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Archive for the ‘Child Predator’ Category

At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.

I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.

I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.

I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.

Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.

Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.

Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.

Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.

It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.

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Yesterday, as a speaker and panelist at various education related conferences, I had a wonderful experience. I was asked to participate on a panel at a gathering of education technology industry leaders. The group was assembled by The Software and Information Industry Association, SIIA. It took place in the plush setting of a prestigious law firm office in the heart of New York City. The Panel discussion was to address connected educators and the effect on education. The other panelists included my friend and connected colleague, Lisa Nielsen, @innovativeEdu and Andrew Gardner, @Agardnahh, whom I met for the first time.

The setting was incredible. It was on the 9th floor of a building that we needed to sign into. The receiving area had food and drinks set up with couches and tables set up to comfortably gather the group as it assembled and pinned on their nametags. The room quickly filled with clusters of conversations positioned about.

Lisa and I went off to check out the room where we were to conduct the “roundtable discussion”. We wanted to get comfortable with the setting before we had to begin. Again, it was a large, elegant room with leather top tables and microphones for the panel at the front of the room. There were very comfortable chairs for the audience arranged in ROWS. It was the idea of rows that got to me immediately. This was not a roundtable discussion setting. It was a historic classroom setting with the teacher at the front and students in rows. It screamed we are the experts and you are the students. For me this was not going to work.

As the 20 to 30 participants entered the room I made an announcement that we would be re-arranging the seats so they would be in a circle for the presentation. The immediate reaction was confusion. The host of the event, I believe he was a partner of the law firm, said quietly to me, “We have never done this before.”  I knew then that I was going to be thought of as an out of the box thinker, or an idiot by the end of this session. Actually, it is a teaching method we teach student teachers. Consider the goal, and the setting you need to accomplish it. If it requires rearranging the room, do it.

Once the audience realized that there was no escape from rash decision of the mustachioed, short guy standing in the front of the room (an obvious position of power), they helped form the circle of very expensive chairs. I was committed at this point, so I had to make it work, but I was confident that it would. I was fortunate that the other panelists were aware of the benefits of the new configuration, and they supported the decision. In retrospect I might have been a bit arrogant, but in this instance it worked to my benefit.

The discussion started with quick introductions from Lisa Schmucki, the moderator, followed by a general question about what is a connected educator, and what is connected learning. We, as panelists, carried the opening of the discussion, but soon that shifted as the audience members, who were not separated in rows, but connected in a circle that positioned each listener to face each speaker, committed to the discussion.  Success was almost assured as long as the panel, now part of the circle, kept the conversation going with facts and opinions from an educator’s point of view. This was in fact connected learning face to face. Titles were dropped and ideas were considered on their own merit. The panelists, lawyers and business people all became equal participants in the discussion.

The goal of this roundtable was to explore what business people could do to get involved with connected educators. The big idea was to listen to what educators had to say. Pitching products to connected educators will not work. A big take away was that these industry people had access to researchers and experts not available to teachers. They could provide free webinars with these experts to address and inform on issues as professionals and not salespeople selling products.

I can’t help to think that, if we as educators had these types of discussions earlier, maybe the discussion on education would not have been hijacked by business people, politicians, and profiteers. Instead of experts in the front of the room telling us what needs to be done, we could develop solutions through dialogue with the people really involved. The idea that well-intentioned endeavors, like Education Nation could continue with such little, or contrived participation from educators to balance the discussion could gain popular attention is more than upsetting.

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As an educator for the past four decades there is very little in the way of conversation that I haven’t discussed about what it is to be a teacher. In these discussions, over all of these years, there is one position taken by many people which always gives me cause to think less of the person with whom I am having the discussion. It forces me to question their bias on the subject. The statement that sets me off is usually some variation of,”teaching isn’t really a profession”.

The person at that point of the discussion would usually talk about the hours in the day and the weeks in the year that teachers work as if that had something to do with what a professional is. Ultimately, it always ends up with some comment about the idea that teachers belong to a UNION so they can’t be professionals.

I found two different definitions of Profession and neither mentions a disqualification of status because of time spent working or any union affiliation:

A calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation…

A vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science: the profession of teaching…

I have always taught in New York. There are many different requirements for teacher certification throughout the fifty states, but the common link is a higher education degree. That requires at least four years of college. Many states require a Master’s degree, which involves an additional two years of education. Teachers are required to be content experts as well as education experts all of which entails specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation to enter this vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science. I would say that teaching meets all the requirements to be considered a profession.

It is the very lack of respect for teaching as a profession that forced teachers into considering unionizing in the first place. We are not far from the days of the Schoolmarm, when the work ethic and morals of teachers had a different standard than everyone else. Teaching was often viewed as a part-time job suited well for women because of the limited hours and an academic calendar. I remember back in the 50’s and 60’ teachers were forced to work second jobs in the summers to support their families. If one’s value to society was based on compensation, teachers had very little. People referred to it as a calling as if because of that calling a salary was of little consequence. Teachers, after all, were civil servants. That implied that they were servants to the people, and a servant is not a professional.

It was that very attitude that forced many teachers to organize. The result was not only a better job and working conditions for teachers, but, as a result, it created a better learning environment for students. The real effect of teacher’s union contracts By Matthew DiCarlo via Valerie Strauss Which was further supported by Teacher Unions Boost Student Achievement According to a New Study in the Harvard Educational Review . Essentially, it stated that states with teachers unions provide a better education for their students.

Of course the other more vocal argument these days is the “BAD TEACHER” cry. That is the label most often used in targeting teachers today. My contact with most teachers spanning 40 years as an educator leads me to believe that the vast majority of teachers are caring concerned and dedicated individuals who have answered a calling. Most are parents as well. They are not bad people or “Bad Teachers”. The profession however needs its professionals to constantly update their knowledge and maintain relevance. Schools need at the very least support this, and in the best case provide it. Professional development however is low on the priority list of schools in need of reform.

The public’s negative attitude toward my profession is further exemplified in its judgment of all teachers based on the actions of a few. It is always a headline story when some teacher does something really stupid. It is stupid to openly blog a rant about one’s own students or, any kids or their parents for that matter. Teachers who have done this are not in the majority. Those are stupid and thoughtless acts of individuals. They probably represent the smallest fraction of a percentage of teachers, yet as a result of the actions of this fraction, we now have places considering legislation banning teachers (only teachers) from having contact with students through social media.

There was a case in Los Angeles recently where two teachers were accused of child molestation. That is a heinous crime and the fact that two people in the same building may have committed it at the same time is astounding. Both of those individuals deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The district however decided to take it one step further and eliminate the entire faculty of that school before those individuals even went to trial. Again, this is a community that judges an entire profession based on the stupid or illegal actions of a very few.

Teachers are also probably one of the only professional groups to have their salaries printed in local newspapers at the whim of people looking for political gain. Maybe in the interest of transparency, every community member should have their salary posted in the local paper. I am sure that would have great support. That is only one of the indignities resulting in the fish bowl existence teachers must put up with from communities that lack respect for the profession of teaching.

I am a professional in the profession of education. I have worth; a great deal of worth. I am an expert in an area that required me to obtain and document years of education. I have proven my worth in my job every day as a professional teacher. Do not judge me by the actions of a very few. Do not label me a “Bad Teacher” because districts are not supporting fellow professionals with professional development. Many of my colleagues are civil servants, but they are serving a calling. They are not your personal servants. They are professionals in the Profession of Education.

 

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I was always intrigued by the saying, “I taught him everything he knows, but not everything that I know!” I always thought that was a pretty clever saying. It was also true of educators in years gone by. They were the content experts. If you wanted knowledge, these experts had it. People paid good money to travel to the places where these content experts delivered their wares, universities, colleges and monasteries. Knowledge was a commodity and, if the expert held anything back, a student’s only recourse for more, was to search the libraries. Ah, the simplicity of the bygone days. As public education came about we had many more content experts and many more libraries. That was the model, listen to experts and read content in books housed in academic or public libraries. Since all of education was based on print media every teacher was media literate, if they could read and understand.

Media began to change first with TV, and then with computers offering other means of content delivery. Television was easily understood and adopted quickly by educators. VCR’s were more easily handled than threading those ratchety, click-clickety-sounding 16 mm projectors. Video cassettes made everything user-friendly. I always thought that Social Studies teachers were the quickest to use video to deliver content. It was suited for them. Some teachers even allowed students to create content with video. That was innovation back in the day.

What threw the monkey wrench into the sprocket works of education was the damned internet and all of the stuff that it delivers. It comes in mass quantities and things are always changing, or evolving, or, in some cases, disappearing altogether to be replaced by something else. Being a content expert is easier if the content doesn’t change. Commit to it once, and you are done. The idea that there might be constant change and additional information happening on a frequent basis changes the dynamic of the content expert’s job. If content changes faster than the expert can adapt, maybe the expert needs to change the strategy. Teach students what to look for, and what to value in content, so they can access it in whatever form it is being delivered. More importantly, allow students to use those tools of technology and information to create new content and share it with others.

In order to do this, Educators, who are still the content experts, need to be literate in the area of media. They need to be aware of the means of delivery and learning tools for creation of content for their students. Gutenberg’s printing press innovation carried education for years. However, it is now a new digital era and Gutenberg technology is beginning to fade. I am sure someone told Gutenberg that they would never read his printed text because they loved the feel and smell of hand written scrolls. Guttenberg would probably feel delighted to know that people feel that very same way about his printed text today. They don’t like digital and prefer the printed text. Not so much the younger generation living with texting on 4 inch screens, digital readers, iPad and tablets.

I recently read a post defining Information Literacy, Digital Literacy, and Digital Citizenship. Information Literacy, Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship by Maggie Hos-McGrane.  It was also a Topic on a recent #Edchat discussion. After considering all of this, as well as a presentation that I am working on dealing with the subject, I have made some personal observations. I really believe that, as content experts, most educators are information literate. That would mean: To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and has the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

Where I begin to have my doubts however, is in my day-to-day contacts with educators throughout the year. I supervise student teachers requiring me to travel to many different schools contacting many different educators. I have not accumulated data, or even done a survey, but in my many encounters with educators they have often expressed objections to the use of technology tools for learning in education. It is not necessarily the actual use of technology that is being objected to, but rather the need for the educator to have to personally learn the technology. This may be the result of many things such as: bad professional development experience, lack of support to try new things, control issues, or simply not wanting to have to learn anything more. This is where I begin to be concerned. It is my OPINION that there are too many educators falling into this category. They have little chance to meet the next requirement of Media or Digital Literacy. Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate and analyze information using digital technology.

How many digitally illiterate teachers in a school does it take to begin to affect the way kids are learning? This definition does not call for technology mastery, but rather simply an ability to use technology. YES, you can be a good teacher without using technology. Your students however in order to be Lifelong learners, as we all want them to be, will need a knowledge of these things to access and create content as they move further into their future. No one will be resurrecting Guttenberg technology to support outdated methods of teaching. Technology tools are no longer an option left to a teacher’s discretion. Students without a digital literacy will be handicapped as learners in their own lifetime.

How we teach often reflects how we learn. New learners have new tools. Many teachers learned and teach with old tools. They are comfortable with old tools, but a teacher’s comfort is not the goal of education. Additionally, the variety of tech tools for learning offer great opportunity for success with differentiation. Educators need to be aware. What good is it being a content expert if no one is getting the message?

Good educators need to model learning. Not being media literate in the 21st Century is a very POOR model. A teacher’s content expertise is a small rival to the internet. Teaching and guiding kids to harness that content should be the goal. Projects and speeches on paper, display boards and podiums have been replaced by many tech alternatives. Kids get it, some teachers don’t! We shouldn’t teach kids to be keepers of content, but learners of content, better yet, creators of content. It needs to be a lifelong process and tech tools are required.

If relevance requires continuous learning and it is necessary for acceptance, how do educators keep up without knowledge of media literacy? It is a professional responsibility! Media Literacy requires people enter a world that gives up a great deal of control. Many educators are not prepared for that. Comfort and control issues however, do not excuse educators from being media literate. Even one illiterate educator in a school is one too many. An even worse offense is a media illiterate administrator. We all need to model learning, especially our leadership, and moving forward, technology will be a part of that learning.

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My post today is on a topic which I have discussed before and probably will discuss more in the future. As much as we talk about reform in education, the system is very slow to change. Many of the people shouting the loudest for a need for sweeping improvements are some of the same people who are ardent supporters of the status quo. For whatever reasons they may publicly state, their preference is to keep things the way that they have been. Whether it is comfort or ease, things in a system, as large as education, are very slow to change. Even though we are educated adults, with adult experience, more often than not we hear the term “baby steps” used in conversations of education reform.

My school district for many years spent what may have been thousands of dollars each year on the first day back to school in order to provide an inspirational keynote speaker for the entire district faculty meeting to kick off the new year. It was an expense, and a practice which I always found to be a waste of time and money. There is however, one memory of one such speaker sharing an experience, which I remember lo these many years.

According to this speaker, each Christmas her family had a traditional family dinner featuring a ham for the main course. Through the decades the ham was always prepared the same way. In its preparation each end of the ham had a portion of the meat sliced away, literally inches of meat removed prior to cooking. One day, the speaker asked her mother why the removal of the ends of the ham. Her mother replied that it was always done that way, and so, it was how she learned to cook it from her mother. Since the Grandmother was still alive, although not in attendance at the dinner, a phone call was placed to inquire about the method requiring the cutting of the ham. When the question was posed, “Why do we cut the ends of the ham before we cook it?” the answer came as a shock. The grandmother explained that when they started the family dinner, decades back, they only had a small roasting pan and needed to cut the ham to fit it into the pan. Hence, the cutting of the ham continued for years without regard to origin or reason. They just did it and continued to do it, because that is how it was done.

With that as my backdrop, it is now time to get to the meat of this matter. With the beginning of the internet (sometimes attributed to Al Gore) and its incursion into education, many educators and parents were unaware and fearful of the unknown. That very fear drove the development of policies that were adopted to protect kids from the evil that was the internet. The very fears that are used as hot buttons by the media to drum up huge audiences for shows like “To Catch a Predator”. The very fears that are used as hot buttons to sell filtering software to schools to block out any site mentioning sex, drugs, or rock and roll, not to mention Facebook, and Twitter. These very same fears fostered ideas like Acceptable Use Policies limiting personal rights and academic freedom.

It would be irresponsible, as well as idiotic to say that the internet is free from any of the same dangers we encounter anywhere in the world digital or not. How we deal with these dangers is what we must consider. The subject of child predators has changed. TV and Movies would have you believe a majority of kids as victims are molested by strangers. For years we pounded into kids heads beware of strangers. We now have evidence that there is better than a 90% chance that the predator is a family member, close family friend, or even a clergyman. We have had to change or at least adjust the focus on strangers in our lecture about “don’t let ANYBODY touch you in an inappropriate way”.

It is time that we make adjustments to our internet policies in our schools as well. We need to be educated about the internet not fearful. We need to control our use of it, and not allow it to control us. We don’t need to refuse access to it, but rather educate kids how to responsibly access it in order to be responsible digital citizens. There is a big difference between signing an Acceptable Use Policy and teaching, learning and modeling an Acceptable Use Policy. Abuse of the internet is a discipline infraction and should be dealt with as such. A comprehensive code of conduct for any school must include technology abuses.

Access to, and understanding of the internet is becoming a needed skill if one is to compete in a technologically competitive society.  The sooner we educate our children to be responsible digital citizens, the sooner we can hold them responsible for their actions. Internet awareness must begin on the elementary level. We cannot hold children responsible for that which we have not taught them. Education is the key to safety. Filtering eliminates the ability to teach children to be responsible. It may allay the flamed fears of parents which are fanned by software companies and TV producers, but it does nothing for preparing kids for the technologically competitive world in which they must live, compete, survive, and thrive. The educator’s job is to prepare kids for the world in which the students will live. It is not the world in which the educators lived. It is not the world in which the kids’ parents lived. It is the world yet to come. There are many pitfalls and safety precautions kids must be aware of, and that cannot be denied. Teaching rather than blocking is a better strategy to defend against these pitfalls. Fear-mongering to parents may sell software to schools, and build big TV ratings, but in the long run it does not address the issue. We cannot educate kids about content that is filtered and blocked. Subjects like Breast Cancer or sexually transmitted diseases are often blocked to those students who need the information for school reports or personal inquiry. Teachers, who are also adults, are blocked access as well. This blocks needed relevant sources that would help lessons to teach. Is this what we need for our schools? Is this what we want for our kids? I do not want it for my Kids. I would hope most parents would opt for education as opposed to the void of banning.

Until we re-examine our policies to match them to the world in which we now live, as well as the world our kids will live in, I imagine I will write similar posts in the future. Technology isn’t going away. It will continue to flow no matter how many dams we build. It’s time to ask real questions, in order to understand what we really need, and how do we get there. A small roasting pan from days gone by should not determine the education that our kids need for the future.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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Lisa Nielsen and I co-wrote and cross posted this post.

When it comes to upgrading education to the 21st Century, those who are less supportive of change, often hide behind, or are frightened of acronyms like FERPA, CIPA, COPPA. This is sometimes done intentionally for convenience, or unwittingly out of ignorance. Of course in a litigious society such as ours has become, law suits are foremost in the minds of administrators. It is for that reason that a clear understanding is needed by all constituents. Our students need adults to stop being afraid, and stop hiding, so education can get out of the shadows and into the light of the world in which our children live.

These acts were created to protect children. They were not created to keep students stuck in the past, educated in a disconnected school environment that shares little resemblance to the real world for which we should be preparing our children.  These acts do not say we can’t publish online student’s names, videos, work, pictures, etc. They do not prevent us from using social media, YouTube, email, or any of those things that may be blocked in many school districts. An important goal of education is to strive for creation and publication of content by students. In today’s world technology and the Internet are an essential components of that process.

By blocking students from the digital world, the jobs of administrators and educators are made easier, but if people became teachers, education leaders or parents because it was easy, they’ve selected the wrong profession.While it is true that banning is an easy way out, doing so is short-sighted and not visionary. It does not approach the innovative status that we hear so much about.  If you’re wondering how to navigate these waters and what is really allowed, read on to find a simple policy that addresses the three main acts: FERPA, CIPA, and COPPA explaining:

  • a simple policy
  • how to do it
  • why to do it
  • safety
  • a link to each act
  • a brief overview of each act
  • what it means to educators
  • a real life example of each

World’s simplest online safety policy

Students can access websites that do not contain or that filter mature content. They can use their real names, pictures, and work (as long it doesn’t have a grade/score from a school) with the notification and/or permission of the student and their parent or guardian.

How
Notify parents/guardians that their child’s work, likeness, name will be shared across the year, and let them know the procedure for opting out.  Have the permission release provided and signed as part of the student registration packet that includes things like emergency notification contact.

As specific projects come up, notify parents/guardians in traditional ways i.e. a note home and/or using methods like a voice or texting notification system to parents, or an email.  You may also want to have updates on a parent page of your school website, or on a class website or class blog.

Why Not Ban?
Establishing a purposeful online identity of which one can be proud is an important skill to teach students. Equally important is conveying the idea that being safe and responsible online does not mean hiding your identity, but rather defining it and owning it.  After all, If your child is not developing his/her digital footprint, who is?  In elementary school students like Armond McFadden are publicly publishing work and engaging in real learning communities about his area of passion, both online and in life.  Anyone can begin making a difference and contributing real work at any age.

Never before in history have kids had the ability to create and publish so much content, so easily. Never ever  have people had the ability to access so much information without leaving a seat. These are awesome abilities that come with awesome responsibilities. These abilities and responsibilities require skills that are taught and not inherited. Educators need to have the authority to teach these skills. Educators need to be trusted to teach these skills. The world, in which our kids will live, will require their knowledge and skills in this area in order for them to be competitive and relevant.Banning Internet access for misguided reasoning will prevent educators from accomplishing this much-needed goal.

These articles provide additional insight and information for parents and educators interested in supporting their children in developing and managing a purposeful and powerful digital footprint.

What about Safety?
Shows like To Catch a Predator sensationalize and feed the fear of parents having their child exposed to a child predator. It is a real fear and certainly a serious consideration.The facts however support evidence that over 90% of child predators are family members, close family friends, or clergy. We do not ban family picnics, playgrounds, family reunions, or church functions. There are no laws addressing these issues.The best way to defend our children against these threats is to educate them. Warn or rather teach them of the dangers,make them aware of the possibilities.Or, we can lock them away, effectively banning them from the outside world in which they will eventually have to live, leaving them to use whatever they picked up on their own about responsible digital citizenship, a topic probably not stressed outside of education.

When it comes to sharing student information and student work, there is a lot of misinformation.  The reality is there is no evidence that doing so, responsibly and appropriately, compromises student safety.  Instead, representatives from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee explain that what puts kids at risk are things like:

  • having a lot of conflict with your parents
  • being depressed and socially isolated
  • being hyper
  • communicating with a lot of people who you don’t know
  • being willing to talk about sex with people that you don’t know
  • having a pattern of multiple risky activities
  • going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, and behaving like an Internet daredevil.

Sure banning is easy, but it is educational neglect to keep our heads in the sand or look the other way.  How better to support and empower kids in being safe and appropriate then to be their guides?  We certainly can’t help kids with proper and appropriate use, if the very tools they want to use are blocked.   The best way to ensure students are behaving safe online and in life is to be their partners, guiding and supporting them as necessary. We must also keep in mind that Being Safe Online Is Being Safe In Life. Rules for tools don’t make sense. Rules for behaviors do.

To follow are brief overviews of each of the acts that address online safety along with a link to the original act, what this means for educators and examples of each.

The Educator’s Guide to CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA

Children’s Internet Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. It applies only to minors in places that apply for erate funds.  The law requires an Internet safety policy that addresses:

  • blocking or filtering Internet access to pictures that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).
  • a method for monitoring (not tracking) activities.
  • access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; the safety and security of minors when communicating electronically, unauthorized access to hacking, unauthorized use of  personal information, restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.

What educators should know:
First, you can and should request that the teacher computer is unfiltered.  There is nothing worse than frustration in not being able to do work because you get blocked at every turn.  I’ve been in teacher training centers where they’ve falsely claimed they could not unblock because of CIPA requirements. Not true.  Educators need to be empowered not only with access, but also with a way to preview sites to choose for use and have unblocked for students.

When working with students, we want to empower them to independently use online tools not only at school, but in life.  Ensure you have conversations with students about appropriate use and consequences. Additionally, when planning lessons and units, you should have the sites students will use vetted in advance with proper safety settings selected i.e. “safe search” in Google.  You should also consider creating a learning outline or guide for students with directions and direct links to sites.  This helps keep the lesson on track and the students focused.

There are services like Renzulli Learning that provide educators and students access to thousands of vetted sites that are aligned to students passions, talents, interests, abilities, and learning styles.  This might be a service to investigate.  When doing searches, there are safe search sites such as KidsClick which is great for elementary students and also sorts by reading level.  For secondary students Google is a terrific site where not only can you do a Safe Search, but you can also search by reading level, language, and you can choose to translate the results.

Example:
I served as a library media specialist in Central Harlem in a Pre-K to 8 school where I complied with CIPA rules by using myself as the method for monitoring and teaching students to use their brain as a powerful filtering tool. I empowered my students to be able to be safe and appropriate online not only in school, but in life.  Sure, there were times when a site was accidentally accessed.  The students knew to hit “ctrl w” to close the window and continue.  We also set “safe” settings on the sites we were using.  Perhaps most important, when working with students, I vetted our list of sites in advance, knowing exactly where students would be accessing information.  I, as their teacher, was their filter and monitor. I had an unfiltered environment at a tough school in Harlem.  Students appreciated the privilege to use the computers and the respect afforded to them.  They didn’t want to lose that opportunity, which they would, had they purposely abused their right to use them appropriately.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
Overview:
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.

What educators should know:
This law makes the job of today’s educators easier putting responsibility on website providers to keep children under 13 years of age safe.  While children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission, many websites disallow underage children from using their services because they don’t want to bother setting up such accommodations.  If there is a site which you are interested in using for learning purposes that restricts use of those under 13, consider contacting the site to see if they would be interested in supporting you in using the site with children under the supervision of a teacher, parent or guardian with proper consent.  Many organizations (Google, Wikispaces, Voki, Voicethread, Facebook) are interested in supporting learning and appreciate having educators and parents as partners.

Example:
First grade teacher Erin Schoening knew Facebook would be a great tool to build 21st century literacy with her students and strengthen the home-school connection. She uses Facebook with her First grade students and their parents with the permission of parents, updated appropriate use policies in place with her district and blessing of Facebook in Education Division.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
Overview:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Most of the act addresses children’s education records providing parents and students the right to inspect, review, question, and have updated incorrect records.  It also states that schools must receive permission from a parent or guardian to release information from a student’s education record. There are exceptions to needing consents such as the case of audits, evaluation, financial aid, judicial orders, etc.

Schools may disclose, without consent, information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students and allow parents and students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose information about them.

What educators should know:
FERPA does not prevent many of the things you hear people saying it does. As long as parents/guardians are informed, schools may disclose, or allow students to disclose, information about themselves as long as it is not a grade or score. Notice permission is not necessary under FERPA.  They only need to inform parents/guardians this is taking place. Parents can ask their child not be included and schools must comply, but schools can still engage in planned activities. Remember though when it comes to websites, under COPPA you must obtain parental permission for students under 13 to share information or work online.

Example:
Students and teachers are sharing successes through videos and pictures at http://innovatemyclass.org.  There you will find examples of real projects students and their teachers are doing with technology.  Schools have consent forms from parents/guardians and a link to the page featuring their child is sent to parents so they can get an insight into and share the success of their children with others.

These laws were passed to keep children safe, not keep children out of the 21st century.  With a little common sense we can ensure schools are not committing educational neglect by keeping students stuck in the past.


Contributors:
Lisa Nielsen, Creator of The Innovative Educator blog, Twitter: @InnovativeEdu

Tom Whitby St. Joseph’s College, New York.Twitter: @tomwhitby
My Blog: My Island View

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This is a guest Post I did for Shelly Terrell’s Blog, TEACHER REBOOT CAMP, back on Friday, July 24th, 2009. It was one of my first toe-dipping experiences in the world of blogging. Shelly was very kind and encouraging. She also formatted this in a way that I would never have thought. I am grateful to her for starting me blogging.

I thought about this topic recently and considered doing a new post, but after revisiting my guest Post, I thought a resurrection might be as effective. I guess the problems are still here even after almost two years. Evidently,  few people read or implemented my suggestions.


Parents, Who Needs Them?

After tweeting about schools needing to teach parents about educational technology, I was quite surprised to find out that the idea was widely tweeted all over the twitter-sphere. This is geek speak for a message being sent and resent around on Twitter. I imagine that even Ashton Kutcher read my thought. Since neither he, nor Demi, tweeted me back however, I have no way of knowing for sure, but I hold out hope.

Parents, A Problem for Teachers?!

I was a single and very arrogant high school teacher in the beginning of my career in the early ‘70’s. I made certain observations of parents in general.

  • When most parents came to our school building, they were not there to praise their child’s teacher. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Many parents caused administrators to react to requests, resulting in edicts and orders for teachers. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Parents attended Board of Education meetings demanding and getting changes resulting in administrators giving edicts and orders for teachers. This was a problem for teachers.
  • Parents’ Night required teachers to come back to school at night wearing jackets and ties for the men and dresses for the women. This was a problem for teachers.
  • As a result I concluded that parents were a problem for teachers. To further this “well-founded opinion,” I came to realize that students did their best to block parents from their world in school. They would always share the negatives with their parents but rarely the positives. Again, this was a problem for teachers.

Because everyone in the system reacts to parents, sometimes policies are formed around what administrators perceive as the least objectionable policy in order to make the parents happy. These are policies, which are not solely based on the advancement of learning. These were my observations and not necessarily facts.

Wearing the Parental Shoes

My life as well as my perceptions and observations all changed when I became a parent of two daughters, four years apart. Now, I observed that in elementary school children were enthusiastic about learning, and as a parent, I was with them every step of the way. I knew what they did, and how they did it. As they moved to the middle school, I was less and less involved. By the time they got to high school it was a dinner discussion.

My observation now has been that as parents become less involved with their child’s education, the children became less involved with learning. I know, “The chicken or the egg?” theory.

Technology is Changing our Schools

Now we reach the age of Technology. Classrooms begin to look different. Things can be done in schools that were not even conceived two years ago. All this is taking place while some parents are saying that they cannot even program the VCR. The kids have to do it. By the way, it is now a DVR. I can never understand why some adults pride themselves in being computer illiterate.

Practical Advice

It is now time to add up all of my observations and try to make something of this which will benefit everyone.

  • Parents who are involved with their child’s education will see a child who is involved in learning.
  • Some teachers, who may feel threatened by parents, must still attempt to involve them.
  • There may be some administrators making technology decisions based on what they think will please the parents. They need to know that parents have knowledge of what is needed to help their child learn. Parents, if made comfortable with the technology, can embrace the technology and understand its purpose in the curriculum not only to enhance learning, but to make their child competitive in a technology-rich, work environment.

Why Schools Need Edtech Parent Workshops

Schools should conduct parent workshops to explain and demonstrate technology in education.

  • Parents need to know how it is applied in school, as well as out of school, applications.
  • We need to teach them the do’s and don’ts of the internet if they are to prepare their child for the real world, unfiltered and competitive.
  • We need to have people make decisions based on learning and not lack of understanding or fear.
  • The more the parents know, the more they can be partners in their child’s education.

The answer should be obvious when asked, “Parents, who needs them?”

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