Monday, February 23, 2009

Comment on Ed Tech's post

Dean Shareski recently blogged about another attempt to Ban teachers from Social Networking sites.  I have voiced my opinion on this before, but I decided to post my response to his post here:

When I see policy making like this I always wonder what prompts it. Most of the time this kind of policy is reactionary. Something has gotten out of hand, has led to something inappropriate, or just plain given some administrator the heebie jeebies. I blame the technophobia on one thing.

We have done too good of a job regarding public awareness of internet safety concerns.

It seems that all internet and online interactions and conversation is considered somehow more sinister than face to face interaction. When policy like this is enacted it works. It keeps the honest, diligent and respectful teachers from using online resources to connect to their kids. The adults who are already edgy and willing to flout convention and the rules are by default the only ones left for young people to interact with online. When are we going to be able to take back the territory. Sure, ban Facebook and leave the students to the wolves, or create sensible policies and structures that allow people to make the healthy and useful connections that the internet enables. Online interactions are not by their nature any more sinister than face to face interactions. A predator who wants to harm students has many tools open to them. I admit that because of the pseudo-anonymity of the web it can be easier to reach a casualness and level of comfort that would not necessarily develop in face to face interactions with students, but online is not always sinister.

Policy that bans online communication seems simpler on the surface. Some online interactions can be bad so let’s ban all of them, seems to be the philosophy, but again. Who are students interacting with if all the wholesome teachers in their lives are banned?
I guess, I am tilting at windmills, but if I lived in the same community where I taught (which I didn't) I would have seen kids at the mall, at the movies, out at restaurants, and the stores.  Probably, I would have seen them at community events, and even church.  I chose to commute 3o minutes to where I taught so I only occasionally saw students outside of the classroom.  However, if I bump into them on Facebook, myspace, Messenger, AOL, or any other place, what makes that inherently risky?  My opinion is nothing.  If my profile in those places is such that it doesn't portray me doing anything illegal or outside of the standards of my community why the concern.  I suppose it is just that.  Some teachers do post things that at least part of the community has concerns about.  

I have also commented on this before.  Administrators don't like to be surprised.  The last thing a Principal wants to hear is from a parent is: "Last night my daughter was IM'ing with Mr. .... and I am not so sure...."  

The reality is our society is changing.  We are learning a new set of etiquette, social norms, manners and yes...even rules regarding what is and isn't appropriate.    It's going to be a little weird at first.  We may bump into things that make us uncomfortable and we will have to forge policies that actually make sense, but banning online interactions doesn't seem to be a good choice.  There should be a structure for teachers who want to be available online to do just that.  Moodle, or other courseware.  A standard protocol for how and what service to use for IM.  Even a policy regarding texting.  Transparency for administrators and parents has to be key in the policy.  No one wants to find out that someone has been influencing their child unduly and without any accountability.    Well the specifics seem to be fodder for another post.

I read a prediction recently and one that I hope doesn't come to fruition.  The prediction was that the future of the web and communication technologies would lead to greater transparency of individuals lives but not greater tolerance or forgiveness.  I hope that doesn't happen.

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