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Friday, January 19, 2007

Spies Like Us



simulpost with TechLearning

Whether or not YouTube is being blocked, it is ON your campus in the form of miniature devices tucked away in the pockets and backpacks of your students. Are educators acknowledging this new world where any conversation may be recorded? Are we protecting ourselves and the children we teach from the implications?

Arguably, the most highly educated society in history was Nazi Germany. They learned what they COULD do with no discussion of whether they SHOULD do it. With today's youth carrying spying devices in their pockets that would make the 20th century James Bond drop his martini, schools have some changing to do.
spy: watch, observe, or inquire secretly
to secretly collect sensitive or classified information;

Let's talk about some examples of new media gone awry.

Teachers caught on tape

A Quebec teacher is on stress leave after a video of him shouting at students was posted on youtube. The article says that

"the incident took place a month ago, when one student provoked the teacher into yelling at her while a classmate secretly taped the confrontation." (November 2006)

How about the students that hit a teacher in the head with a book in May 2005 and posted it on Youtube in December 2006 after they had graduated? (The video has been removed.)

The cell phone film that rocked the world

Finally, we have the incident that all of us should know, the filming of the execution of Sadaam Hussein's execution (warning: that is a link to the video) via a cellphone. It leaves the world wondering not of the justice of the sentence but if the method of execution was not as atrocious as the original offenses of Sadaam.

Happy Slapping is not happy!

I can give you so many examples! My students tell me about the "Happy Slapping" trend to have one teen film and another walk up and slap a stranger. The video is then posted to youtube. A January 2005 article from the TES, Teaching Ideas & Resources magazine in England, quotes a teacher who says:

"The school fight you used to deal with is now a media event, with an audience around the whole school and, potentially through email, the whole of London and the country."

A student at the same school justified the practice and says:

"It tells other schools how hard your school is. It's proof. Then they try and send you something worse, go one better."

The private pain of the famous Star Wars Kid

My students also told me the story about the Star Wars kid, a video that almost every student who watches YouTube seems to have seen (it has been viewed 900 million times.) Here is how they have told the story to me:

This child was "goofing off" at school and filmed himself playing with a light saber (a plain stick). He goes to his next class and some of his "friends" come in and find it on the camera. They edit the film and put in a real "light saber" and sound effects and post it on the Internet via Kazaa file sharing service. Others took the video and replaced the saber with other funny items (one even said a banana.) The family was so distressed as the video became increasingly popular. Their child became a "virtual celebrity" and the subject of a global joke that he eventually changed his name (which was posted on the video) and moved to another state.


I did some research and in July 2003, the parents sued the classmates who posted the video. It has now taken on a new life in YouTube!

Everybody's doing it!

We live in a society that is now replete with spying devices - mini video capture devices where video can sit for years! Don't think it is just the wealthy who have these devices! David Warlick recently blogged about a $19 video recorder he saw!

Add the fascination with reality, the emergence of the individual filmmaker, and the general teen idolization to such famous amateur moviestars as depicted in Jacka** , Borat, and the Blair Witch project, and we have a recipe for a proliferation of problems that we have as yet to acknowledge or comprehend.

Hey, is that a supercomputer in your pocket?

With the coming convergence of cell phones and computing devices, there is even more power for students to slip in their pocket.

The New York Times says:

"And the coming convergence — or possibly collision — between cellphones and desktop computers is also yielding new forms of hybrid devices. Nokia and Sony have recently introduced hand-helds with innovative physical designs and new combinations of communication features.

What they share is designs that make them more portable than laptop computers and screens that are more readable than those on cellphones."

New York Times, A Personal Computer To Carry in a Pocket, January 8, 2007


I have to wonder if we won't laugh at the 1:1 laptop initiatives when pocket sized phones with infrared projected keyboards (which projects your keyboard on any flat surface) replace EVERYTHING much sooner than we think.

The 1 Terabyte drives (that is 1,000 Giga Bytes) that are coming out this year are going to push the amount of data we can store on our PC's even further. Solid state storage is progressing to a point that we will see super, lower powered mini drives (SanDisk announced a 32GB drive at CES) coming to cell phones or "hybrid handheld devices" in the near future.

Is that the Internet in your pocket?

As if this is not enough, there is also a new site that allows unfiltered live broadcasts which can literally occur from cell phones, remote web cams, or PC's. These same web-enabled phones allow a tech-savvy student to look into their pocketbook as they query websites to get a fast answer on their Shakespeare Exam accessing Sparknotes on their cell phone while the teacher looks away for 60 seconds.

But soon, every responsible parent will demand that their child have a cell phone with them at all times!

To deny children the right to carry these devices will soon be out of the question, in my opinion. These little gadgets are also powerful tools for protecting your safety. It's not just about calling home-- look at what MontClair University is doing to PROTECT their students via their cell phones:

"When students at Montclair State University in New Jersey feel concerned for their safety at night, they can send a wireless digital alert from their cellphone, setting a timer in the campus security office. If they do not turn it off remotely at the specified time, officers are alerted to their location." New York Times, A Personal Computer To Carry in a Pocket, January 8, 2007

So, what do we do with spies like us?

1- Update Acceptable Use

Amazing Canadian educator,
Sharon Peters, and I have been discussing this very topic and have created a wiki that you can join as we work to create an acceptable use policy that is revised to include social networking. We invite you to join the space and edit.

I think that there should be consequences for students posting things & teachers filmed at school. Additionally, protection extending into the indefinite future for video of classrooms should be provided.

2- Understand that new school hours are 24/7.

The cellcam at the bus stop can impact your school environment just as profoundly as a fight at an assembly. What students do at home doesn't stay at home. (Ask any principal who has dealt with myspace issues.) As the world views your school, you will have to answer questions.

3- Understand the importance of technology education including ethics

Students are largely self taught with approximately one third of college preparatory students having access to computer science education. When students teach themselves and adults are left out of the equation, teens focus on HOW to do things rather than if they SHOULD. (See the first paragraph about Nazi Germany.) As adults, we must enter this world and bring with it the discussions of ethics.

In our "test and measure" educational society, I believe we have devalued these ethical discussions as nonessential. I believe they are my greatest priority.

4 - Understand that blocking doesn't protect your school from this issue


You can block youtube and you can ban cell phones. However, students can covertly observe most anything at your school at any time. Understand that it is a fact. We were discussing this very issue this past Tuesday at the WOW2 show and Sue Roseman in the chat room said:

"We are to teach as if we are being watched at all times.. lesson learned."

Educate your teachers. They should be wise in their dealings. They should always be ethical and kind, for truly it is the teachers who are wronging students or who are easily excitable who I think are most at risk. (Although any teacher who gets on any student's "bad side" may have something arise!)

As we had an ethical discussion this week in my classes, I asked my students, "Is it OK to film a teacher without their permission." The answer was a unanimous, "No."

Then I asked this question, "If your teacher is wronging you, and the administration doesn't believe you, do you have a right to covertly record then?" It was a unanimous "Yes." Ask your students and see what they say.

It will send chill up your spine as they admit their willingness to engage in clandestine behavior.

5- Understand that information does not travel in straight lines.

You WILL see video shot at your school years later after the students are out of your domain of jurisdiction.

How will schools protect themselves and their teachers?

This is a vital issue and one of my most opinionated topics right now. I believe that wise administrators and teachers are going to get in front of this issue.

This is part of the reason I determined to go ahead and record all of my classes with my digital recorder and post it on iTunes. I am up front with my teaching and know that if I control the media, I know that it is not edited. This article doesn't even discuss the implications of students editing the videos of their teachers.

In Conclusion

Values and ethics are vital. You cannot control whether students CAN do these things. They can.

You CAN control what you teach students! Discuss and teach ethics as a weekly practice. You should have a forum (usually technology class) where you can talk about topics as they emerge or you will constantly be playing catch up. Y

ou should protect yourself and your teachers with policies that consider any media filmed at school (And remember that many accommodations REQUIRE you to allow special needs students the ability to record anyway.)

Schools who ignore technology and ignore instilling values in their students could be reaping the negative consequences for those walking their halls right now for the next 100 years.

What is your school doing to address these issues? Please share!

Thank you to my incredible student, Casey C, who helps me by proofing so many of my articles for Tech Learning! She also recently shared top wiki honors with her partner Cannelle from Dhaka Bangladesh for their Virtual Communications Flat Classroom Wiki.

Note to my readers: If you subscribe to my feedburner feed, you'll see that I have spent all week researching this article. It is my goal this year to step up the quality of my writing better and to spend time researching. I know that all of the "pro bloggers" tell you to post a lot, and I hope that although the frequency of my blog posts is going to go down that the quality will bring you back! I believe we are at a pivotal point in education and I take the role that my blog has now very seriously. Thank you for inspiring me to be better.

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