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Why we need to teach about digital safetyWe live in a digital age so what we are now teaching has had to expand to cover online safety simply because if we are really doing our job then we are preparing our students for their futures. And let's face it, our students live as much on line as they do off line. So my approach, and what I coach our teachers in, is to help students learn how to interact safely and positively online. If we shelter our students from all that is available digitally then we are doing them a disservice. Not only are we not allowing them to learn and create in a space that is inhabited by pretty much any profession they might chose to pursue, but we are also not giving them the opportunity to gain valuable skills that will give them an advantage as they pursue summer jobs, apply to college, or even seek to start their own business.
ScaffoldingBut this requires us to think about their safety and teach them how to be responsible for their safety in the digital realm as much as we teach our children how to be safe when crossing a street or how co-eds need to be safe at their first college party. At the high-school level, we work with our lower-grade students to not divulge personal information that predators could use to find them. They don't use their picture. They don't identify where they go to school or even what city/state they live in, and they don't use their full name. As our students become juniors and seniors, we teach them how to intelligently engage via social media. We realize that they need to build a portfolio that can be useful for college and job applications and that means that they need to present themselves as real people. For our 9th and 10th graders, they are kept primarily to blogging and are not mandated to share their blogs outside our school. The 11th and 12th graders however are creating more public blogs as well as interacting on social media. This has been our approach for several years now and we have not had any problems. We also spend time providing instruction for our students in digital safety. We rely heavily on the materials available through Common Sense Media Education because, well, they are the best.
ModelingThe other important piece to educating our students effectively is good modeling. Just like most schools today, we have a release form that parents are asked to sign that allows their student's image to appear on school materials and social media. Every year there are a handful of families who opt-out, and that is completely their choice. However, in this modern era, capturing your school's story via social media and sharing it out is necessary. So I have learned to capture images that can share our school's story without including the student faces or names. Here is an example of a photo montage I posted that does not include any faces but clearly (I think) shares a story:
The students know that I post on social media. When they see me with my phone out they often ask: "Is this going on Twitter?" Those students who are "OK" with having their image on social media will sometimes even tell me "It's OK to take my picture." It is these opportunities that help to reinforce that there is an etiquette to posting on social media, and that is part of the learning too.
The world of education is multi-faceted and seems to have more added to the expectations every year. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect a bit on student privacy in the digital age in this week's post.