When I first signed up for social media, I posted pictures on Instagram, status updates on Facebook, and location pins on Foursquare without thinking twice. I had no need to look deeper into the ramifications that these online actions would have. Social media was like a shiny new object that everyone was enamoured by. Looking back now, I realize that since social media was new for everyone, I had no one guiding or teaching me about digital citizenship or online privacy. Openness and sharing online was seen as an exciting new world, yet now we know it comes with some concerns.
We had a great debate in our #eci830 class this week about openness and sharing in schools… something that I didn’t have a strong stance on before the class. Melinda and Altan argued that online sharing in education is unfair to kids. They reminded us that posting pictures of our students on social media is something that should not be taken lightly because it becomes a part of their digital footprint forever. They talked about the privacy concerns and potential dangers that occur when pictures or information are posted online without a second thought. They also touched on the opportunity gap that takes place when we expect students to use Open Educational Resources at home, only to make the Digital Divide more prominent. On the other hand, Dean and Sherrie talked about the positive outcomes that openness and sharing can bring into the classroom and community. It offers deep and meaningful learning opportunities, encourages the use of the “4 C’s” (collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking), and creates life long learners.
Even though each team brought up valuable points that agreed and disagreed with the statement that “Openness and Sharing in Schools is Unfair to Kids,” they both settled on the fact that teachers need to model and discuss positive digital citizenship with their students. This includes bringing up privacy and security concerns with both students and families. Common Sense Education reminds us that “our students need teachers who model pro-social, creative, and responsible social media use.” They come up with a crucial list of ways you can protect your students’ privacy on social media. Teachers, please read this! It’s SO valuable. Some of the points they make are:
- Review your school’s social media rules so that you are aware of what is acceptable and required before you post online. Make sure you don’t share pictures of students without parental consent.
- Use signed consent forms/ media release forms with your parents.
- Have a discussion with your students about how you will be using social media in your classroom.
- Be aware of any visible student or class information around your classroom like Seesaw codes, first and last names, log ins, passwords, assessment, etc.
- Go through your online files on Google Drive to make sure there is no sensitive information that could go public. Make sure that your file names do not contain student names.
- Double check pictures of students before you share on social media. Make sure there are no names present.
- Disable location services on Twitter or Facebook when posting pictures.
As educators, it’s our job to not only be aware of these things, but to actively share the importance of them with parents and other teachers. When I started thinking more about openness, online sharing, and privacy concerns, the online platform Class Dojo came to mind. I have never personally used this app, but I am aware of how it works and how it can be used in the classroom. If you are someone that uses this online tool, please hear me out before you decide to use it in your classroom next year. When we talk about protecting our students online privacy, it doesn’t just have to do with sensitive personal information like names, birthdays, or browsing data. It also has to do with academics and behaviour. Not only does this app reward and discipline students in an open online setting, causing many problems to arise in itself, but it also tracks how students do academically and behaviourally in the classroom. This platform can create a negative label for students at a young age and wrongfully gives teachers the opportunity to present their own biases towards certain children. It can also record sensitive information for various companies and individuals to use in the future. This is information and data that should not be shared publicly. Natasha Singer says that Class Dojo “is being adopted without sufficiently considering the ramifications for data privacy and fairness, like where and how the data might eventually be used.” Teachers need to be aware of the concerns that arise when we use data-tracking apps in the classroom because these choices can negatively impact our students in the future. Before promoting or using an online tool in the classroom, we need to do our research and look at the bigger picture.
When all is said and done, openness and sharing online is intricately woven into almost every part of our students lives. As educators, we need to understand how to use social media and online learning safely and how to teach our students to do the same. Even though there are guidelines we should follow when it comes to sharing online, it does not mean the sharing shouldn’t happen. Instead of deleting social media or staying silent, Jessica Baron suggests that educators and families should “give more thought to what they post, eliminate unnecessary layers of information like geotagging, and talk to their kids as soon as they’re able about what’s being put online about them.” Dean and Sherrie reminded us that if we understand consent and privacy, openness and sharing “creates a safe learning space, culture of collaboration… and an immediate audience.” So as educators, is it fair to share online in an open setting? I believe it is, as long as we are aware of the concerns, the consent, and the citizenship. Let’s remember that there is power in online sharing and learning when it’s done thoughtfully and intentionally.