M.Ed. Portfolio Blog Series: Ethics and Technology

This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense.  We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people.  I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time.  So, every day this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense.  Today I’m going to talk about the Ethical and Human Issues and Technology performance indicator.

I felt this was the most difficult performance indicator to talk about, because of the nature of the topic.  When we talk about ethics and some of the human issues with technology, we really are talking about some heavy topics.  Everything from bullying, to cheating, to child safety, to preparing students for the future are all fair game in this topic.  I struggled to find a topic initially, but then I started thinking more about what I felt this competency meant and I came to the conclusion that this is my chance to stand on my soap box and steer the conversation to a place where I thought it was important, where I thought it needed more attention.  So for me, this competency meant talking about three topics: unblocking social networking software, helping students develop an online presence, and helping students develop information literacy.  Influencing my decision was the fact that I hadn’t seen much on a 21st century perspective of this competency in either my conversations with other educators or in my actions.  Instead, I typically saw these topics discussed in a 20th century perspective, which I feel is much different.

I landed on unblocking social networking software, because often we have the wrong reasons at heart when we make decisions to block certain Web sites.  From my experiences as a technology director in a K-12 school, our decision to block social networking sites was based on classroom management considerations supported through the guise of protecting students.  However, what we failed to realize is the shift that is (was?) taking place in how our students learn.  Our students are social beings, but we don’t teach using social tools.  When we introduce social technologies into the classroom there is an inevitable butting of heads.  The easy solution was to block the social technology, when the right solution is to change how we teach to become more social.  Socializing isn’t a bad thing for education, but really is just the next evolution.  Eventually my school began to understand (not that we fully understood) the benefit of changing how we teach to leverage social networking sites.  There was an opportunity to reach our students in a way we had previously dismissed, thus dismissing a part of who our students are.

The second topic I landed on grew out of the first, developing student online presence.  Something we miss when we don’t use social networking software is how students develop their online presence.  Often they are left to do this themselves, alone, which is a breading ground for trouble.  All we need to do to find evidence of this is do a google search for cyber bullying and I all but guarantee the medium used to bully is social.  Here I advocate for teaching our students how to use social software so we can begin to instill our values into this new layer of society.  While some people may think this isn’t the job of school, but when we look at what schools are truly preparing students for, it clearly is being a successful citizen. With social networking sites not going anywhere anytime soon, it’s time schools begin helping students succeed in this arena as well.

Finally, I decided to talk about developing student information literacy.  Knowledge and information is expanding at an unimaginable rate and everyone needs to know how to both search and use that information.  However, by continuing to stick with instruction that doesn’t allow students to search and use that information, this literacy will not begin to develop in our students.  Teachers are no longer the only source of information, but we continue to teach in ways that still support this notion.  My belief is that we as educators have an ethical obligation to provide learning opportunities for students that allow them to be engaged in data and research.  This is likely only possible by drastically changing how we teach and maybe to an extent what we teach.

Ethical and human issues of technology is such an important area in education, but we often don’t talk about it enough.  Here’s your chance!  What’s on your mind?  What do you think is an important ethics or human issue surrounding technology, but isn’t being discussed?  My three certainly aren’t exhaustive.  Add to the conversation and help everyone learn by adding a comment!

Ethical uses of technology: Final thoughts

This week I have written about unblocking social networking sites so we can empower our students to learn using those sites, helping our students create and manage an online presence, and helping our students become more information literate.  These are three of many of ethical issues related to technology.  It would be impractical to provide an exhaustive list of ethical guidelines for using technology in the 21st century, simply because there are too many variables at this point in the game, and because it would be so long no one would read it.  For my purposes here, I choose three of what I consider to be hinderances for our students.  I feel if students aren’t adequately prepared in these three areas, they will be at a disadvantage once they enter the marketplace.  It will be harder for them to compete, succeed, and be successful in whatever they choose.  Hopefully this week I have sparked some thought with each of you as you look at your teaching and how others in your school are currently teaching.  What happens next is up to you and I hope you take it to the next level by having a conversation with other teachers, educators, administrators, community members, and most important, your students.  Only through this conversation will you start to make change happen and help your students become better learners and members of society.

Ethical uses of technology: Information literacy

This is the third 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.

This week I have talked about empowering our students and making sure they understand the consequences of their actions online as a way to help them create and manage their online presence. Today I am going to finish up my thoughts on the ethical uses of technology in the 21st century by briefly talking about information literacy.  Looking forward to where I think the world is going, knowing how to find and synthesize reliable information is crucial.  When I was in school, books were the standard bearer for having a reliable source.  However, times have changed and so have our students.  No longer are books or other written text the only reliable information sources and I believe we need to reflect that in how we teach and prepare our students.

Information literacy and how to tell if a site is reliable

We live in the world of Wikipedia and any number of other sites that publish information, many with questionable intentions.  Not surprisingly, most of the information on these sites is questionable and in a world and marketplace where finding and disseminating information is key, teaching our students how to find reliable and valid information is key to their success.  I know I ‘ve seen a number of “research” papers from students that use Wikipedia as their primary source of information.  While I advocate for the use of Wikipedia for general knowledge, much like I would a paper-based encyclopedia, we need to help students take their searches deeper to reach experts and primary sources.  With many schools having access to EBSCO, SIRS and other online databases, it only makes sense to teach our students how to wield the power of these sites to find the best information possible to make an informed decision.

What’s more, the level of interconnectedness we have through the use of social networking sites allows us to contact subject matter experts.  Many subject matter experts will provide a portion of their time for free, allowing teachers the opportunity to bring in an authentic source for their students.  If you’re looking for a way to motivate your class about your content, or a student finds conflicting resources about a topic, find a person who is an expert in that field.  It could be an environmental biologist, an engineer, a politician, or any number of others that are willing to come and talk to your classes, if not face to face, over the Internet through technologies like Skype or even email.  We have become a society that seems afraid of asking for assistance or input from outside entities.  Knowing to ask for help is half the battle, so part of making student more information literate is helping them get to a point when they know they need to consult with another source.

My point here is that we need to create the opportunities for our students to interact with information and research.  Students have to learn how to make informed decisions and to an extent, they need to make a few mistakes before they can truly sift through all the information the world has to offer to find what they are really researching.  Teachers who fail to make use of the Internet, or do not allow the use of Internet resources in their assignments are truly doing a diservice to their students as this will be the medium for information dissemination in the future.  No longer are we able to allow our students to learn these important skills serendipitously, if at all.

There are a number of ways you can begin to increase your students’ information literacy.  Here are just a few.:

  • Find a way to use the Internet in your classrooms to bring in authentic sources of information.  Bring authenticity to your content.  Just because you think it is important doesn’t mean your students do.
  • Let your students become researchers so they have the opportunity to have hands-on experience trying to find authentic information about the content.  Don’t accept anything you deem less than acceptable.
  • Explain why certain sites are unreliable or questionable and have that discussion with your students throughout the course of the semester or year.
  • Show students how to find the organization of a Web site by taking a URL and deleting parts of the path until all that remains is the domain name.  You will sometimes be amazed with what you find.
  • Use sites like EBSCO, SIRS, etc., with your students and model what being information literate means.
  • Teach your students how to use boolean search techniques.  These techniques work for most databases and Internet search engines.

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.

Ethical uses of technology: Unblocking and empowering

Blocked social networking sites

This is the first 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.

Before going into how I think we should address Internet safety and ethical uses of technology, I think it’s pertinent to define the context that all this is taking place.  We live in a hyper-connected, hyper-media world, which will likely remain for the rest of our lifetime, not to mention the number of ways it will change during that time.  As we look at the consequences of living in an always connected, media filled world, we need to realize the way we have operated in the past no longer will suffice any longer.  Using filters and blocking the potentially harmful ways technology can be used is no longer the best way to protect our students.  Rather, we need to use our knowledge to empower our students so they can make the best possible choices.  It is from this viewpoint that I propose my thoughts on ethical uses of technology in the 21st Century.  What you won’t find here will be a strict set of rules schools and educators need to do to protect students, but rather, this will be a series of blog posts on more abstract ideas for educators to consider that get to the heart of what I consider to be one of the biggest challenges as education moves forward in the 21st century.

Unblocking and Empowering

When I think of Internet safety, I immediately think of my high school years and more recently my first few years as an educator in Cherokee.  It was during these times that I saw Internet safety as preventing students from accessing sites otherwise considered bad or undesirable.  Find a site you don’t like, block it.  No questions asked.  Essentially, we had rules or Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) that students had to follow when using the computers, the Internet, or other technology.  I still think we need to have some rules to protect our students and our investments, but they need to change a little bit to be more open and conducive to learning in the 21st century.

I understand the need to block some sites to truly protect our students, such as sites advocating for violence, hate, pornography, etc., but I think we have gone a bit too far in the name of protecting our students.  The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) states we need to ensure: “the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications.”  To put this in a 21st century context, one of the most controversial Web sites that schools struggle with whether or not they should block access to is Facebook.  The arguments for blocking Facebook, as well as other similar sites, are that they are a waste of time when students could be doing homework, are a breading ground for bullying, and that it is difficult to monitor what students are doing on those sites.  While these are valid arguments, I have difficulty accepting zero tolerance blocking as the best solution.  Yes a solution, but far from the best, since many of these sites have useful tools students will need to take advantage of in their careers that lie ahead.  While it may not be Facebook, it will likely have many of the same tools and require many of the same skills.

Instead of blocking sites like Facebook, why don’t we find ways to teach our students about these sites so they make the right decisions when they use them outside the four walls of the school?  In my experiences ignoring an issue is where the problems really exist.  Students have the platform to speak their mind without the filter of synchronous communication.  Asynchronous communication empowers us to say and do whatever we wish without immediate consequence.  With the rise of this type of communication, where are we teaching our students the proper way to communicate in this new environment?  The answer is simple, we aren’t, and if we continue to block communication sites like Facebook in schools the problem will continue to worsen, because teachers don’t have the right tools, or the proper training, to prepare our students to communicate this type of platform.  We are experiencing a paradigm shift in the way we communicate and educators need to make sure we shift with that change.

This is a major hurdle for many schools and will take the entire school community to solve the bullying and other inappropriate things many students are currently doing on these sites.  I have had some experience with unblocking social networking sites and here are some suggestions for moving forward so you can be better prepared:

  • Don’t go in this alone: find others in your school or district that feel the same way you do about teaching your students how to use social networking sites.  There are going to be a number of people not happy with unblocking Facebook so make sure you have a support system.
  • Have a plan: You will likely need administrator support if you are going to change policy so make sure you have a plan for how you are going to prepare your students and more importantly, how you are going to prepare your fellow faculty members as they will be expected to participate.  Teaching students how to use technology in a responsible way takes the entire school community, not just a class student’s take and pass.  It has to be reinforced by all teachers.

Check back later this week for the rest of my thoughts on ethical uses of technology in the 21st century.