We trust you with the children but not the Internet

Edit #2: Having spoken to SMT I feel a bit happier. There are sensible points in there about making people aware that something posted even in private can easily be made publicly and taken out of context and other very reasonable content. Knowing the SMT at the school as I do, I doubt very much that it is a stick to beat us with or a tool to use in a witch-hunt – much more a set of rules that mean we can’t claim ignorance as a defence if we do something stupid. I don’t agree with all of the points and I have been invited to feed in any thoughts or opinions about how to make things more transparent. Much as with e-safety, I would personally be much happier if I was simply left to get on with it – but I appreciate that policies and guidelines are required and that if nothing else, it forces me to consider whether what I am doing is sensible, foolish or a balanced risk.

This was going to be a rant about the new Social Networking policy I received yesterday1. In fact I spent a good 10 minutes venting my spleen into this very editing window. As I started to balance out my argument though, I realised that actually I was over-stating things, although that doesn’t mean I’m happy.

Our new policy says that we are not to use Social Networking during the school day or using school equipment. I’m not happy with that. I have a Twitter network of over 1000 people who are interested in education*, I am part of a Facebook group that discusses ICT teaching topics, I’m an active member on both the CAS Google Group and the TES forum and, of course, I blog**.

Now I don’t have a copy of the policy in front of me (I’m not sure why, but there weren’t enough to go around at last night’s staff meeting), but I’m pretty sure it said ‘for personal use’ in there. And all of the above can be (IMO) justified as professional use. Yes, some of my tweets can be a bit chatty and… well… social – but the overall effect is that I get a lot of professional value from it. What it does mean is that I shouldn’t be playing Farmville during a cover lesson and then chatting to the three people who still use Bebo. And I can’t really argue with that.

I do feel unhappy about this document – not least that we are told it is about ‘safeguarding staff’ and it is for our own protection. Give us advice, give us guidelines, fine. Give us rules and it feels like you don’t trust us to make value judgements (a bit like our new ID lanyards – but that’s a rant for another day). Most of the people enforcing these rules do not understand the technology or its use. That sounds like an easy get-out clause for a disgruntled employee, but it would be like putting someone with no formal educational training or experience in charge of schools. Oh, no, wait. Bad example. Anyway…

The rules are there and I have to decide what to do. Do I draft my argument /concerns and send it to the Head? Do I carry on as things are and see what happens? Do I remove my online presences? And how do I go about *teaching* about social networks if I’m not actually allowed to use them.

And another tricky one – we are not to interact with / befriend students. Now I know that at least one 6th former reads this blog (which is pretty sad really – and yes I do mean you, haven’t you got something better to do? Find a past paper for Unit 3 or something), so does that mean that this post is knowingly interacting with a student? Very subtle and tricky situations in here.

Ah well, I had a good grace period, and I can’t see me closing my Twitter account any time soon. In the meantime, I’d best go and remove those drunken photographs from Flickr…***

* Plus Stephen Fry, naturally

** OK, not very often of late, but still…

*** This is a joke, just to be clear

1 Edit: The policy is adapted from the LA protocol but is a school policy.

Image Attribution: We trust you with the children but not the Internet Originally uploaded by Scott McLeod

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7 thoughts on “We trust you with the children but not the Internet

  1. It may be time to have me come and speak to the staff. Managing risks and having policies that allow you to work effectively, with practice that supports the policies, is the way forward.

  2. There are levels of risk that go with social networking. I think there is a difference between Facebook and Twitter – where everything on Twitter (apart from direct messages) are public. I treat everything I write on Twitter and Facebook as public – and its about educating others to do the same. Surely just banning something does nothing to educate people on how to use it safely. What the staff need is to be educated on how to use it safely in a way that doesn’t put their schools or careers at risk.

  3. Emma says:

    “Our new policy says that we are not to use Social Networking during the school day ” … I’m assuming they’re meaning “Computer based social networking” … and they’ve not banned you from conversing with colleagues over a coffee … 😉 Or using your phone (as a phone!) to call a colleague to ask them something work related?

    But, seriously, I agree with Rob’s point, banning things doesn’t help anyone understand how to use them, whether it’s other staff or the students.

    For many, yes, these are new, and indeed ‘disruptive’ technologies – ones that we all have to learn to integrate into current practice (think back to the days when cars had to have a man walking in front waving a flag … )

  4. gq52 says:

    I know the feeling and agree wholeheartedly.
    As for lanyard and I’d badge, we even have little electronic id tags (individually coded, chargeable if lost) to open front door and gate into site from carpark. The rest are as secure as ever 😉 . All for security and protection of course…… amazing though that because main gate is fitted with a mortice lock & is locked about 20 mins after school ends we have to walk through carpark & down drive (no footpath), trying to avoid being run down . Now that’s progress in elf n safety for you!

  5. Thanks for a very informative post Mark. I think most professional educators take it as read that there are some very serious issues relating to the digital identity, presence and safety of young people using social networks. They know that these can be addressed by involving youngsters in the debate in schools, and by teaching them, and helping them achieve the digital and social networking skills to understand and negate the dangers. This is unlikely, or at best very difficult, if you ban and lock down the social networks.

    The policy you describe seems to be sweeping these issues under the carpet, in the hope that it will all go away. Basing policy on isolated or indeed ‘potential’ incidents is a reactive rather then proactive response and most likely doomed to failure.

    Finally let’s not forget a high and (growing) number of parents are on Facebook, and it wont be that long before many of the students we are teaching/discussing are also parents.

  6. Neil says:

    Just read this quickly, but surely real problem isd that sch management has imposed a policy that affects staff without consulting them? Not on 😦

  7. Lewis says:

    That’s a stupid rule! So long as everything is done professionally (as this blog is) then I see no issue with it. I see no reason why you should do anything. Anything you use professionally is either set to private or it is acceptable to be public. Anything for personal use no one in your professional life knows of, so there’s no chance you can get in trouble for anything there. I see no reason as to why anyone will bother enforcing that anyway.
    Yeah, it is sad that I read this blog, but isn’t my reading it still beneficial to your profession? You get the opinion on teacher matters from a students point of view.
    And don’t worry, I’ll still get the A I’m trying to get… Probably… Possibly… Well we’ll see.

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