Sunday, 3 February 2013

John Finch: Hot Topic Issues

     This week we had the opportunity to have John Finch physically visit our classroom to discuss various issues in educational technology. I found that I am more engaged during a face-to-face visit so I really enjoyed myself. Now don't get me wrong, I think tools like Skype are amazing for connecting people and removing the distance barrier but I personally still prefer the face-to-face interaction if possible! After having multiple presenters discuss the benefits of technology in education, PLNs and becoming connected educators, it was nice to discuss some of the issues that are arising from this.

     John touched on many issues including cyber-bullying, online presence and professionalism, data ownership, copyright laws and much more! I was especially interested in what John had to say because I know that online sharing is something that I want to incorporate into my future classroom. As such, I want to make sure that these issues are addressed and handled in the most appropriate way. The two issues that really hit home with me were the issue of cyber-bullying as well as data ownership.


     The term cyber-bullying is thrown around a lot in the media recently and seems to be an issue that is in the minds of educators around the world. In fact, a 12 year old girl in our university's community was recently arrested for her involvement in cyber-bulling. Are tech platforms like text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter really rampant with bullying behaviours though? John says that they aren't. Many divisions in Manitoba are now participating in the "Tell Them From Me" student surveying system that can shed light on the situations that are actually occurring in our schools. According to the data, approximately 25% of students report being physically and/or verbally bullied while at school while only 8-12% of students report being cyber-bullied. Even more surprising is that of the 25% who report being physically and/or verbally bullied at school state that the bullying behaviour is coming from a teacher!

     Unfortunately, this data is still being formally compiled and presented to divisions so there isn't a public report that I can link to on these issues. Nevertheless, I still think John touched on an important point in regards to educating ourselves on important issues before jumping on the "media bandwagon". As teachers it is our responsibility to supervise our students, be aware of what situations are occurring between our students, mitigate any concerns, and inform ourselves as much as possible. This responsibility does not change, regardless of what platforms our students may be utilizing. In his words, "We can either legislate out of the problem or educate out of the problem." Does it really make sense to implement policy after policy to help curb an issue or does it make more sense to educate students appropriately so that the issue is diminished. If you are interested in learning more about the role that social media plays in our student's lives and the issues that can arise from it, check out the work of danah boyd (her name is legally spelled without capital letters). The video I am embedding below, of danah boyd, really stresses the importance of educating ourselves and understanding what is going on in our student's lives. danah discusses how students are actually consciously attempting to privatize their online life (I know many people who would think students are doing the opposite).

Data Ownership

     I was very interested in John's discussion on data ownership for two reasons. One, because I am an avid blogger, social media user, and plan to use both in my classroom one day. Two, because I am part of a group who is presenting on "How To Not Steal From The Internet" later this semester. One thing that I had never heard of before this presentation was Intellectual Property Rights and how it can apply to teachers and students. When a student completes an assignment that work does not belong to you as the teacher, it belongs to that student. Meaning, they own the intellectual property rights to that piece of work. As such, written consent must be obtained by their parent/guardian before it can be shared outside of the classroom (ie. posted on a classroom/teaching blog, twitter account, etc). Now, most divisions now have parents sign multiple release forms at the beginning of the year that include information like this, but it is important to make sure! For example, both this blog and my e-portfolio feature student work from when I was student teaching. I had asked the students beforehand but I did not know about getting written permission from their parent/guardian. Luckily, when I went back and got in touch with the appropriate divisions it was ok to be sharing the work that I did but it could have been bad if it wasn't! This is something that I am definitely going to be keeping tabs on when I have my own classroom. It is so important to have an open policy with parents and I will be letting them know from day one what my plans are in regards to online sharing. I would never share information without student and parent approval! 

     Another thing we discussed was using online applications that house their data in the United States. I had never even thought of where data was stored. For example, if you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogger, etc, where do their headquarters house their data? More often than not, it is housed in the United States. As such, it is open to being accessed by the US government at any time as stated in the US Patriot Act. The issue then becomes can you use these tools legally with students while still working within the parameters of FIPPA (Freedom of Information and Protection or Privacy Act) and PHIA (Personal Health Information Act)? John shared the story of how a teacher had used Instagram with his students to share what was going on in their classroom and a student's picture was later used on a national billboard advertising cameras! The company had the right to sell the student's picture based off of the Terms of Service agreement  but you don't want to be the teacher who allowed that to happen! Online sharing can bring amazing benefits into the classroom and enhance learning opportunities but teachers need to make sure they are facilitating these experiences appropriately. If you want to make sure you are using online tools safely with your students, review the Terms of Service agreement and watch for:
- Where the data is stored
- How the data is used
- What legislation allows access to the data
- Who owns the data
If you are like 99.9% of people who don't actually read the Terms of Service because they are impossible to understand and 30+ pages, check out Terms of Service; Didn't Read which is a website organized by lawyers who are determined to put these agreements into plain English.

     I want to thank John again for driving to Brandon to visit our class and for being willing to talk about the important issues that can arise when it comes to using technology in our classrooms. I will definitely be keeping this information with me as I go forward as an educator!


  1. I loved his presentation! I really liked the 'chat' style, it was very good and relaxed! I sure had no idea about where the data from sites gets stored being important. That sort of blew my mind haha. We need to be very mindful as to what we use.

    1. Yeah I find I am more engaged with discussions like that compared to very formal presentations of virtual presentations. I found that he provided so much practical and important information that I will be using in my classroom.

  2. I agree with you 100% that we need to be aware of what our students are doing in the classroom and we are responsible for thier well being, no matter what type of technology they are using. My concern is having the balance between infusing technology into the classroom and giving studets devices to use that can not always be monitored, and being able to know what is being said through the devices that the students are using. I grew up in an era where passing notes was one of the only ways to say something during class without the teacher hearing. We are now giving students the opportunity to bring their own devices which will be much harder to monitor and could lead to opportunites for instances of online bullying. I however, agree with you that it is really important to educate the students on what is apporpriate and maybe more imporatantly of the consequences so that they can make the proper decisions when using devices online. It would be interesting to look at statistics of cyber bullying in schools that allow BYOD to see if the numbers for cyber bullying are higher or lower than the norm.

    1. That is a really good point Erin! I know of several schools that have monitoring systems on school laptops that can be accessed from a teacher's computer. For example, teacher's can see a screen with 24 thumbnails of each student's screen in real time, see what applications they have running and can disable screens when they need full attention. From what I have read this is more of a classroom management tool rather than to monitor cyber-bullying but it could help if needed. It also would be of no use if students brought their own devices as well.


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