Ethical uses of technology: Online presence


Managing your online presence

This is the second of a series of three posts on Internet safety and ethical uses of technology in schools in the 21st century.

I’m completing a M.Ed. program through Iowa State University and I have been creating a portfolio based on five competencies.  These competencies really sum up all the work we’ve done over the last three years and has given me time to think about some of the work I’ve done, both as part of the program and during my tenure as a technology director for a K12 school.  However, one of the competencies is based around ethical use of technology and it was this standard that challenged me to think of an artifact that would meet this truly important standard.  I have done a number of things over the last few years related to Internet Safety and ethical uses of technology in education, but nothing really stood out to me as being the best I could put forward to represent my thoughts on the topic.  Where I struggled was that most of what I’ve done hasn’t had much of a 21st century perspective.  As I searched the Internet looking for some guidance, I still came up short, therefore, I’ve decided to come up with my own ethical guidelines for technology use in schools for the 21st century.  These are purely my beliefs, but I think they are important enough to share with the rest of the world.

Yesterday I wrote about the need to unblock social networking sites and to begin empowering our students on how to responsibly use those sites.  Today I’m writing about helping our students create and manage their online presence.  As educators I feel we have a certain responsibility to prepare our students for as many situations as possible.  While many things are beyond our control or perhaps unknown,where I think we can make a difference is with preparing our students for interacting online with others, and a large part of that is helping them establish and manage an online presence.

Help students create their online identity

Nearly all Internet applications require some form of identity associated with them and while in the past most have shied away from having their students use their real name or a picture of themselves whenever those sites are used at school, I think we are missing an opportunity to prepare students as they enter the “real world.”  What I’m eluding to here are the countless young people that create profiles on social networking sites that hurt their chances of getting a job or getting into a good college.  With schools and employers looking at these sites to learn more about their candidates, it is even more important that we help our students manage their identity online to ensure they have the greatest chance of success once they leave our schools.  This seems to be over looked a lot because we are fearful of what might happen if students put out their real name or if they show a picture of themselves online.  This fear is well placed, but it is also important to think about the consequences of not teaching our students how to manage their online presence.  While we need to embrace social networking technologies, we need to also embrace the responsibility that goes with online interactions.  This will vary from school to school and community to community, but it is imperative we teach our students that what we deem as socially acceptable in face to face interactions also translates to online interactions.  Our values don’t change just because we are communicating online and the first step is to teach our students what and how they should post to their online profiles.

While I urge schools to help their students create online identities, I want to make clear that we still need practice common sense when we use the Internet.  Everyone is different, but there are some things that just make sense, such as not allowing everyone in the worlds see your contact information and where you live.  Privacy settings are a part of nearly all social networking sites, so we need to make sure our students know how to use those settings so they are not only protected from online predators, but also so they can manage their presence online.  While this won’t necessarily secure them a job, it could make a difference if they are even considered.

A few weeks back I saw a blog post over at U Tech Tips by David Carpenter that listed some of the key points from a presentation he had attended.  In that post was the following: “There is a need to increase our teaching of the concept of abstraction to help our students grasp how sitting alone in front of a computer screen typing one’s thoughts, sharing one’s real or fake persona, etc. is like being a room is filled with people.”  Many young people don’t appear to recognize the implications of what they post to social networking sites, and it’s up to educators to ensure they truly understand how exposed they are to their peers, friends, family, community, and world.

Here are some things you can do to help your students establish an online identity:

  • Discuss privacy settings: Too often young people don’t know these exist and leave themselves wide open for online predators.  Teach students how to restrict who has access to what information.
  • Discuss what is appropriate and what isn’t: Sounds simple, but young people continue to upload inappropriate pictures and posts to Web sites that could damage them for years.  Let your students know that they shouldn’t compromise their values just because they are online.  Use the grandma rule: “If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandma, then you probably shouldn’t say it online.

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