School’s out Friday

Take a look at this and think seriously about the information you’re posting in online spaces. We can all do with some timely reminders about being conscious of what you’re sharing out there, and this video is a fun way of doing just that with the people in your circle of friends.

It’s been a somber day here in Melbourne and it doesn’t feel right trying to post something humorous tonight. The tragic news about Jill Meagher, a 29 yr old woman who went missing a week ago after a night out with friends while only 500 or so metres from her front door, has really shaken many people in our city. You like to think people are inherently good, but when you hear of incidents like this, where people are abducted, then raped and murdered, it shakes confidence levels. The outpouring of grief and support for Jill’s husband and family in social media circles has been overwhelming, but there has also been sharing of information about the perpetrator, and that has far more serious consequences for the proper carriage of justice. Tania Sheko has written an excellent post today synthesising the issues coming from people sharing information in online spaces. I’d recommend you visit and take a read. She questions when we are going to start addressing issues like this in our school curriculum to ensure we help our students to become mindful digital citizens. I’m already thinking that this is a discussion we could be having in my English class when we return from the holiday break. We really do need to find timely opportunities to help our students navigate what is new terrain and help them understand how oversharing can be both an issue for you on a personal level, but possibly one with legal implications as well as has been borne out today.

Tomorrow is AFL Grand Final day here in Australia. It’s a national event, but the core fan base is seeded here in Victoria where the game originated. I’m a Hawthorn supporter, so I’ll be glued to the television screen tomorrow afternoon as we indulge in a good old fashioned Aussie barbeque at a friend’s house. Here’s hoping the Hawks can pull off the win!

Enjoy your weekend. Stay safe. 🙂

 

Sexting, the conversation we need to have.

Often, it’s the difficult conversations that are never tackled. And yet, more often than not, they are the most important conversations we need to have. When you’re a teacher, having honest, up front conversations related to adolescent behaviour and sexual curiosity are sometimes uncomfortable for both yourself, and your students. But these conversations are necessary. Sometimes, it’s the only time a student will be offered advice from an adult concerned for their welfare.

Today, I had one of these conversations. It wasn’t one to one advice, it was an address to our Year 11 cohort, and the topic was sexting. When I told them we were going to be discussing this today, there was an uneasy rustling in their seats. I assured them that I knew they were probably feeling a tad uncomfortable about our topic, and I let them know that I wasn’t totally at ease myself, but that I thought it was important that I impart information they need to know.

I didn’t use a slideshow for this presentation. What we did was look at some recent published articles from online newspapers that made the complexities of the situation pretty clear. But first, we began with the law as it stands in Victoria today, using information from the Victoria Legal Aid site. The language used is not legal speak; it’s clear cut and simple for them to grasp. Here are the sections we looked at today.

Child pornography

You could be charged by the police with producing child pornography if:

  • you take a nude or semi-nude picture of a person under 18, even if they are your friend and consent (agree) to the picture being taken
  • you take photos or video of a person under 18 involved in sexual activity or posing in an indecent sexual manner (or who looks like they are).

You could also be charged with possessing child pornography if you go onto the internet and download pornography showing people under 18.

If you put a pornographic photo or video on the internet or your phone, print a photo, or email or text it to a friend, you could be charged with publishing or transmitting child pornography. You could be charged even if you are the same age or younger than the person in the picture or video.

People found guilty of sexual offences or child pornography are stopped from working or volunteering with children – for example, as a teacher or a sports coach – or volunteering with children.

Mobile phone pictures and the risks of ‘sexting

’‘Sexting’ or sending ’sext messages’ is where nude and/or sexual images are taken on a mobile phone, often by young people and their friends. This is a crime if the photo includes a person under 18. Sexting is already leading to young people being charged by police with child pornography offences.

Think carefully about the consequences of taking or sending pictures of your friends on your mobile phone, especially if they are not fully dressed and even if they agree. You could be charged by police for committing a criminal offence.

It may seem like harmless fun, but be careful – once you send pictures electronically they can become part of your ‘digital footprint’ and this lasts forever. It could damage your future career prospects or relationships.

Victoria Legal Aid

From the reactions of the students, it was pretty clear most of them had not much of an idea of the legal ramifications of actions detailed above, particularly the receiving and forwarding on of images via mobile phones. I let them know I shared their concern about the punitive nature of the law as it stands, and the serious impact on a person’s digital footprint and work prospects if they are charged with a child pornography offence. To illustrate its effect, I explained how a 17 year old who might want to be a teacher, would not be able to complete their degree if they had been charged, as they would be unable to obtain a working with children check. They would not be able to enter a school to complete a teaching placement.

We then looked at three recent articles, one from the New York Times, and two from The Age, one of Victoria’s daily newspapers.

A girl’s nude photo, and altered lives – New York Times article

Teen sexting: it’s illegal, but it’s in every high school – The Age

‘Sexting’ youths placed on sex offenders register – The Age

These stories were enough to cement the learning intentions of this session. I would think it fair to say that the majority of students learned a great deal today and went home with much food for thought.

Honest, up front discussions like these form part of our responsibility to create effective digital citizens out of the teenagers in our care. Are you having these conversations in your schools today? If you aren’t, perhaps use the above information as your guide.  We may not agree with the legislation, but it exists, and our young people need to be informed. We really can’t afford to have our young people unnecessarily punished due to a lack of understanding about the ramifications of their actions.

Nurturing their Digital Footprint – lessons for Year 12

As part of our continued push to acknowledge the importance of Cybersafety instruction at my school, today I delivered a presentation to our Yr 12 students about how they can nurture their digital profile. Just a month or so ago, we delivered presentations to our Yr 10 and 11 students about much the same thing, but on this occasion, we created an entirely new presentation. There was a need to. Facebook privacy settings had changed, and this group are on the verge of adulthood. Very soon they will be moving into tertiary education or the paid workforce.

Quite a bit of material used in the presentation came from Jefferey Rosen’s excellent article in the New York Times, ‘The Web Means the End of Forgetting‘. I’d highly recommend that you take up the free subscription offer from the New York Times to gain access to this fine piece. It certainly helped to pull together a presentation that I think had meaning for the students present. In fact, I received an email 15 minutes after the presentation had ended from one of the students. Here’s what she had to say;

Hi Mrs Luca J
Just wanted to say I thought your lecture this afternoon was fantastic.
Walking out of the lecture theatre,  everyone was talking about their (sic) going straight home to change their facebook settings!
So yes, thanks for an interesting lecture,

It’s not often you get positive feedback like this. It certainly made me feel like the effort required to put the presentation together was worth it. If you’d like to view it, go to the wikispaces site I maintain.

Helping our students to understand the importance of a positive digital profile is ongoing work for us. I firmly believe that probably the best way to enable our students to appreciate its importance is to encourage them to publish their work online, so that they can be building the profile that will be of most benefit to them in the long run. As Seth Godin said;

“Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.”

I have my students working with new technologies and encourage them to publish the good stuff. The hard thing is convincing others that this is something we should be working towards in our schools. They deserve to know how they can make the best of the Web and themselves in the process.

(*Frustratingly, once again, the Sliderocket presentation will not embed into this post.)

Facebook and privacy – is your school helping students to understand privacy settings?

Facebook is the primary social network most of our students are accessing to manage their social lives. Are they going to stop using it anytime soon? No, they’re not. They’re not going to stop because it’s their communication platform- it’s where their friends are and it’s how they plan their lives.  And that’s why we have to understand how it works and ensure that we help them to understand how they use it safely. We need to be discussing Facebook’s privacy settings and how students can set them to a level that provides them with profiles they are comfortable with.

We need to put this in perspective. People of my generation were operating in social networks too. It’s just that our social networks were dependent on a single corded phone line placed in a usually busy part of the household. Our parents spent their lives bemoaning the fact that the phone line was under siege from their teenage children. Think about it; if a network like Facebook were available when you were young, would you have been there? I know I would.

Facebook have made some significant changes to their privacy settings in recent months. Matt McKeon has created ‘an evolution of Facebook’ and has used some very interesting visuals to denote these changes over time. I used them with Yr 11 students last week and they certainly took notice.

It’s a powerful representation of their default settings and the changes that have been made over time. Show these to your students and I’m pretty sure you’ll see them heading home to make some changes; changes they probably didn’t even know were necessary.

We have been taking our students through the account settings in Facebook, alerting them to changes that have been applied to their accounts. Some students know what’s happening and have ensured their settings are set to ‘only friends’, but many have no idea. Most don’t bother to check the ‘Applications and Websites’ settings, and don’t realise that Facebook has arranged to allow a user’s information to be accessible to nominated websites if a Facebook member accesses them. According to Facebook, it allows for a more integrated web experience and saves you time. According to me, it’s non-consensual use of my personal information. Facebook are overstepping the mark, and people are starting to sit up, take notice, and speak out.

The New York Times have been keeping up with what is happening and have produced a very good graphic showing the default settings and what needs to be done to manage your privacy;

Danah Boyd has written a ‘rant’ about Facebook’s lack of transparency. In it, she makes some observations that I’ve noted are common to students here in Australia too. Most are unaware of the fact that their information is accesible to friends of friends. What follows is a lengthy grab from Danah’s post, but she makes such good points they are well worth sharing (and of course, I’d encourage you to visit her blog to read the post in its entirity);

Over and over again, I find that people’s mental model of who can see what doesn’t match up with reality. People think “everyone” includes everyone who searches for them on Facebook. They never imagine that “everyone” includes every third party sucking up data for goddess only knows what purpose. They think that if they lock down everything in the settings that they see, that they’re completely locked down. They don’t get that their friends lists, interests, likes, primary photo, affiliations, and other content is publicly accessible.

If Facebook wanted radical transparency, they could communicate to users every single person and entity who can see their content. They could notify then when the content is accessed by a partner. They could show them who all is included in “friends-of-friends” (or at least a number of people). They hide behind lists because people’s abstractions allow them to share more. When people think “friends-of-friends” they don’t think about all of the types of people that their friends might link to; they think of the people that their friends would bring to a dinner party if they were to host it. When they think of everyone, they think of individual people who might have an interest in them, not 3rd party services who want to monetize or redistribute their data. Users have no sense of how their data is being used and Facebook is not radically transparent about what that data is used for. Quite the opposite. Convolution works. It keeps the press out.

The battle that is underway is not a battle over the future of privacy and publicity. It’s a battle over choice and informed consent. It’s unfolding because people are being duped, tricked, coerced, and confused into doing things where they don’t understand the consequences. Facebook keeps saying that it gives users choices, but that is completely unfair. It gives users the illusion of choice and hides the details away from them “for their own good.”

What really worries me, is that there are not enough people in our schools today who are confident enough with new technologies to understand how to help our students work these things out. This is part of the new digital divide that is starting to rear its ugly head. I have the feeling we will have students who are given an understanding of the benefits of creating positive digital profiles and they will do just that. They will understand that you don’t upload that unflattering photo or you avoid being photographed in compromising situations. You post the great things you are doing and your social resume helps you to get that job you’re looking for. You won’t be the kid on the other side of the digital divide who uploads all those photos from that party that got out of control. That same kid on the other side never created any great digital content because their teachers didn’t understand new technologies and never set any tasks that allowed them to show people what they were truly capable of. Their social resume is the one that recruiters look at, resulting in them sending their work resume (the one they’ve written) to the bottom of the pile.

Schools do have a part to play in informing our students about managing their lives in social networks. What this requires is teachers who are up to date with what is happening and with the nous to direct them to the information they need. It worries me that the only professional development our teachers are given to support them with understandings like these, come from blog posts written by other teachers who are doing it late into the night with dark bags under their eyes!

Using Social Media to effect change

 I presented  today at a conference for students that was held at my school. My presentation was ‘Using Social Media to effect change’. I’ve been trying to embed it here but the code is not cooperating. I used SlideRocket to create the presentation and was once again impressed with this tool. Being able to search within the application for creative commons pictures from flickr made it easy to find the pictures I needed to create impact. (at least I hope I achieved that anyway)  The theme for the gathering was ‘Global issues and women’ and students from Yr 11 were in attendance from my school and other schools in our vicinity.

I think it went well. I know the teachers accompanying the students were impressed. Probably the most powerful part of the session was being able to demonstrate the Twitter network. I presented twice and on both occasions put out a Tweet asking people to say hi and tell us where they were from. We received over 20 replies on each occasion and the students were able to see the array of locations where the tweets were coming from. They were really amazed that people in Beijing, Montana, Ho Chi Minh city, Bangkok, Maine, Nottingham, Sydney, New York, etc etc were replying to them. It certainly demonstrated what it means to be globally connected.

The other part that had impact related to building your digital footprint. Many of them had not considered the possibilities of being googled by employers with their only web presence being a myspace or facebook page. I think they left the day considering what it is they need to do to create a positive digital profile for themselves.

During the day they were presented with information about various causes they could get involved with and do something to support. I’m hopeful that some of them will join Working together 2 make a difference and chart their progress there. In doing so they’ll be helping to generate that positive digital profile!

(I’ll persevere with trying to get it embedded -think I need to try to post it with vodpod but I’ll have to reinstall the button again. So annoying to have your computer reimaged!) 

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We need some support!

 Anne Mirtschin, a teacher at Hawkesdale P12 College, in country western Victoria, Australia, has just posted about another Australian Blog closure. It seems that an early childhood centre blog has been asked to close due to photographic content being in the public domain. This comes a week or so after Al Upton’s mini-legends were shut down in Adelaide. Anne makes some very apt comments re our responsibities as educators to have our students learn to become effective digital citizens;

“will we continue to ’see the world through the eyes of predators and other minority unsavoury characters’ and force our students to learn independently the traps that may be out there waiting for them, or will we stand up and fight for our children and students, and teach them how to live in a rich and rewarding global world giving, them the knowlegde and ‘know-how’  for avoiding, protecting from and dealing with such ill-characters, should the need arise. Many of our students are already using these web2.0 tools at home and we must prepare and instruct them for this world that they live in and for future digital citizenship that they will all experience in the future.”

I agree with your sentiments entirely Anne. I teach in the secondary sector and there is no doubt that our students are actively engaged and already have an online presence. Isn’t it better that we guide our students and help them learn to navigate this digital climate in a safe and responsible manner? I can, however, understand concerns parents and teaching bodies have about the use of student images and full names online, particularly in the pre-teen years.

This is why I think it would be great to be supported by our State Governments and teaching associations. Perhaps it is now obvious that the need has arisen for policy statements that schools could have access to to support them in their endeavours to create these type of rich learning experiences for our students. I think that’s what’s needed – support from higher bodies that would then give schools and individual teachers the confidence to move forward with teaching strategies reflective of our 21st century world.

What’s really interesting is how international schools address blogging. I’ve been in talks with a teacher from Shanghai – at their school no parent permission forms for blogging exist. According to the teacher I’ve been talking to, the parents see the value of blogging from how their children interact with their blogs and they enjoy being able to have access and insight into what their children are doing. This was a recent discussion point on SOS podcast with Jeff Utecht who works at the Shanghai school I’ve referred to. Hopefully here in Australia we will start to hear more of the success stories with no more closures.