I am honored to be asked by Phil Tietjen of Penn State University to answer a question for his class on Social Media. The question is: How do you see the role of privacy in relation to Web 2.0 or social media? Does it deserve more attention among educators?
I believe that privacy, or the lack thereof, is one of the larger issues surrounding education technology. How do we protect our students in an online environment and at the same time take advantage of all of the benefits that Web 2.0 tools have to offer? It is a difficult question to answer. I am torn between my role as a teacher to "protect" my students and my role to promote them and the work that they do everyday. There is such a balance to be struck between those that are afraid to try any Web 2.0 tool because of privacy concerns, and those that post pictures of their students online with full names.
But I think the rubber meets the road when we think about how would you actually implement a Web 2.0 product in your classroom and what concerns would you take into account. Now that varies by product and by grade level in my mind. There are tools such as Voicethread and PB Works that allow for controlled user creation as well as for student use under the age of 13. Students don't need e-mail addresses to have accounts and their full name is not displayed. They make it easy for me to feel comfortable inside the constraints of COPA and CIPA and are well suited to elementary and middle school students. I encourage the use of "Avatars" by younger students, this way they can display their work on the internet for their fellow classmates and parents to see can still be met, but in a way that strangers cannot identify them.
However, once students reach high school and are over the age of 13, how does our use of social media change or should it? Seth Godin says it best with “Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with good stuff and to always act as if you’re on candid camera, because you are!” The Wall Street Journal reported back in 2008 that College Admissions officers are using the Internet to research prospective applicants. Why not help our students create a positive Digital Footprint of their work and emphasize how important it is to their future.
In the end it comes down to what it best for your class and your students. Parents and students have the right to be informed about the privacy implications of Web 2.0 tools as well as the great learning opportunities that these tools can provide.