Our world is changing, and the internet has been a driving force behind a lot of that change. From the imminent extinction of cd’s, DVDs and Blockbuster, to online shopping and Facebook. From the civil unrest in the Middle East and the “Arab Spring” movement to Google there is no question that social media is reshaping our 21st century society. And while I’m much happier paying my $8.00 a month Netflix subscription than paying for late fees at the local video store or watching commercial ridden cable television, our new online reality introduces new concerns. Pamela Portal (2011), in a faculty guide for Vancouver Island University, writes:
While digital information-sharing provides countless opportunities for community-building,
collaboration and education, broad disclosure of personal information for these or other reasons
can have potentially damaging effects. At the very least, indiscriminate personal information-sharing
may increase circulation of spam. More seriously, wide exchanges of personal information may
cause some individuals loss of important health, educational, employment or financial benefits.
At its most damaging, publication of personal information on the web can, and has, stigmatized
vulnerable individuals, tarnished or destroyed reputations, terminated careers and even caused
some individuals the loss of their jobs, families or identities. (p.1)
As an educator this reality is exacerbated as teachers are legally held to a higher standard. According to the Standards for the Education, Competence and Professional Conduct of Educators in BC teachers are considered role models and are therefore, “…accountable for their conduct while on duty, as well as off duty...”
(Teacher Regulation Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2013). The implications of these standards were evidenced in the John and Ilze Shewan case, where two teachers from the Abbotsford school district were disciplined for posting a semi nude picture taken on holiday in a photo contest. In a critical examination of the case G. Siracusa (1991) summarizes that, “Teachers are given no clear guidelines as to what will be used as a basis for evaluating their conduct ”(p. 11). As social media can expose our personal privacy to a wider audience, the issue of personal conduct becomes more relevant. Hengstler (2011) explains, “As we expand our use of technology, reports of small and large faux pas affecting the lives of students, educators, and others increase” (p. 90). Quite simply by adopting the use of social media in and out of the classroom teachers are exposing themselves to greater risk. Henstler (2011) outlines this in the following statement, “Combine the rising use of Web 2.0 and social networking, a lack of professional scaffolding for educators, shifting privacy norms, ubiquitous access to the technology with powerful search engines and you have a recipe for disaster”
( p. 99).
Reflecting on my own training, outside of my voluntary course work at Vancouver Island University, I have not received any mandatory instruction on privacy or the professional management of social media. From what I have observed I would have to say that any issues regarding social media in the school setting have been handled reactively and using an in-house approach. In some ways I feel we are left stumbling around in the dark, hoping we don’t bump into something. Again Hengstler writes in her 2011 article Managing your digital footprint: Ostriches v. Eagles:
… there are few examples of school or institutional policies that proactively manage and scaffold
use of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies—beyond blocking and banning. K-12 schools,
school districts, and school boards in North America and abroad are struggling with sound ways to
incorporate these technologies in safe and responsible ways”. (p. 91)
Recognizing this it might seem rational and even prudent for teachers to avoid the use of social media all together until adequate training and guidelines are established and implemented by schools, districts and at the provincial level.
Many social media tools are promoted as free, and therefore become even more appealing to teachers looking to introduce fresh new ideas into their classrooms. However as Hoofnagle and Whittington (2013) outline in their paper, The price of 'free: Accounting for the cost of the Internet's most popular price, there is a price for these so called free services. They explain, “…Some firms obligate consumers to divulge personal information in order to try a “free” sample of their online product. Other firms, such as social networking services, would not have a product if not for the personal information consumers create and upload” (p.1). When using social media tools in the classroom teachers can be exposing students to a host of risks, “…from the commercial—such as exposure to advertising and spam—to the aggressive (e.g. cyberbullying) –to the sexual (e.g. pornographic)—to impersonation and identify theft” (Hengstler, 2013) .
Another factor that needs to be considered by teachers who choose to adopt Web 2.0 and social media tools is B.C.’s strict privacy laws. Hengstler (2013) explains in her document, A K-12 primer for British Columbia teachers posting students' work online :
…the inescapable reality is that many teachers and schools are using Web 2.0 and social media
tools right now and may be in total ignorance of the new legislative requirements—especially those
restricting the storage of personal information on servers external to Canada without explicit written
consent, the need for teachers to be able to document evidence that parents/guardians and students
were provided knowledge of and notice for the reasons the technologies are being used, and
documenting the known risks. Some teachers may think that these rules are optional. They’re not.
If found in breach of the current privacy protection laws in BC, an individual teacher could be fined
between $2,000.00 to $5,000.00 while a school could face fines as high as $50,000.00 .(p. 3)
These strict consequences should serve as a serious caution to teachers who are not familiar with, but keen to try social media or Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Teachers with a lack of background knowledge pertaining to BC privacy law, social media in general and who are not supported through their schools might be wise to avoid these tools.
Only three years ago I didn’t own a cellphone, I wasn’t a member of Facebook, Twitter or any other social media service and the only form of electronic communication I used was e-mail. I stubbornly held on to the ideal of being safe, and I felt it was a privilege to be “disconnected.” After attending a district professional development conference on 21st century learning I realized I was risking falling out of touch with my students and my own personal social network. So much of the planning and activities that I engage in use social media as way to organize and share. While we do sacrifice a measure of our privacy, with the use of social media if we understand this and make responsible choices with the material we post and our depicted in I see minimal risk. In the article Privacy requires security not abstinence, Garfinkle (2009) writes:
Now, however, abstinence no longer guarantees privacy. Of course, it never really did. But until the
past two decades it was always possible to keep some private information out of circulation. Today,
although you can avoid the supermarket savings card, the market will still capture your face with its
video cameras. You can use cash, but large cash transactions are reported to the federal government.
You can try to live without the Internet--but you'll be marginalized. Worse, you won't be able to participate
in the public debate about how your privacy is wasting away--because that debate is happening online.
( p. 2)
The internet is not a trend or a fad, it is a profound and irreversible shift in society. As outlined in the article, Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media:
Today, everything is about Social Media. Some industry gurus claim that if you do not participate in
Facebook, YouTube, and Second Life, you are not part of cyberspace anymore. Social Media allow
firms to engage in timely and direct end-consumer contact at relatively low cost and higher levels of
efficiency than can be achieved with more traditional communication tools.(Kietzmann, J., Hermkens, K.,
McCarthy, I., & Silvestre, B., p.4)
As teachers it is our responsibility to become better citizens, be it online or face to face. Hengstler (2011) writes in, Managing your digital footprint: Ostriches v. Eagles, “ Regardless of whether educators decide to actively manage their own digital footprint, they have a moral responsibility to teach students how to manage their digital footprints to protect and hopefully expand the students’ future opportunities” (p.92) . The ship has left the shore, there is no going back, and if we don’t get on board we risk getting left behind, relics of a past generation.
We are in transition, and change is always difficult. I sometimes feel that our education system is relatively slow to adapt, I see many classrooms that continue to rely independently on textbooks penned in the 20th century. In an article promoting social media in education, Tarte (2013) writes, “Social media helps move students from simply consuming information to creating and then sharing their work with the world. Districts looking to embed and embrace 21st century skills into their curricula will find the transition much easier with the aid of social media” (para. 5). Cautiously, I think educators need to prepare themselves by becoming familiar with social media, and focusing their professional development in this area. As a society I think we need to continue to address issues of the digital divide and strive toward equal access for those students without who are at risk of getting left behind. Not surprising the most marginalized segments of our population are the most at risk. Frits Pannekoek (2001) writes in his article, Cyber imperialism and the marginalization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, “as the `first’ world becomes increasingly connected, those who do not have access to its cyber resources will be increasingly marginalized and become victims of yet another revolution” (p. 7). Yet there are hopeful examples that suggests the positives that may come from this shift. Taylor (2011) writes in, Social media as a tool for inclusion, “Data from different regions of Canada and anecdotal reports suggest that First Nations and Inuit peoples have embraced social media, using tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to keep in touch with home communities, fight addiction, showcase Aboriginal arts and crafts, preserve cultural identity and support political advocacy” (p. 1).
Justin Tarte (2013) writes, “Social media is a tool, and tools don't make bad decisions” (para 7). If as educators we follow the same high standards and professional guidelines that we have used to guide our practice in the past in we will be off to a good start. While these new technologies do present new challenges, patience, knowledge and a guided approach can minimize their inherent risks. Further, in modelling responsible use, we can hope to teach students how to become better and safer digital citizens. Several years ago as a young teacher in Chilliwack I ran an outdoor club with another keen colleague. After a year of short day trips and mountain bike rides we dreamed up the ultimate trip. Our goal was to take a group of 10 middle school students to complete the West Coast Trail. Our principal thought we were crazy, but we developed and presented a methodical plan that addressed every possible safety issue. He couldn’t say no. We studied and presented detailed information of the trail, our itinerary, pack weight relative to body weight, menu, sleeping arrangements, transportation and costs. We took specific wilderness first-aid training, did practice hikes with the kids and involved the parents in the entire process. To this day the trip stands as one of most memorable activities I have ever engaged in with students. A few of our students went so far as to describe it as life changing. To me it also represents an example of how preparation, good decision making and knowledge can minimize risk and maximize reward and it stands in contrast from my failed attempt at kayak surfing. As educators we must confront social media with the same researched and cautious approach, as it represents more than just a passing fad, but a revolutionary change that our students need to be prepared for in order to be successful in the 21st century.
Garfinkel, S. (2009) Privacy requires security not abstinence. Technology Review, http://simson.net/clips/2009/2009.TR.Privacy.pdf
Hengstler, J. (2013). A K-12 primer for British Columbia teachers posting students' work online. http://jhengstler.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/a-k-12-primer-for-british-columbia-teachers-posting-students-work-online/
Hengstler,J. (2013). What parents should know part 1: basic understanding of social media & digital communications. http://jhengstler.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/what-parents-should-know-part-1-basic-understanding-of-social-media-digital-communications/
Hengstler, J. (2011). Managing your digital footprint: Ostriches v. Eagles. In S. Hirtz & K. Kelly (Eds.), Education for a Digital World 2.0 (2nd ed.) (Vol. 1, Part One: Emerging technologies and practices). Open
School/Crown Publications: Queen's Printer for British Columbia, Canada. http://www.viu.ca/education/faculty_publications/hengstler/EducationforDigitalWorld2.0_1_jh89.pdf
Hoofnagle, C. & Whittington, J. (2013). "The price of 'free: Accounting for the cost of the Internet's most popular price.' Social Science Research Network. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2235962
Kietzmann, J., Hermkens, K. , McCarthy, I., & Silvestre, B. (2011). "Social media? Get serious!
Understanding the functional building blocks of social media". Business Horizons 54, 241–251.
Pannekoek, F. (2001) Chapter 6: Cyber imperialism and the marginalization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. In The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization. Ed. Jean-Paul Baillargeon. http://www.grubstreetbooks.ca/handingdownofculture/06_frits_pannekoek.html
Portal, P. (2011). "Privacy guide for faculty using 3rd party web technology (social media) in public post-secondary courses". Vancouver Island University & BC Campus. http://www.viu.ca/iel/tech/Privacy_Guide_SocialMedia_Cloud_PostSecondary_Classes_2011.pd
Siracusa, G. (1991). The John and Ilze Shewan Case: Unconventional Teacher Behaviour: Private Life in Public Conflict. M.Ed. Thesis, Faculty of Education, SFU Retrieved from http://summit.sfu.ca/system/files/iritems1/4590/b14442759.pdf
Tarte. J. (2013). 10 reasons we need social media in education. Retrieved from http://www.justintarte.com/2013/07/10-reasons-we-need-social-media-in.html
Taylor, A. (2011). Social media as a tool for inclusion: Final research report. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. http://www.homelesshub.ca/ResourceFiles/Taylor_Social%20Media_feb2011%20(1)_1_2.pdf
Teacher Regulation Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2013). Standards for education, competence, and professional conduct of educators in BC. http://www.bcteacherregulation.ca/Standards/StandardsDevelopment.aspx