Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Statement of Principle

I have recently been called upon to think in much more depth about what should and shouldn't be done by teacher online. I teach an Internet Safety Course (ironically, I do this as an online course) and I have been thinking about what makes a good online presence and whether teachers should have one. I think they should

Now, what happens when a students wants to 'friend' me? Or a parent? Or my Principal/Supervisor? What now?

I used to think that to protect teachers and to provide guidance that school districts had to have a policy regarding online contact between students and teachers. I have changed my mind. A policy is specifically proscriptive, prohibitive, and by definition enforceable which means that to be of any value it must be fully enforced. I think this is a bad idea. A district that adopts a proscriptive policy on what isn't allowed will soon find themselves in battles when they try to enforce it or if they don't enforce it they will find that the policy has all the teeth of a duck. All quack and no bite.

What School Districts and Universities need is a Statement of Principles. A document that defines the principles which would precipitate online contact. A document that defines what good online interaction between students, and teachers, and teachers and parents could include. It should also give a set of guidelines for what could potentially be risks or problems with online contact. A document that doesn't inhibit the great potential for positive online interactions but also provide clear guidelines for preventing inappropriate interactions (which are all too real) With the pace and growth of handheld devices this should also cover contact via txt, phone, and IM. In all ways it should be a document that enhances professionalism and effective teaching and interaction without inhibiting teachers.

Different than a policy which requires that you enforce specific rules and impose specific sanctions a Statement of Principles creates a guide for educators and administrators so that on a case by case basis each interaction can be judged without the compulsion of censuring a teacher nor censoring a teacher which could put districts right into a battle over Freedom of Speech.

What should this document look like and say? Well I am working on drafting one. Look for it in a future post.

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I really am learning and this blog is maintained both as a record of some of what I am doing as well as a place for me to train and teach others about creating an online presence. So please don't mind the dust. We aren't remodeling we are learning!

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