As a parent to two young children, I have a lot of reservations about my children and digital life. At the same time, I am realistic of the day an age in which we live. More dialogue and education is needed in order to acknowledge existing laws and to create balance between comfort and apprehension.
If children’s online presence wasn’t a concern, there wouldn’t be Federal laws aimed at protecting them online. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) allows parents of children under 13 to control the type of information websites and services collect about the user. Under COPPA, children need parental consent to sign up and utilize many online services. COPPA 101 for educators was a document I found to be helpful in outlining factors teachers should consider as personally identifiable information https://ikeepsafe.org/coppa-101-for-educators/ According to iKeep Safe:
The definition of Personal Information that falls within COPPA compliance requirements includes: children’s names, nicknames, email addresses, telephone numbers, home addresses and other geo-location information, social security numbers, photos, video, and audio files of the child, any persistent identifier or tracker that can be used to recognize an individual’s use over time and/or across different websites, as well as any information that enables physical or online communication or contact with a specific individual.
In my mind, this is a comprehensive list outlining what can be considered personally identifiable information. Another law aimed at protecting students is The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This law prohibits teachers and schools from sharing personally identifiable information about students. (FERPA also provides families the right to review and request amendments to academic records.) An example of a potential FERPA violation could be posting class lists /physically or online at the beginning of the school year or in an online homework space. Dissecting this and trying to find which concerns are valid and which are hype can be complex. As a parent, I know I don’t want my child advertised on YouTube delivering the Pledge or daily announcements. I don’t want my child on the school’s Facebook page promoting an activity or event without my consent. Some of my apprehension is protected under the law. Could there be a balance? I think so, the school could have an internal method of delivering the daily pledge an announcements. Special school activities advertised on social media can include pictures highlighting an event rather than the people in attendance. As my children grow, I believe there is merit to creating work in a digital public space, Collaborative presentations, creating screencasts, and making digital stories are just a few valuable skills I hope they learn because of the educational benefits such as: problem solving, group work, producing a product, and practice with voice inflection and fluent speech. I am not trying to downplay the merit of Internet based resources, but I want my students to be taught critical thinking skills about Internet presence in conjunction with work assigned via the Internet. I think students presence online should be scaffolded and include explicit instruction in safety and privacy. We need to increase digital education for our students, so we can teach them how to have personal management of their digital life. Students learn citizenship on many levels in school: classroom, local, country…and it is time to include global digital citizenship.
When trying to answer the question of advantages outweighing concerns, to me, this is a no-brainer. Safety should never supersede convenience, fun, or school assignment. I think this can be balanced with employee education. The creation of guidelines, on-going professional development, revisions and audits of district materials, and student education are effective proactive approaches for districts to scaffold digital curriculum and digital presence for both staff and students. I believe it is the responsibility of any district to educate teachers of Federal law and district guidelines. I also believe it is important teachers receive quality instructional resources and assessments that have been vetted for quality and are in legal compliance (and receive professional development with integration). The creation of established guidelines for employee online behavior is necessary, as it creates known expectations. Guidelines for teachers can articulate expectations regarding educator’s online/social media presence, use of instructional tools, and review of district media guidelines. I believe educating teachers, students, and parents creates an environment where the question of advantages of the internet outweighing concerns such as safety, privacy and litigation will be lessened because elements of concern will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.