As I’ve been exploring various aspects of e-education, I can’t help but wonder about privacy of identity and work when dealing with K-12 students. There is a need for balance between protecting the safety of our students and allowing for the benefits of online collaboration. What better way to learn a language than by speaking to someone who speaks that language fluently. A myriad of opportunities exist for our students to do this. What about sharing work online and receiving feedback from other students around the world or from experts in the field that the students are working in? There are places to engage in intelligent debate on any number of topics with experts and students throughout the world. There are more opportunities to learn on a truly global scale than ever before but as soon as you take advantage of these opportunities, you open yourself up to any number of risks.

There are any number of predators online that he we hear about in the media on a daily basis. If you listen to the news, nobody online is who they say they are. Most people on the Internet are harmless, but as in the rest of society, there are those who are up to no good. We can teach the students to protect themselves, but the predators are good at what they do and students will get drawn in.

Everything that is written online is permanent. Anyone who is interested in knowing about you can build up a profile by searching the web. If a student gets drawn into a discussion and innocently says things that can be taken out of context, these words are documented and come back to haunt him later in  life. There is paranoia about how future employers and government agencies can use information based on profiles developed through the Internet. And know matter how hard you try, this information is permanent. A short trip to the WayBack Machine will prove this point.

Of course, there is also the issue of theft of intellectual property. A student’s hard work can easily be stolen by others in the same class or half-way around the world whether the intent is to share the work or not.

It is a tough line to walk with our students. How do we ensure the safety of our students while still allowing them to reap the benefits of learning online? With everything, there are risks it is how we deal with those risks that is key. An Art class may walk through the neighbourhood to draw the local architecture. As soon as they step foot off campus they run the risk of being hit by a car. Does that stop us from taking our students across the street? Not typically. We teach the students how to cross a street safely and ensure that the crossing is as safe as possible (ie. we cross at a light rather than sprinting across the freeway) and hope for the best.  Likewise, we need to teach the students of all the potential risks of using the internet, set up the environment in as safe a manner as possible and trust that all will go well.  You can’t stop the drunk driver as much as you can’t stop the hacker or online predator.

The problem with learning on the Internet is that the risks are not as clearly identified and the manner in which these risks present themselves changes seemingly daily.  Facebook is evil and can only be used for cyber-bullying.  That is what some think.  Facebook, Twitter and whatever the next big thing is on the internet are only tools are not, in and of themselves, evil.  I have kept in touch with a number of ex-students through Facebook.  I would have lost touch long ago without it.  For me, it is has some great benefits.  But, of course, there are the stories of students and teachers becoming the victims of vengeful people who take out their frustrations in a very public way.

The best we can do is learn as much as we can about the new technology and teach responsible use.  We shouldn’t ban it, although responsible filtering is entirely appropriate in a school setting.  The more the students know, the better they can deal with whatever comes down the pipe, whether it be in physical or cyber-space.


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