Monday, September 27, 2010

The Responsibility of Teaching Digital Safety

       Last Friday I got my students started on social bookmarking with Diigo.  As I mentioned in my last blog, it was a great lesson.  Part of my excitement was due to how smooth the process went...I showed my students how to sign up for Diigo, join our group, and install and use Diigolet to bookmark and annotate web pages.   With very few questions, they caught right on.  It was the most seamless start up process for any web tool that I've used this year, and I wanted to think that this was due to how I had been successfull in teaching my students to navigate unfamiliar web pages on thier own.  

      Of course, when I began to pat myself on the back, I realized there was something that I hadn't considered.

      There is an important difference between the accounts students created for for Diigo and the other sites they've used: the Diigo accounts were public.  I mentioned this to students in my conversation with them about why social bookmarking could be advantageous, but I didn't address the limitations.  I didn't think I needed to.....that was until I began noticing that students were including personal information in the profiles they were setting up on Diigo...information about their identity and their personal lives, information that might be OK for them to share on our team's private social network, but not on a public space on the web. 
     I decided late last night that the lesson I had planned originally on Monday would have to wait a day.  We needed to talk about digital safety.

    To get the conversation started, I showed my students the following two videos and gave them time to write down their thoughts about them (thanks, Clif Mims for putting me on to these):

       After students had the time to write down their initial responses, I opened the floor for them to share what they thought.  The conversations took a different turn in each class, but each shared some common themes.  Most expressed that the idea of making smart decisions with one's personal information online was not news to them.  They've heard the message over and over.  They've seen To Catch a Predator, and know not to talk to strangers online.  But in our conversation, many students also expressed how they had never given much thought to people other than their intended audiences viewing what they put online.  This was especially true for information they may post on sites where they can restrict who has viewing access.  Most of our conversation focused on how this "private" information could still get out and how easy it would be for it to travel quickly across the Internet....possibly into the hands of people like the guy selling movie tickets (in the first clip).
       With these thoughts in mind, I gave students time to go back to the accounts they've set up in school (both private and public), and revise their profile and account information.  All were anxious to revisit their profiles, examining their words and images closely....even the students who claimed that they were experts of online safety.

       I'm glad that I decided to make time for this lesson.  It wasn't spectacularly planned, and it didn't take much class time, but it was and absolutely necessary.  Both the students and I assumed that online safety is common sense, but as we've come to see, it's not.  We needed to have the conversation that started today, and it's even more important that I allow it to continue the rest of this year.

       My students, as digital learners, deserve nothing less.