Seeding the Conversation

As one of a handful of known adult bloggers on my K12 campus, I’ve been asked by my Upper School Principal to join a few other 2.0-savvy members of the staff in “seeding a conversation” about the challenges of managing one’s online identity as an educator.

I’ve found some terrific resources on acceptable use policies, but it seems that we’ve spent more time dictating to students than we have figuring out what’s acceptable adult behavior.

As the benefits of participating in social networks become increasingly obvious, so too do the challenges of making sure we’re not opening ourselves up to censure. Just ask Jabiz Raisdana, who lost his job when he crossed a line he was trying not to.

What is an appropriate “rule of thumb” when posting in a non-school-affiliated space that is nonetheless open to the public? I have moved from imagining posts appearing on the front page of the New York Times (an old dean’s recommendation) to imagining posts taped to my office door the next morning. If that makes me uncomfortable, I don’t post.

I also like Pamela Livingston’s idea of LARK.

Your thoughts? I hearby nominate you, dear reader, to join my personal learning network.

Update: Here are my notes for the meeting, complete with excerpts from the comments below and a Diigo list of some items that I found helpful. Thanks so much to everyone who pitched in!


Posted on May 1, 2008, in meta. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I can totally relate to the nightmare that becomes ones life if they do not contemplate the challenges of managing one’s online identity as an educatorYou see I am Jabiz Raisdana, like you said, Just ask Jabiz Raisdana, who lost his job when he crossed a line he was trying not to.I agree when you say that, As the benefits of participating in social networks become increasingly obvious, so too do the challenges of making sure we’re not opening ourselves up to censure. Furthermore you nail it again when you say, it seems that we’ve spent more time dictating to students than we have figuring out what’s acceptable adult behavior.It comes down to this: we want our students to feel comfortable using as many of these tools as possible, but as their teachers if we want to use the tools too, to do what they are deigned for, we can get into trouble. For example, I am a photographer, most of my students know this because we often talk about photography and I usually teach a short photo unit when we do poetry. But if I want to teach my students the benefits of Flickr, I have to think twice about showing them my own work. But why? Shouldn’t I feel comfortable sharing my own art? Or a more obvious example is blogging. We bang out heads against the wall trying to teach kids how blogs can be dynamic, varied, unique, personal places where they can explore their ideas and communicate with others, but we are terrified to share our own space with our students, for fear that we may have said something that someone thinks we shouldn’t have. I still don’t have answers, but I think as these networks get more and more intertwined, the teacher that is simply going through the motions and constantly hiding their online identity will not be successful. But the teacher who is on the ground and making connections and sharing themselves with kids will be successful. Now this may terrify parents and administrators, but teachers are people too. We are more than a suit and tie and collegial co-workers. And a varied group of educators is good for kids. They need to work with conservatives and liberals. Christians and Atheists. Let them get a tsate o fteh world in their classroom. What is an appropriate “rule of thumb” when posting in a non-school-affiliated space that is nonetheless open to the public? For me, the rule is can I defend it if asked to. Does it serve a purpose? It is a well thought argument. That doesn’t always work. It didn’t for me. I argued my heart out, but I was asked to resign, because someone in the parent community didn’t like something I had posted, but what is to say another parent someplace else will not object to something else. Thanks for giving me a place to unload. I hope to hear from more of you and your readers!

  2. Jabiz & Doug, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!Doug, your link got truncated somehow, so I’m reproducing it here with a link:Blogging & A Little Common Sense

  3. Shelley, I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now and posted on it here. Even when we think we understand the privacy settings of various social networking sites, there are often things we miss. Anything we put online has the potential to haunt us for a long time to come. I like your idea of imagining posts attached to your office door the next morning. Before I post I ask myself is this the right forum? For example, if I have a beef with the way my school is run, is there a more constructive way to address it than posting it on my blog? Shouldn’t I talk directly to the people who are involved, and who can actually do something about it? While nobody likes to feel hog-tied, as teachers we do have to be careful as to what we post on-line; there’s no way around it. The tricky part is we all have different ideas of what is appropriate. Thanks for starting this great discussion, Shelley!Claire

  4. Oops, left the wrong link to my post on a similar topic. Here it is(I hope!)

  5. Shelley, Kyle at the Science Bench, has a new post today that’s pertinent to this discussion. If you haven’t already seen it, here’s the link: The consequences of living your life online. My comment there would be just as applicable here.BTW, I found my way here just as you did to my blog through the Comment Challenge. Really enjoying “meeting” new people!

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  7. I’ve had an online presence for more than 1/2 of my 24 years as an educator (if you can believe there has even been an online presence to be had for that long). When I was still a classroom teacher I was more careful about what I posted online and how I directed my students towards resources outside of school. Currently, I am in an administrative district-level position in educational technology and see things in a much more global sense. In one aspect, I am a little more relaxed about my own online presence and yet I can see where I took risks as a classroom teacher of which I was totally unaware. Here is a list of a few things that either I did (and shouldn’t have) or teachers do today, and shouldn’t. These are absolutely meant with totally postitive, educational and wonderful intentions, but let me tell you…in today’s world, they can get you in deep doody :       Don’t give your students your personal email address. If your school or district gives you an email address, this is the one you are supposed to use. Use this one and use it a lot (parents want to communicate with you easily).      Don’t give your students your IM name and don’t chat with them online. Unless your district has a solution for this.   Don’t give your students your personal home/cell phone number. It’s ok to give this to their parents, of course, if you are comfortable with that.   Although there are many, MANY extremely educationally valuable websites out there, many are also blocked by school firewalls. Don’t recommend that your students go to websites outside of school that are blocked inside of school. If your school is behind a firewall, remember that even if a site is accessible from school, it is filtered. Remind your students and parents that accessing these sites from home CAN sometimes yield unintended results (CYA). If there is something you need for a lesson, download it yourself and bring it in to use it. There are many resources to do this. See Zamzar for starters.   Don’t publish students’ pictures or names online (unless behind password-protected AND school district approved sites) without a legal written document signed by a parent. Really. Don’t.  Our school district uses Edline for our district secure websites. Personally I think the sites are kind of ugly, but they work, they are for communcation, parents LOVE it and they are secure!     If you have a MySpace, FaceBook, etc. page, protect it and scrutinize who you "friend." Be aware that anything you post online is there forever, even if you delete it. Have you seen this site, Waybackmachine?  This site takes a snapshot of every webpage posted and allows you to see anything that has been online since 1996. Didn’t know that, huh? Try it.       When in doubt about something, get your principal’s approval. Ultimately, your principal is the manager of your school and should take the hit for anything that goes on. If he/she isn’t aware that you did something, you go under the bus, rightfully.    I hope this is helpful, take care!   ~Lee

  8. As a society, we need to cultivate mindful users. In schools and those settings where informal education goes on, more adults need to deal with the reality of the online world and those young citizens who are there and those who just haven’t gotten there yet.Everyone needs to understand what it means to be informed when the most benign of things – a photo or a print out – is contextualized within a world signatures that can be traced back to your individual printer or your brand of digital camera.We exist in a constant swirl of personally-identifiable data. Just think of how much data you generated already without thinking about the computers involved – card swipes (e.g., ATM, transit, ID, retail courtesy), RFID (gas tag), etc.And, I think by sharing our adult own missteps, we can all become better users. Because of another commitment, I was literally dragged from a dinner party at my 25th high school reunion two weekends ago while talking to a classmate who is now that school’s school counselor. And, I gave her a couple of scenarios that might be useful in broaching the topic. Illustrative examples are good. In college, I did LGBT dorm outreach and there was one question that I would never answer in that context because I personally considered it inflammatory in a freshman setting. Others answered it. But life is fluid. And the arbiters that matter may change. And, what was fine when you were young and post-college may still be fine personally and acceptable until the moment you were changed by Columbine and decided to become a teacher or school pyschologist. What now to do about that online effluvia that could track back to the other you?For every one thing, a school system or an administration can prevent at 9 am there will be a list of work-arounds being text msg by 12 pm between students. And as it is for them, it is more so for us. It’s always about the norms? And, how closely are you adhering the rules? I wonder if Julian Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” will ever stop having some relevance? (The Village Voice, December 23, 1993; think it is less and less possible to divide identities. We just don’t parse as finely as would be necessary to do it well. So why bother. Because we enjoy notions of privacy. And think they are real. Perhaps, it’s time to be open about the social constructs that conveniently label as secure or private. Because what is today, may not be tomorrow.For all of us who obey the rules, others won’t. Sometimes the norm is to do all the things that Lee says not to do. (Most of which seems to be true at my son’s school.) So we need students to see the process by which we struggle with gray areas? And, it starts at home. Life, online or not, boils down to how would you feel if your action(s) ends up on the evening news or the front page? Could you explain it to your mother? Or, your 10 year old? How well did you understand the EULA you agreed to before you updated or installed that last piece of software at home?A beginning is to ask oneself what is your personal code of conduct? Answering the question does not that mean bad things won’t happen but it can provide a beginning defense. For example, when the student eventually asks about intrepidflame’s photos to which he somehow gains access, has he got some answer.A different kind of digital divide is growing between many students and the adults in their lives. Obviously, one can’t ignore it but you have to adopt some zen way of living with the reality of constantly evolving identity and then work on a cohorent way of keeping it “straight” in your head.–aet

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