the topic continued for a year or so after.) Now, let me clarify, not all teachers in BC on social media were interacting in what might be considered as unprofessional ways, but there were enough of them self-identifying as teachers (through profiles, posts, or related content) for a person interested in social media and digital professionalism to take notice. Moreover, this slippage in civility was not one sided and involved people from other sectors. It is interesting to note that despite the “unprecedented” activity of BC teachers on social media in 2104 and people anecdotally remarking on the nature of the content—as far as I know, no research has been done on BC teachers’ social media content, perceptions, and the effects before, during, and after job action. In my opinion, there’s a thesis in there for someone—unfortunately, not me. I’m too busy working on my current PhD thesis on the topic of information privacy and teachers’ use of educational technology.

Some who discuss the professional use of social media might question the use of an educator’s own personal/professional account for  activism. (Note: This type of account is separate from a school-sponsored or authorized presence.) I, however, think there are appropriate and inappropriate times for such uses, with degree or extent of the impact as an additional consideration. I think that there are ways to do it “professionally”. If you are a principled person, there will come a time in your career that challenges to those principles might move you to speak using your professional voice on platforms such as social media; however, that action needs to be considered, conscious of the extent and implications of your actions as well as their ramifications; should be founded on solid ethical ground, and you must be willing to be held accountable for it later. If you balk at any of those points, you likely shouldn’t do it.

So, what did I want to tweet to the @NSTeachersUnion last week but didn’t? I wanted to suggest to the @NSTeachersUnion that they remind members of the potential professional impact of their social media posts during their job action and any period of continued negotiations or contention. Why didn’t I? As discussed during my #WestCAST2017 session, it is important during events like strikes or similar job actions, to have people emotionally committed to collective action—it builds solidarity and support for your cause. As so frequently happens on social media, I was ultimately concerned that any comment or reminder about digital professionalism during challenging times could be seen as a threat to the aims of their job actions, and potentially make me the target of misdirected anger and abuse. I guess this blog post could do the same, but I think in this digital age, when teachers and their unions move into periods of contention, they should pause to consciously and publicly remind themselves of their digital professionalism .

In the end, I will leave you with a quote from Ellaway, Coral, Topps & Topps’ (2015) article “Exploring Digital Professionalism”. Though published in Medical Teacher, their quote holds true for the teaching profession in general:

“Acts of protest and dissent using digital media…need to be undertaken responsibly and professionally” (p. 846).

BTW: This is my personal/professional blog and is not sponsored by my place of employment. 😉

References

 


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.


Sexting & A Safety Agreement for Families

February 15, 2016

After running a recent workshop on privacy legislation and educators, I was approached by an attendee. The person was currently going through a divorce, was just starting her teaching career and concerned about some racy photos she made and shared with her husband. They were now divorcing. She was wondering if she should be concerned about those photos. My response started with, “It would have been simpler if you hadn’t shared those photos…” (My advice continued, but that’s for another post.)

 

Sexting is risky business, there’s no denying it. We need to discuss the risks with our children as soon as they are ready, and have a plan in place to help and support them if they get in trouble. This post is provided as a tool to help families understand the issues and perhaps enter into an agreement (document template provided at end) with their children to lend support should it ever be necessary.

Sexting & The Issues

Sexting is the practice (even if it’s just one time) of sharing intimate, explicit images, videos or messages with one or more others. The practice of sexting between romantic partners or as a means to flirt and attract romantic partners has been on the rise—especially among older teens.

Often people share sexts under the assumption that the person(s) receiving the sexts will keep them private. When relationships breakdown, one of the parties may break that assumption of trust and share that ‘private’ sext with others. In fact, the top 3 justifications 18-54 year olds gave for non-consensual sharing of personal data were:

  • a partner lied (45%)
  • a partner cheated (41%)
  • a partner broke up with them (27%).1

The same data showed that 10% of ex-partners threatened to release intimate photos of their partner online and of those, 60% followed through and shared them. 1

But it’s not always relationship breakdowns that cause sexts to be made more public: loss of personal devices holding sensitive information like sexts (e.g. cellphones, tablets, computers) can leave parties vulnerable—especially when said devices have little to no password protection. (TIP: Use strong passwords- See http://www.howtogeek.com/195430/how-to-create-a-strong-password-and-remember-it/ ). Some people share their passwords—to their phones, or online accounts—and later find out someone breached that trust and shared content (like sexts) they wanted kept private. (TIP: Don’t share passwords guarding personal information—your devices or accounts. My one exception: my kids share their passwords with me.) Then there’s always the risk of a hacker revealing content—especially if any of the parties involved store their sexts online or in the cloud (E.g. In 2014, a hacker breached Apple’s iCloud and publicly posted private nude photos of female celebrities).

The risk of sexts:

  • They are permanent digital records of intimate/explicit things;
  • They are easily copied & distributed;
  • They could be shared without your consent;
  • They could be shared with unforeseen people: friends, family, future/ current employers, the world;
  • They could be shared in ways you never intended (like posted publicly online).

While sexting may be done consensually, age differences between the participants may make the practice a legal concern–this varies by country & legal jurisdiction (e.g. child pornography). Another concern is that social and peer pressure can be used to extort sexts from otherwise uncomfortable or unwilling participants. Englander (2012) writes that among 18 year olds, “Indisputably, the most important motivation for sexting…was pressure and coercion”. 2 The two main reasons for sexting were:

  • “because a date or boyfriend/girlfriend wanted the picture (66%)”
  • to attract someone you’re interested in (65%). 2

Youth are still discovering what constitutes a respectful romantic relationship. Sometimes the partners requesting the sext through pressuring and coercion may be unaware that they are crossing a line toward sexual harassment. In the case of youth and young adults who choose to sext, they may not be fully aware of the permanence of the content in the sext, how readily it can be distributed, and the potential impacts if shared.

Youth and young adults aren’t necessarily thinking about their future careers when they sext. Sexts made public can affect your employment—future or continuing—in trust professions like teaching. In British Columbia, you need look no farther than the Shewan Decision (1987)3 to understand the ramifications of how sexts in the wrong hands, or made public could affect your job. Other examples of trust professions where sexts-made-more-public could be an issue: counseling, law, law enforcement, medicine, politics, etc. Members of these professions are held to higher standards than the general public—particularly teachers who are seen to influence the development of children and youth.

Youth Reluctance Reporting Problems

Unfortunately, youth are reluctant to report problems that arise from sexting—especially to parents/caregivers. They are concerned that:

  • Someone will “judge” them for sexting.
  • Someone (parents/caregivers) will take away their devices or technology.

A Sexting Safety Agreement (V 1.0)

To support families in navigating risks associated with sexting and to encourage youth to report problems to caregivers, I’ve drafted a Sexting Safety Agreement (V 1.0)  along the lines of the M.A.D.D.’s Contract for Life (an agreement between caregivers and youth to manage the risks of impaired driving). This is one of the first documents I’ve released under Creative Commons licensing: BY-NC-SA (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike).

 

Footnotes

  1. McAfee, 2013, Lovers beware: Scorned exes may share intimate data and images, http://www.mcafee.com/us/about/news/2013/q1/20130204-01.aspx.
  2. Englander, E.K. (2012) Low risk associated with most Teenage Sexting: A Study of 617 18-Year-Olds, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre, Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, MA. Available at: http://webhosbridgew.edu/marc/SEXTING%20AND%20COERCION%20report.pdf
  3. In the late 1980’s, a nude photo of a teacher in the Abbotsford School district was submitted by her husband (also a teacher) and published in a magazine as part of an erotic photography competition. The teachers were disciplined by the Board and it lead to a series of court cases. Ultimately in the BC Court of Appeals, Shewan v. Board of School Trustees of School District #34 (Abbotsford), 1987 159, the court stated: “The behaviour of the teacher must satisfy the expectations which the British Columbia community holds for the educational system. Teachers must maintain the confidence and respect of their superiors, their peers, and in particular, the students, and those who send their children to our public schools. Teachers must not only be competent, but they are expected to lead by example. Any loss of confidence or respect will impair the system, and have an adverse effect upon those who participate in or rely upon it. That is why a teacher must maintain a standard of behaviour which most other citizens need not observe because they do not have such public responsibilities to fulfil.”(page 6; http://caselaw.canada.globe24h.com/0/0/british-columbia/court-of-appeal/1987/12/21/shewan-v-board-of-school-trustees-of-school-district-34-abbotsford-1987-159-bc-ca.shtml)

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. 🙂 )


Raising Techno-Responsible Kids: Story 2

February 27, 2014

Bike with training wheels; social media logos on rear tire

While I was commuting into work Tuesday, I was listening to The Kid Carson Show (http://www.kidcarson.com/) on Sonic (Chilliwack, BC, Canada). The segment dealt with his 9 year old step-daughter’s request for Instagram—and his response. Much of the discussion and the commentary from listeners dealt with what I’ll call a binary approach—like a 0 or a 1—where our children are seen as either having no access whatsoever (0) or full unrestricted access (1). If you’re in the “no access” camp,  you should know the question is not whether your kids will get access to social media—regardless of type—but when, how, and how prepared they will be to use it.  Ask yourself, “If I’m not preparing my kids to use social media, who is? Whose values will they take into these environments? Who will help them learn how to make good decisions with these tools?”

Many of us overlook a middle ground where our kids can have managed access. Managed access could look like: 1) we post content on their behalf & share responses through our own adult account ; 2) we have an account that is shared between ourselves & our children; or 3) our kids have their own account and share their passwords and content with us. If you think about it, it’s a lot like how many of us learned to drive a car or ride a bike. We started out observing how a skilled adult did it—from back seats or kid seats. We might have tried it on a kiddie version under parental supervision—a Little Tykes car or a tricycle on the driveway. All the time our parents were correcting us where we needed it, supporting and directing. Then we got to a semi-independent stage where parents “rode along” in the front seat or ran alongside. They were chattering away to us even then about what was safe—or not. Eventually, when we had some skill, and they had some confidence in our abilities—we got the keys to the car or we got to take the bike down the road alone. Social media use is a lot like that.

Think of it as 3 phases based on maturity rather than years, and those phases are based on a parent’s knowledge, observation, and confidence in a child’s abilities and core values when using technology. In my work with my own children—9 & 10 years old now—I see these phases as:

  • Digital by Proxy
  • Digitally Coached
  • Digitally Independent

Out of the blue, would you just hand over the keys to your car one day and think your child had the skills to drive? In my opinion, kids don’t magically reach an age where they get the keys to the digital kingdom—they earn them. An approach I use is one where children get graduated, monitored access depending on the tool, their behaviour and maturity. The phases will vary tool by digital tool—and child by child.

Digital by Proxy

In the Digital by Proxy phase, I as a parent will post things on my children’s behalf through my accounts. I will filter content I post—say no pictures of their faces—and discuss why some things are safe to share and others not. I will act as a digital bridge between them and the online world talking through our values and having discussions. I use Twitter a lot and have done this with things my sons wanted to post on Twitter.  A few months back my oldest son (10) asked for his own Twitter account. We talked about why he wanted the account and whether he was ready for it—did he have people he wanted to follow? Did he have content he wanted to share? etc. Since the only person he wanted to follow was me (likely because I was posting content for him), I explained that most of my stuff was “ed tech” and would likely be pretty boring for him. He didn’t have content he wanted to share regularly, so we decided that if he did want to share things, we would use my account as we have in the past. We also agreed that I would share any responses to content I had posted on his behalf.

Digital by Proxy is not just about being a digital “stand in”; it’s also about discussing what it is to be a digitally responsible person. You need to discuss with your children moral and ethical questions about being digital as you encounter them.  For example, Tuesday was a snow day for all of us in the family—all schools closed—including mine. The Simi Sara Show (http://www.cknw.com/the-simi-sara-show/ ) on CKNW was discussing the story of a woman in Calgary who was being digitally shamed. (BTW a good free reading in this area is Chapter 4 in Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet called Shaming and the Digital Scarlet Letter). My kids and husband were drifting in and out of the kitchen as I sat listening and tweeting. I shared snippets with them. It led to a good discussion over lunch on the ethics of digitally shaming people—even if they did do something wrong. My not-so-techie husband also weighed in on the discussion. It got to a point where we began to see the issue as a question of whether ends justify means and we talked about digital shaming as a type of #cyberbullying . As I said to my husband, “If we don’t like what someone’s doing, shouldn’t we talk to the person directly? If that doesn’t work—or we’re afraid to approach that person, we teach our kids to report behaviour to the designated responsible adults. Rather than digitally shaming people, shouldn’t adults do the same—especially if it’s what we want kids to do? If that has been tried and doesn’t work, that’s a different story.”

I’m big on digital proxy where the risks to children might be higher—e.g. exposure to baddies, etc.—or my kids’ maturity & skills are low (which makes me see the risks as “higher” than for a more mature or skilled child) and when they are unclear about uses for the tool. From the outset, it should always be about your kids being safe and responsible online—so they can get the most benefit with the least risk.

Digitally Coached

My response to my sons’ request for text messaging when they were 8 & 9, was different. Both had face-to-face friends they saw infrequently—friends from summer vacations and distant family—and nearby friends with whom they wanted to interact regularly. Text messaging is a great way to stay in touch with these people and in my opinion, their texting circle could be easily managed. Our agreement was that each boy could have separate texting accounts, but that I would set them both up, maintain the passwords, and have the ability to review their use. In the beginning—especially with my youngest, they would text some stuff I would call “junk”—gobbled-gook or inappropriate statements (in line with bathroom humour)—some of which was directed to me as their initial contact for texting.  I discussed with them that a texting account was a privilege & that they needed to show me they could be responsible with it. I check in on their texts from time to time. When they go a bit sidewise with their behaviour, we talk about it and I usually use the phrase, “That kind of behaviour shows me that you’re not ready for your own account [separate from me].” They know they shouldn’t use the accounts to say things that they wouldn’t say to people face-to-face (a house ground rule for technology use).  Some other ground rules for our texting use are that my kids may only text with people approved by me and who they know face-to-face (that includes my husband or I knowing the others face-to-face).  I have written about our ground rules before (https://jhengstler.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/trying-to-raise-techno-responsible-kids-story-1/ ).

Similarly, though both my kids have asked for their own iTunes accounts—and some of their friends already have them—I have said no. I have certain expectations about the choices my kids will make for their apps. I’ve discussed this before in my blog. Games that virtually humiliate victims, etc. just don’t make the cut. My kids ask for apps and have to be ready to discuss what the app is and does—and I’ll take a closer look if I think it’s necessary. In the beginning I got lots of requests for inappropriate apps and games—often because friends had them. When the boys describe an app or game that’s sounding questionable, I usually respond with something like, “That doesn’t sound too nice. Would we do that in real life?” Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned before, killing dinos to save the village—or zombies to save living brains—usually makes the cut, but virtually bullying a person in a virtual office by throwing things at them, or virtually kicking a virtual friend absolutely does not. If I reject an app or game, I discuss with them why it doesn’t make the cut. Popularity of an app or game alone is not a reason to have it, by our family standards. I know there are “parental controls” for kids’ accounts—but I think I’m a bit more thorough. In the beginning, my boys would ask for their own iTunes account, but as I said to them, “You need to show me you can make good choices about what to download.” I must say that almost all of their more recent app and games requests have been fully appropriate—and yes, some of them may be a bit more violent then I would have let them play a year or two ago.  Don’t tell them, but the time for their own iTunes account with some automated “parental controls” may be coming sooner then they—or—I thought.

In this Digitally Coached phase, I want my kids to be able to make mistakes that won’t cost them later—won’t damage the digital footprints they are creating. I want my kids to learn how to be respectful and responsible—even if they see people online who aren’t. I want my kids to see how digital tools can be used to connect them to a wider world and more perspectives in good ways and how to navigate and deal with the bad ones. I can do this by talking through their use alongside them—much like a coach. But to coach them, they must have a place and opportunity to develop and practice their skills—and I must have some skills as well.  I know some parents feel challenged keeping up with technology—but even if you are feeling overwhelmed, you can have access to a shared account, or monitor what your kids are saying and doing online. You don’t have to know how it’s done yourself but you can know whether  their content and behavior  are “acceptable” by your standards. Now I know that there will be some readers who will say kids can make end-runs around parents. That’s true, but if you are in a trusting relationship with your kids, it’s my belief that they will keep you in the loop with some accuracy.

The digital coaching phase is where the parent feels that risk can be comfortably managed and the kids will benefit from practice and access. It will vary by kid and by digital tool—and by parent. When a parent in your circle says, “Well, I let my son/daughter use that a year ago!” be prepared with, “I’m glad to hear you feel that confident about his/her ability to manage the risks at this age” and leave it at that.

Digital Independence

On the radio, Kid Carson asked me at what age I thought kids might be ready for their own independent accounts on something like Instagram. That’s a complex question and involves a lot of judgement. First you have to know your child and be able to judge his or her maturity level using a digital tool. If you have worked with your kids through the Digital Proxy and/or the Digitally Coached phases with online tools, you have more information by which you can judge the readiness of your child. Even when you feel fairly confident in their skills, it’s always important to review the values and rules you have in place. Remind your children of those values and rules in your discussions of stories in the news or media. Get your kids to weigh in on the stories. Ask them if they see their friends using the tools in “good ways” and “bad ways” & get them to give you examples and reasons why those uses might be good or bad. Ask them, “What did you do with digital tools today that helped someone?” and “Do you think you did anything that hurt someone or made them feel bad?”.  These kinds of discussions help surface the framework your kids are using to judge their own behaviour.

Before you allow your kids to have independent accounts, be ready for mistakes. Think through a few likely scenarios where your child might do something “wrong” by your standards, what the consequences might be for your child, and how they can rebuild your trust and confidence in them (if it was broken). Discuss those standards, consequences, and reparations with them upfront—negotiate as you feel appropriate. Some parents have been known to draft written contracts (See this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janell-burley-hofmann/iphone-contract-from-your-mom_b_2372493.html ).  It’s up to you how formal to make that. In my house we’re happy with discussing  rules  and consequences and reminding our kids of those rules and consequences from time to time. What is important is that everyone is clear on the standards of behaviour expected and the consequences for not meeting those behaviours. I have revoked access to technology on a few instances–but the boys had ways to rebuild my trust and regain access later.

Ultimately, our kids will grow up. They will be in a society where digital tools and social media are widely available and used by most people. As a parent, I believe I should try my best to prepare my children to use technology in safe and responsible ways and to be people I can be proud of—online and off.


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). (http://www.cknw.com/Episodes.aspx?PID=1116 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: http://www.law.berkeley.edu/15286.htm (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.


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