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Monday, March 17, 2008

Black Monday: Bloggers on Trial



I cannot have a funday Monday today because my heart is heavy.

  • Al Upton's project with 8 and 9 year olds has been ordered to close by the Department of Education and Children Services in Southern Australia.
  • Intrepid Teacher, Jabiz Raisdana has resigned because of parental complaints about some copies of Flickr artwork that was created by him.

While these are two totally different issues, my heart is still heavy. I would like to address my thoughts on both of them.

A) Al Upton
Al has distinguished himself as a safe, effective teacher who models best practices with 8 and 9 year olds.

I can see parent concerns as well with this age and it is a balance. As Al says, parental concerns and SAFETY must be handled first!!! We cannot ever put children at risk and sometimes to parents PERCEIVED risk is far greater than the actual risk.

We have to always err on the side of caution as Al did with taking the site down.

WE also have to remember that parents have a general distrust of the Internet. Most of them just do.

What I do:
This is what I do with my publicly blogging 9th graders (15 year olds):
  1. I sent home a permission form for EXPLICIT permission to blog publicly. Those students whose parents wouldn't consent to a public blog were given a semi private alternative on youthvoices.net.
  2. The students who blog publicly use pseudonyms.
This is what I do with the horizon and flat classroom projects (16 year olds):
  1. We use permission forms. (http://horizonproject2008.wikispaces.com/Getting+Started+Checklist)
  2. Students can only use first name and last initial.
  3. The spaces we use ARE public.
For my 8th grader and younger we use private spaces on either Ning or classblogmeister. That is the age my school has set and 10th grade is when we allow the projects to go completely public. The wiki is public for 9th and 10th graders.

What we should do:
We should clearly state to parents our policies on public and private spaces and inform them about those spaces by age. They also need to understand that if it is private... that means the teacher and students ONLY (and administrator should they choose to be a part.)

We should monitor public spaces closely via RSS.

My hope for Al:
My hope for Al is that they will allow him to have a private space for his 8 and 9 year olds (at a minimum) -- if he is able to restore the mentors project, then we could do background checks or something...

OPEN EDUCATOR ID PROGRAM
I believe that we're going to need some sort of "open ID" or "universal check" for educators. This would allow us to facilitate educators who can move around to various projects who meet a certain standard level or background check.

How could we do this? What can we do?

I don't know... but it sounds like a great thing for ISTE or another organization to establish... a criteria for approving an educator and their practices and they understand and have completed a level of training for interacting on global projects.

This would ensure safety and ubiquity, but also that we can collaborate and work together at all grade levels. This is something we need to discuss and do.

Let's talk about an Open Educator ID system. It just makes sense.

Intrepid Teacher's issue
This one is a bit more troubling. I'll let Jabiz speak for himself:

Let me clarify that Intrepid Teacher is Jabiz' personal blog. These were links from the personal blog NOT from the classroom blog:

"A member of the parent community at my school followed the link I had supplied here at Intrepid Teacher and found some material on my blog that they considered objectionable and took the issue to the school board. I was immediately asked to resign. The administration felt that I had given students direct access to material, which they felt was inappropriate. This material was a series of works of art I had done as part of an independent online art group last year. In order to avoid further trouble, I have since removed the prints in question.

The dilemma my director faced was not whether the material was inappropriate, but the fact that I had consciously made a link, which in their eyes encouraged students to view the prints.
I have to reiterate that I never made a direct link from my student site or invited or encouraged them to view my personal or professional sites at any time. I think this fact warrants repeating, because this perceived link was the main issue for which I was asked to resign. As a matter of fact the image itself was not even on my personal blog, but on a Flickr page."


The bottom line is that unfortunately Jabiz does not have freedom of speech and we are seeing this in many places... not just the Middle East.

We and our students must understand that we cannot post ANYTHING unless we are content that ANYONE can view it.

However, I will say that it bothers me to think of a parent ferreting something out on his personal blog and calling him into question. The truth be known that every single one of us writing could have something found about us that someone doesn't like and we could be called into question for.

What I do:
My blog is rated "G." G for the comments, G for the content. My opinions are that of my own, however, I NEVER blog about individuals here at the school and remain a professional about it.

I'm careful about my flickr photos -- but really I just have them for the school only.

I will not add my students to my facebook page... I connect with other educators there.

I won't add my own children to my facebook page... it could lead people to them... I have a private account with another e-mail address for linking with family (particularly my own children.)

I understand that if someone really doesn't like me that they will find something here that they don't like. They will. I don't know what Intrepid Teacher could have done to change things. I really don't.

What we should do:

Make sure that we are careful about telling students about our online "identities" and personal blogging spaces UNLESS we are completely OK with them viewing everything we write to or link to on that page.

My hope for Jabiz
A school who will understand his talent and desire to be more and will respect freedom of speech.

Separate Accounts / Separate Identities
I think that this is leading to totally separate accounts for school work and private social-time work. We're going to have to have "split personalities," I'm afraid and have two identities... one for all school accounts and one for all personal accounts.

So, I'm going to need two blogger accounts (what a mess that would be), I guess. And Ning ID's for school and personal.

A blur
And yet, the lines blur. I'm a part of Classroom 2.0 and apply that in my classroom, however, I participate there in my personal time. I twitter on my own time and yet pull things from there into my classroom.

I truly feel that the lines between school and work are blurring incredibly and the idea of a "split" personality is one that I cannot really comprehend.

However, if You are a teacher and you want to have anything "PG" rated on any of your "personal" work... you should definitely get another ID for those activities and consider using a pseudonym.

Transparency or keeping your job?

I know we all like transparency, however, the truth is that freedom of speech seems to becoming more of an illusion... especially for teachers.

And with our kids documenting everything they are doing... here in the US ... we're going to have a hard time finding anyone who could run for president in 30 years... with all of the "dirt" on youtube.

We have a lot of issues to think through and discuss.

My applause!
This is why I applaud Al and Jabiz.

They are up front and open and willing to allow themselves to be scrutinized, knowing that many will throw stones and many will offer support.

What we need here is to learn from their openness so that their pain and heartache is not wasted.

We need to determine:
  • What are the practices we need to put into place to facilitate the movement of teachers as mentors and advisors on global projects at all grade levels? What organizations can help us? (That is what we have them for, after all!)
  • What practices can we put in place to have personal lives and be able to "live" on the Internet as human beings while again knowing that as teachers, our students look up to us and our parents often look at us with a harsh eye?
So, I hope we will discuss and add our thoughts to this. We must get past the fact that we like them and would trust them with our own children to see the issues at hand!

And remember this... it is not about "blogging." The safety of our children COMES FIRST! Doing the right thing by them COMES FIRST! We as teachers have administrators to report to and we must be under their authority (or we are fired or quit and find a place where we fit better and that happens too!)

However... we must understand that we MUST create safe, effective spaces to effectively EDUCATE our students for their FUTURE and for their CURRENT SAFETY.

It is not an option to just cordon ourselves off from one another and pretend that we are not interconnected. For, many of these students by age 10-12 are online together in a melting pot of cultures and societies with no guidance at all in a place called myspace and to leave schools out of the picture in the educational process is IRRESPONSIBLE.

What do you think? What are your ideas?

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